Sunday, March 29, 2009

Interview w/ g727

york chang, adrian rivas, pilar tompkins, james rojas

Big City Forum interviews g727 partners


g727 seeks to generate dialogues on artistic representations and interpretations of the urban landscape. The building blocks of a city comprise more than simply buildings, streets, and sidewalks. They equally encompass personal experience, collective memory and narratives. These are the less tangible, but no less integral elements that transform mere infrastructure into place. Through photography, painting, writing and video installations, artists open our eyes to these elements and heighten our awareness of what makes a place a place. g727 welcomes these artists to its space to help us all better understand the complex nature of cities and the urban condition.

Co-Founded by Adrian Rivas and James Rojas
Planned Community Space Partners:
Pilar Tompkins and York Chang

The team:

Pilar Tompkins (PT): Curator of the Claremont Museum of Art and director of the Artist Pension Trust's Latin American Branch (APT: Mexico City)focusing on contemporary art.

York Chang (YC): Is a working artist and former political organizer. He was appointed by Mayor Antonio Villarraigosa to the Cultural Affairs Commission of Los Angeles. York is highly invested in the intersection between arts, politics, and urbanism.

Adrian Rivas (AR): Alongside James Rojas, Adrian is one of the founders of g727 and is currently the owner and director. He is also a highly regarded art framer by galleries and many contemporary artists.

James Rojas (JR): Has an urban planning degree from MIT and a strong record of community activism in Los Angeles. Currently works as a planner for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of the City of LA.

BCF. Tell me how you all came together around g727:

JR. I originally came upon the space more than seven years ago when I saw it up for lease. I ended up making many phone calls speaking to people about what the space could be turned into (coffee house, retail, etc), but I knew Adrian from way back when, and the moment I spoke to him we settled on the idea of a gallery type of space. From the beginning we were always interested in the idea of fusing the world of planning with the arts and I think working with Adrian has always brought the perspective of the artist. One of the main questions for me has always been how do you put together a show that balances both aesthetic integrity but also it's larger context to other issues. Personally I've become more of an artist in my approach to planning learning to use aesthetic strategies to re-imagine the way most city departments and different stakeholders deal with issues of urbanism.

YC. I had known Adrian for many years and started coming to a lot of events at g727 on a regular basis and was drawn to the energy of the space. My interest has always been in enabling and supporting artists doing work in the public realm. I liked the idea of having a physical space or location from which to base a kind of public activism with artists, planners, activists and advance ideas about Los Angeles. It's interesting because Adrian brings a very rigorous approach to curating, perhaps from his background as framer, framing best ideas and what artists are presenting. There's a beautiful congruence to what he does, not operating in the non-profit paradigm, which then does not have be grant driven or dependent upon it. I became more involved with g727 as a way to help move projects forward through various stages of development and help put a plan of action into place.

PT. I met Adrian and was part of of the Outings show that dealt with male/male use of public spaces. Having a curatorial background I was drawn to the convergence of art and urbanism and how artists chronicle the way the city is used. I originally led some panel discussions for these shows and then had initial conversations about getting involved in the space. There was also a great of confluence with the Vexing: Female Voices from East LA Punk show I curated at the Claremont Museum of Art in May 2008. Adrian's show on East LA DJ culture from the 70's here at g727 had a similar attempt to uncover a historical moment often left out of art historical archives. I think my contributions are on a supportive basis, writing, networking, and developing a larger presence for the gallery.

AR. My background is as an arts framer and I had built up many relationships with a lot of contemporary artists, especially from the Mexican American community. When James got in touch with me about the space I was intrigued on how to turn it into a gallery or more of a hub space for research based activities. I guess you could say my obsession is to think about how art and other research based strategies begin to reflect on the reality of the city itself. The space has never operated as a for profit model, it really operates more at a loss for each show, but we feel that we don't have much to lose financially and have always been honest with artists about both our goals and our means. Somehow though we've managed to support the space for all these years.

BCF. What have been some of the influences or significant directions for the curatorial program?

