Interview with the Organizers of the gardenLAb experiment

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Interview with Sam Bower for Green Museum, August 2004

This year from September 7th to October 16th (2004), a giant wind tunnel at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California will host a windstorm of art events, lectures, performances, films & happenings exploring the relationship between organisms and their environment. Produced, curated and designed by Fritz Haeg and Francois Perrin, this massive undertaking intends to provide a month-long focal point for Los Angeles area environmentalists and eco-artists.

“we redirect water from remote locations, 250 miles from owens valley, 300 miles from the colorado river, to artificially support assimilated plants from all over the world and the endless unoccupied lawns that we speed by in our sealed capsules that devour foreign resources, $2.41 and rising for a gallon of gas, and spew noxious fumes producing the unhealthy air we breathe, exceeding federal ozone standards for 63 days in 2003, that stagnates over the valleys that were once fertile flood plains now 90% covered with concrete and the hermetic boxes we live and work in which are either heated or cooled in our temperate climate which is interrupted yearly by precious rains that flush our trash and toxins to the ocean where we play and from which we fish and eat.” — From the gardenLAb experiment website

What follows is an email interview with the organizers.

Q: A six week exhibition with performance and installations in a 19,000 square foot wind tunnel sounds pretty ambitious. Where did this idea come from?

Francois Perrin: fritz haeg

Fritz Haeg: it seemed there were so many people concerned with issues of ecology in this city. people from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines that are not in touch with each other….or aware of the work others are doing. the wind tunnel and the gardenlab provided the perfect opportunity to bring them all together.

Q: How have your backgrounds prepared you for this project?

FP: travelling around the world to expand my architectural education

FH: as designers and architects we are especially equipped to coordinate, organize and make sense of a vast amount of seemingly disconnected material. curating and designing this show has drawn upon all of these skills. since moving to los angeles from new york last year, it seems issues of the environment and ecology are always on my mind and this has become a significant part of my academic research and design practice.

Q: What are the plans for the mini-ecosystem component to all this? Will you recreate a local desert or lush landscape inside this thing? What about light?

FP: the ecosystem will be more abstract than recreating a landscape, more like a 70’s Sci-Fi movie set

FH: like any rich ecosystem it will have a diversity and abundance of life, activity and attitudes.

Q: Any plans to switch on the wind tunnel fans?

FP: unfortunately they have been removed, but their ghost/memory will be part of the show

Q: How are students involved with the gardenLAb project?

FP: we set a studio where students help design and produce the exhibition as well as assisting the artists

Q: Your website mentions that your “hope is that this gardenLAb gathering will, for the first time, bring together every person in the Los Angeles area who is concerned about issues of the environment and ecology.” In a place like Los Angeles, is (ecological) art and design the best way attract people?

FP: it is and it is just starting…

FH: it depends on who you want to attract. this first job of this project will be to attract those who are already interested and concerned about these issues, and bring them all together into a dialogue.

Q: Your project statement asserts that “‘wild nature’ unaffected by human intervention no longer exists”, do you see a need for more human intervention at this stage or less?

FP: a mix of radical intervention and surgical preservation, vice versa

FH: we have had too much of an effect on our natural ecology to be able to pull out, and say ‘let it go wild’. there is no ‘wild’ left. we have no choice but to intervene. you could say it would be like invading and destroing a country, taking what you need, then leaving behind a place and people without the resources to pull themselves back together again.

Q: From a regional perspective is there anything you feel is characteristic of LA ecological artists and designers?

FP: knowledge, optimism…

FH: it is very hard to live in l.a. and not be conscious of our relationship to ‘natural’ forces and elements…the ocean, mountains, vegetation, climate, rainfall, winds, temperature, humidity all rubbing up against human needs and occupation as seen in smog, traffic, sprawl, water demand, de-forestation…people living here are uniquely aware of what human need vs. natural forces looks like.

Q: Something like this must involve a tremendous amount of collaboration. Do you feel collaboration is a natural outgrowth of green thinking? Is the form of this project linked to its message?

FP: collaboration is the only way to be human

FH: i was really keen on having a diversity of voices on this topic. the problem of how to occupy the planet is not going to be solved by one genius…not even close. we need the entire spectrum of human thought from the poets to the scientists. it so happens that design and architecture are the disciplines that occupy the center, and can draw equally from both, and ultimately bring them together.

Q: Any tips for people who might want to organize something similar in their city?

FP: contact us

FH: the base motivation for the show is to bring people together, and stimulate real dialogue on this critical idea of ecology. there are a lot of ways to do this, you could even stage something similar at a smaller scale in your own house!

Q: Will there be an online component to all this for people who might be unable to attend?

FP: the gardenLAb experiment website.

FH: the website will be regularly updated will images and stories from the wind tunnel events as they happen, throughout the six weeks and hopefully even a live webcam.

Q: Thank you for conceiving of GardenLAb and best of luck with it all. Any last comments?

FP: come visit us

FH: and visit often….the show will be constantly evolving and every saturday will be programmed with lectures, screenings and events from 2-8pm. we hope that everyone in l.a. who cares about issues of ecology will pass through the wind tunnel during these 6 weeks to be a part of this gathering.