I Like Chinatown

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From the newspaper companion to the exhibition Humans Were Here: Building in L.A. at the Wattis Institute of Art, San Francisco {jpeg} [PDF]

In just the seven years since I moved to Los Angeles this part of the city has changed radically. When I arrived it was a solid bastion of Chinese culture. Today a layer of galleries and artists studios (along with the retail spaces that are never far behind) have crept in. They are starting to replace Chinese establishments that have been there for decades. Compared to the rapidly shifting geo-politics of the New York art world, it has seemed a sensitive, gradual evolution. As their rents spiral upward and others move in, I have a feeling that the original Chinese residents may not see it this way.

For many of us freshly minted Angelinos in search of a cultural homestead, this place has become a bubble of humane urban life and interaction. It is a rare happy place for the flâneur in a city that is generally hostile to those tendencies. It is on my way to downtown, or between meetings and home, or a good place to stop after a stressful morning at the Department of Building. Somehow I always manage to find street parking. This can be an integral part of its pleasure.

Leaving the street and my parked car, the traffic noises fade away as I pass the fountain on the right. The artist Mike Kelly made a full scale replica of it years ago. I saw it at Metro Pictures in New York before I moved to L.A. It summed up all of my fantasies about the city. There it was, a huge mass of unstable rock surrounded by water, painted all combinations of bright and fluorescent colors, with each ledge or niche presenting a metal bowl or cup. Each container had a title, ‘Luck”, “Love”, “Vacation”, “Lottery”, “Money”, “Health”, “Suerte”. Coins tossed were aimed for one of these. Once a friend hit “Suerte” three times in a row, and within a week the girl from Mexico that he had a mad crush on was his girlfriend.

Just this week they finished fixing up the fountain. They planted new bamboo, painted everything grey, removed the bowls and added some tasteful lighting. Its new incarnation is more elegant, less garish. Now I think I love the fountain on the other side of Hill Street more. It is a fake miniature mountain with little bonsai trees growing on it, floating in a pool of water with Koi fish. Turtles somehow manage to survive the murky water and sun themselves on the rocks. This little mountain inspired the terrarium with water and rocks that our Bernardi Salcedo residence is designed around.

I enter into the Central Plaza. I head to Via for lunch. Sometimes I eat there every day, or I may not go for weeks at a time. For the first year it was vegetable curry with an ice blended green tea boba. Then I started to do yoga everyday, and switched to my new usual which is vegetable soup with tofu and ice blended green tea with soy milk. They start making it when they see me coming. I really look forward to this. Sometimes I sit outside, usually a few friends pass by and one or two will join for lunch.

There’s Fiona and Sean, they have a sciency art space on Chung King. We’ll talk about what show they have up at the moment, or what’s coming up next. There’s Wendy who runs Ooga Booga It is my favorite store in L.A. All 150 square feet of it sits atop a bakery nearby…”Is the new issue of Butt Magazine in yet?”. There’s Javier, a client whose gallery I designed a few years ago. Since starting up the new gallery in Berlin, he’s not around much any more. There’s Kimberly, Liz and Gretchen, the Department of Graphic Sciences girls. They have designed all of the materials for the Gardenlab and Edible Estates projects. I can count on seeing them there most days. Since we are usually working on something together, lunch often turns into shop talk. There’s Katie from Sister, there’s Parker from Black Dragon, there’s Robby from the Journal, there’s Julie from Outpost, there’s Dan taking a break from the gallery and there’s always some random people you never expect to see that are in town from New York or something, who heard “something about Chinatown…?”, and are trying to figure out what the hell is going on in L.A.

– Fritz Haeg, 2006