AR. Not so much influences but shows that had an impact outside of the gallery, I would say the South Central Farmer's Photo Exhibition that we did in 2004 pointed to a certain synergy between the goals of the gallery and what is happening out on the street. We had a photographer who made it very easy since he had shot Cesar Chavez back in the day, so this gave him credibility to record what was happening with the South Central farm and bring a great deal of authenticity to the project. Working with Gronk has also been an influence on the tone and direction of the gallery. His studio is in the same complex as g727 so he's been a great help in various ways, helping to support the gallery by donating originals to sell, providing exposure to his many contacts in the art world, and just serving as an example of artistic integrity and commitment. I also should mention Hugo Hopping, an artist who resides in both East Los Angeles and Copenhagen, Denmark, a great mind who's been critical in helping us think about how communities see their city and creating language for their concerns.

PT Going back to Adrian's passion which has to do with documenting historical moments outside of a central or singular narrative, I think the DJ Culture of East LA exhibition demonstrated his enthusiasm for bringing together separate threads into a cohesive overview. Unlike the Vexing show which had institutional support from the Claremont Art Museum, Adrian was able to convince people to self archive and give value to cultural artifacts, such as old party fliers from the 70's, that were for the most part seen as throwaways from a long lost era. The show was able to give people that participated in this vibrant culture in East LA a way to understand and frame that moment in more meaningful ways.

BCF. What do you believe g727 contributes to the current moment?

YC. I see g727's program as an exercise in epistemology; there's an awareness of how people gain experience of the urban experience as collectively shared layers of meaning. Therefore art brings a starting point into the larger narrative of the city, and this space could be a place where various people can bring convergence to these narratives.

The space itself has become an interdisciplinary platform that's developed organically through a momentum which has been built collectively. And I think this marriage of urban planning and art is very relevant right now as something that artists see as way to meaningfully engage with the world around them. There's also a synergy with various artists' groups that are focused around service aesthetics and contribute to social engagement at an exchange level.

The city of Los Angeles is going through massive change right now in terms of density, population growth, and the type of infrastructure that can provide a more livable city within those changes. I think a lot of artists are trying to deal with those issues and creative or more collective approaches to solving those problems. I believe it's part of a much larger momentum within the dynamic of the city.

BCF. How does the space begin to transform or engage with a larger community outside of its walls?

JR. Through my work with the Latino Urban Forum I help to get people involved and reach a much larger constituency through my weekly updates on issues surrounding planning and urbanism and intersections with the arts. In addition Latino urbanism is about new ways of art, architecture and urbanism that we celebrate in the gallery. We keep the shows simple but provocative, not conceptual. We host naciementos of Latino front yards during Christmas time and other events of this nature.  We had a show Latino Visions which celebrated all the Latinos who graduated in architecture from USC, UCLA, Woodbury and other southern California universities to give them more exposure.

Also, the city model workshop that I facilitate goes out and engages with a multitude of participants throughout the city. This interactive, hands-on approach developed from the ideas tested out at g727 and offers a way for disengaged audiences and under-served communities to gain a direct interest in issues around planning and urbanism that affect their daily lives. It almost puts forth the notion of how do I create my own utopia and actively shape that. If this space (g727) allows for this then it creates an opening for much greater engagement to take place.

BCF. What's in the future for g727?

I think between the four of us there's enough recognition about the collective talents involved and how each of us can contribute to the development of the space. There is no board of directors that has been formed yet because I think it's important for all decision makers to be physically connected to the space. The most important thing is that g727 continues to reflect back on the city and what is the physical essence of this place, and continues to maintain the mission of talking about urbanism.

We have an upcoming series that continues to focus on Los Angeles itself as a site for ideas. For example how do you map people's experiences of Los Angeles based on ideas that shape experiences for different constituencies? We can bring people together and have a forum to map out their ideas visually and draw connections on how we can all participate in this visual map of experiences in Los Angeles....basically a document as a starting point.
© 2009, Big City Forum

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