Friday, August 18, 2006

LA River - Part 1

The Los Angeles River runs through the entire LA basin, from the Valley to Long Beach where it spills into the Pacific Ocean. In the late 1930's, all 51 miles of the river were lined in concrete, by hand, after a huge flood claimed 113 lives and cost the city $40 million in damages which roughly equates to A LOT nowadays, possibly $500 million. During the 40's and 50's a total of six large dams were also built to help control the flooding of the river.

My whole childhood I heard only negative things about the river. That it was gross and dirty (it is) and an eye sore and embarrassment to Los Angeles (it isn't). It is associated most, from what I remember, with traversing through run-down and broken areas of LA. The river is nothing less than a cultural icon. Every LA politian and environmental group have a plan for the river. Many LA artists have been inspired by it. I've recently fallen deeply for the river.

The part of the river that I see regularly now is about a 7-mile colorful stretch east of downtown. It takes my breath away for reasons I'm still exploring. I find it visually exciting and beautiful. It is messy and crazy. The area always seems abandoned. I never see one soul down there or near there, but the art is left to speak saying, We Are Here, We'll Be Heard Somehow. The walls of the river trap a heavy, dark energy that is eased only a bit by the complicated graffiti. The art is bananas. It's written in a language that only taggers understand. Every time I pass the stretch, I read as many words as I can make out, knowing they don't make sense to me, but I just say them anyway like poetry: GOZO DOX. FAULT & LENT. ERIAK BIG. TRIGGAZ ELUDE. SAGE FUME. TRIGALI. TREY-GEE-FAZE. The pieces are huge too; letters over six feet tall to nearly two stories. That's what I love the most. Such big, bursting thoughts. So much to say, and no one understands.

I tried to take some photographs yesterday, but I couldn't capture the exact beauty I see in my mind. I couldn't translate that onto the pictures. It's like the images I see don't trust me yet. The moving train didn't help. The shitty camera didn't help. I hinted about going down there physically and Husband said HELLNO. I'd be afraid to go, to be honest, as much as it lures me. I told you about the wet, weighted energy full of secrets down there which I can feel even from an encapsulated, moving vehicle.

I posted some of the photos anyway. Maybe something will come across in, what I feel, is a flat blandness of these: Something in the gang of bright shopping carts in photo #2. Something in the forefront tag in photo #4, but even more in the tag lurking behind it under the bridge. Something in the last photograph that is alive with frustrated scribbling.

Many photographers capture the river way, way better, but in a way I wouldn't. Many of the professional photos of the river mainly show it as an entity -- with a life of its own -- flowing between monstrous and gentle. Personally, I'm fixated on the secret human interaction that weaves and leans on the river and uses its banks as canvas, as release.


Rebel Girl said...

Just grand.

amstar said...

I spy 1st street bridge. that's one of my loves for sure. I heart LA.

pixielyn said...

Madness, You make that powerful and scarey place seem almost like a powerful art exibit to hate. The territories all marked like imaginary fences.
Please do not go there, please do not take that risk. What you hear calling you is an irrisistable urge to taste the curious nature of power I think. The river is angry, the tagging is anger and its all power. Powerful and angry. The actual thing is more vibrant in feeling than the pictures depict. I live a bit more north than you. I've driven your path but havent taken the train.
Very good description and I sure dont blame you. It sounds as if you are settling in just fine. It all sounds wonderful with the market and the walking and the new found friends. *cheers*

madness rivera said...

I really had to think about that . . .if I craved the evident, obvious power of that seven-mile stretch. And I really don't. I am not one that is excited by risk or a thrill. What I am drawn to is the unstoppable need to express oneself artistically in forms conventional and not, whether it is consciously artistic or not. I am drawn to that particular rawness of the river art. And I think the power that I most recognize is the desperateness/rage/frustration of the area and that beauty (I think) emerges from that. It's very real to me. But I heed your warning for sure, Pixielyn. My head's not totally in the clouds when it comes to that area. Thank you for the concern.

acumamakiki said...

I hear you, with the draw of that interesting, beautiful and raw river. I like your photos and thought of this part of Los Angeles yesterday while I was skating on a trail. There was this overpass and a lot of graffitti (of course the camera didn't make it into my bag, when will I learn??) so I loved reading this and seeing these photos.

kiki said...

i find the beauty of wasteplaces so very hard to resist. excellent pictures.

Ward Jenkins said...

Madness, I feel you on that uncontrollable urge to see, to look, to record the river there. I've never seen it personally, but it's considered a classic stretch of graffiti all through graff-dom. In fact, the world's largest graffiti piece was done there in '97 by SABER ONE. You can check it out here. Notice the guy in the middle for scale.

HOWEVER, I have to step in here and correct pixielyn's remarks about the graffiti being "angry" and "powerful." First of all, where do you get the notion that graffiti is "angry?" Is it the sharp angles and harsh colors? Is it the fact that it's illegal? Is it because it's (to you) the fear of the unknown and illegible? Is it because you think that it's all gangs? Warning: do not believe what you read or hear about graffiti. Don't buy into the notion that all of graffiti is bad. It's not all gangs, it's not all thugs. What you are seeing here on the LA river is not gang-related. Trust me.

The only time graffiti can be "angry" is when one guy goes over another guy's piece and then the two have beef with each other. There are, at times, crews who hate each other, and dish it out amongst each other, but what you'll realize with this sort of anger is that it's insular. Not directed towards you, the viewer. Beef is squashed and then everyone moves on.

Don't ever paint graffiti in wide strokes, pixielyn. There are so many layers and shades of grey to graffiti that you'll never ever be able to comprehend. Just like all the different types of artists and art movements in the art world, there are so many different types of graff writers, and not all of them are angry or power-hungry. Each and every one has their own agenda, whether it be for creative reasons, for personal reasons, for political reasons—both legal and illegal. Graff writers are, for the most part, just a bunch of dudes who love to paint and want to hang out with their buddies. And graffiti is everything to them. They live it, breathe it. For some, it's all they got. The connections they make within this subculture will be the only ones they'll ever have—not unlike fellow brothers.

Again, it's not GANGS. Gangs are an entirely different thing. And it's not about ANGER or POWER. Please understand that, and please let others know this.

Alexandra S said...

I'm inspired by your love of the LA River. I think I see beauty in not enough things. When I am in that area and have looked over that same river, I tend to feel down because that whole area of LA feels to me so terribly neglected. Its not right that there should be such enormous disparities between the richest and poorest in this country when there is enough to go around for everyone were so many not so terribly greedy, beginning with our President and V.P. Maybe I am just not seeing enough because i see areas which have been deemed unimportant, "not worth" investing in the way they do in Santa Monica or the Palisades-not that I would want these areas to look like that, but much of east LA seems to me left to fend for itself with not enough resources, support, or caring by the larger community, and it pisses me off. When I have seen the river, it looks starved and whimpering to me, which is why I love that you see something so very different.