The haze over downtown Los Angeles isn't lifting. The cue from the Interstate 5 south is backing up onto the State Route 2. It's stop-and-go all the way. There's a Sig Alert on the 10 west. A motorcycle accident in the number two lane.
The urban landscape of Los Angeles is a congested labyrinth where the hedges are made up of skyscrapers, apartment complexes, and freeway bypasses. The sidewalks and gasps of greenery in between create the space in which we live.
LA is a destination city. We live in our cars and drive over neighborhoods moving from Point A to Point B, allowing our GPS system to recalculate our route if we miss a turn.
It's time for an urban intervention. It's time to wake up, LA. Take the city as your blank canvas and remap it.
Under the busy city's stop-and-go traffic lights, if you take a second, you might be privy to the more elusive citizens of the city who are planning a city intervention, a guerrilla warfare against the mundane busyness of LA. If you can't free yourself from the city life, then it's time to change your perspective.
How to See Your Hometown Like a Tourist
At 7:05 p.m. on the dot, your hike will begin at downtown LA's Museum of Contemporary Art. From there you'll walk through the corporate peaks and meadows of the Bunker Hill financial district until you reach the Maguire Gardens next to the LA Central Library. No cameras are allowed since you are walking through other people's homes, namely the makeshift tents and sleeping bags of the many homeless residents of the city on San Pedro Street.
This unconventional hike through a landscape consisting of skyscrapers instead of trees, and stone cold pavement instead of dirt is a trail mapped out by the Los Angeles Urban Rangers as a summer engagement with the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Urban Rangers have one goal: To re-envision your city landscape as a place of nature with different areas of the city becoming ecotones comprised of the "Loft Dwellers" and the "Street Sleepers."
LA, at its face, is Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Compton – but beyond the apartment complexes, the office buildings and the hotels lie layers of history.
How can you reread LA apart from the stereotypes attached to the city walls?
That's what the Urban Rangers set out to answer. They're comprised of four core members: Emily Scott, a 10-year national park ranger with a PhD in art history; Therese Kelly, an architect in urban design; Jenny Price, an environmental writer; and Sara Daleiden, an artist focused on exploring art as it happens at the moment of contact, not as a detached experience staring at a wall in a gallery.
And these rangers plan on remapping one's vision of LA by deconstructing the notions of the place in which one lives, one urban tourist at a time.
"We realized there were so many ways in which we can bind the stereotypical tensions called 'nature' and 'made by humans,'" says Daleiden.
What began as a response to a call for entries for an exhibit at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design quickly developed into a now seven-year running organization. Through guided tours of the beaches of Malibu; LA's alleyways and city landscapes; "campfire talks" inside art galleries discussing topics such as what constitutes "flora" in an urban complex; and creating downloadable PDF brochures and tour guides for the general public's use – the Urban Rangers have taken the liberty to change the city into an intellectual playground for artistic interpretation.
"LA Urban Rangers has introduced me to this whole practice of participatory art," says Price. "You actually get to experience the city. It's not just reading about it or looking at a picture. It's mobilizing people to experience the connections to nature and one another that make places work."
Playing – a bit satirically – with the idea of "hiking" through the wilderness of the city landscape, the Urban Rangers dress the part wearing mock park ranger uniforms bearing the Urban Ranger insignia.
Price says, "As soon as you put on the ranger uniform, it's a great device for making the argument that we actually live in nature. The city of LA is as natural as any place else. We need to make those connections visible."
She likes how adopting the ranger persona lends itself to be welcoming and collaborative – and how "powerful that approach can be."
"When taking on these political issues, we're not confrontational or overtly activists. We're not edgy radicals trying to change the system." Rather, she feels, "we intervene on an issue with a really friendly neutral tone. And let people experience something themselves without telling them what to think."
As Fritz Haeg, creator of organization, Edible Estates, famously says, "The best place to be radical is at the center."
And the most important thing, says Price, is that "we're not alone."
