Back in December, Verina emailed and asked if I’d be part of her and John Reardon’s panel at the LA Art Book Fair the first weekend in February and while it was hard for me to think that far ahead, at least with respect to being on a panel, I said tentatively yes.
I meant, really, no – there are few things I find more uncomfortable, as both participant and observer than panels, except maybe art fairs and book fairs – but I’d heard about ARTSCHOOL/UK and the contents – essays by people like Matthew Stadler and Paolo Freire and Ruth Höflich seemed really interesting, and February seemed like a long time away, so I asked if I could be included provisionally; I’d be glad to participate so long as I was in LA.
But when the time came I was in Mexico, six hours away. Verina and I had emailed several times, and she’d expressed interest in using some material I had at home, so arrangements were made for her to stop by our house in Tujunga and pick it all up.
The logistics were easy because we leave the house open practically all of the time. Before leaving for Baja that week, I left a stack of materials on the table with Verina’s name, and emailed our address and some tips about walks in the nearby hills.
Now in its second year, the LA Art Book Fair 2014 occurred at the same time as Los Angeles Contemporary Art Fair and a new sidebar event at the Paramount Ranch, an old movie ranch in the Agoura Hills now run as part of a county park organized by a group of independent and artist-run galleries. The result was something more international, and, as T magazine put it, “buzzier” than ever before; followed by the inevitable lament about LA becoming more and more like NY.
We’ve lived in Tujunga for more than three years. Set at the base of Mt. Lukens (elevation 5000’), less than a century ago it took a “long day” to drive the 20 miles to here from downtown LA. Now it’s less than a half-hour freeway drive north on the 2. Home to the “Little Landers”+ movement, a utopian scheme led by a social philosopher and a real estate speculator in 1907, Tujunga was incorporated into greater LA by 1927. In later years, Tujunga became known as a good place to buy speed – a haven for bikers, libertarians, gun-enthusiasts, blue-collar Republicans, etc. A short walk up our road takes you into the hills. From there, you can disappear on further trails into the Angeles Crest Forest that spans more than a thousand square miles, and ends at its northernmost point in Antelope Valley desert towns of Lancaster, Palmdale and Pearblossom.
Our house is owned by the two adult sons of Mrs. Elizabeth Smith, who died here during the Station Fire in 2009. Mrs. Smith, who’d lived in this house throughout her adult life, refused to leave with other evacuees. The fire did not reach the house, but – confused and panicked – she suffered a stroke. We still feel her benign ghost, and it’s still known on the street as the “Smith family place.” In her mid-70s, neighbors say, Mrs. Smith worked outside in her yard every day.
Verina and friends arrived late in the day. Driving back to the city at dusk, the tall buildings of downtown LA suddenly come into view, the city revealed as you drive down a long hill. LA looks like the Emerald City from here (the skyline appears in similar views from Glendale and Lincoln Heights and Elysian Park) and the winter night crashes down on black hills like a tropical drink.
+ An experiment in Jeffersonian democracy offering settlers affordable family farm-plots that would be cooperatively irrigated, towards the production of produce that would be cooperatively sold: “A Little Land and a Lot Of Freedom.”
Chris Kraus is a writer and critic based in Los Angeles. Her books include Where Art Belongs, Summer of Hate, Torpor and I Love Dick. She is a co-editor of Semiotexte, and a frequent contributor to various magazines. She is presently working on a critical biography of the American writer Kathy Acker.