"We may have a park ranger persona, which is our art practice, but there are so many art programs – all of which are mobilizing people to re-imagine our nature," she says. "There is some sort of bottom line we're engaged in even if we're doing it in different ways."
Of them is remapping the city according to the landscape of the city's fruit trees.
How to Join a City-wide Jam Without Being Stuck in Traffic
It's riddle time. What tastes like childhood and smells delicious? Answer? A jam session. And not the ones had in your parents' garage making god-forsaken raucous that you and your friends deemed to be heavenly notes. Or the ones where you're stuck in similarly god-forsaken traffic in your morning commute. These jam sessions are a bit more child-, adult-, and those with road rade -friendly.
It's a Fallen Fruit Public Fruit Jam.
"It's one of our favorite things we ever did," says David Burns, one of the members of the artist collective Fallen Fruit. "We broadly invite the public to make jams together. Pick fruit from your own property or the streets of LA -- bring whatever you find. The goal is to improvise and make relationships."
Peaches and plums start hanging out, and ultimately create a delicious new jam. "There's no wrong way of making jam," says Burns.
In three hours, Public Fruit Jam participants make approximately 1,600 jars of jam. "It's a machine of people you've never met. Cutting fruit, processing, talking to people, eating, Facebook messaging and connecting."
Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young are the founders of Fallen Fruit, an art collective with a mission to remap LA-ites' perceptions of their city. Since its inception in 2004, Fallen Fruit has remapped the city's engagement with food; their public events, such as the jam sessions and the interactive EAT LACMA summer collaboration with the LA County Museum of Art, bring in hundreds of participants who will never look at a fruit tree the same way.
The three met 10 years ago in their neighborhood of Silver Lake, the hipsville of LA. Young is a photographer, best known for his editorials in magazines. Viegener is a writer and Burns is a video editor. From a response to an open call for the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, these three artists thought about the city they lived in and its overlooked resources.
They tried to tackle how one contributes to an experience of a place. The answer, they found, was in a fruit tree. The organization began with a manifesto, or more simply, a map.
"Fallen Fruit wasn't manufactured per se. We didn't have a master plan. We were responding to an opportunity and it kept evolving," says Burns.
"A tree will stay there longer than the people who plant it."
The tree will continue to grow, expand, bear fruit and share its produce.
"My family always planted their fruit trees on the parameter of all the properties they've owned, and that's one of the ideas that got enrolled into Fallen Fruit," says Burns. "The origins of the project really showed themselves to us."
It began with mapping the lemon tree whose lemons Burns always took to save some loose change. They then mapped the avocado trees around the corner, whose avocadoes saved Burns a few more bucks when making guacamole dip.
The three artists quickly became fruit hunters, walking and driving within the three corners of their homes in Silver Lake, mapping all the public fruit trees in the neighborhood. What denotes produce as "public" is if the fruit is hanging over private fences and onto public sidewalks. These unnoticed resources were diligently mapped and soon the residents of LA took notice.
"This city is moderated by windshields and cell phones," says Burns. "The maps are carefully designed to create an opportunity to change the way you experience a place or the way you think about it so that on the course, you're like 'oh my god, LA is amazing.'"
And since its first map in 2004, city officials, gallery curators and citizens from all over the world invited the artists to come make a Fallen Fruit neighborhood in their cities.
"It's really quite remarkable -- totally changed my life," remarks Burns.
There are now public fruit maps of Copenhagen, Madrid, Austria, the Arctic Circle in Norway, and Salt Lake City to name a few.
"We don't go around the world and imperialistically colonize fruit nations," Burns notes. Rather, each public fruit "colony" is re-imagined for the new context of the city, a new version of a neighborhood fruit infusion depending on the needs, shape and resources of the town.
"We don't want to franchise the project. People think we are foraging or we're urban planning and we're not. We're simply interested in an idea of art. We think about fruit as our medium and material like painting and photography," says Burns.
"It's just a way to look at the world. The idea of collaborating with a broad public, with history, or with corporations and institutions. Everything we do we think of as unabashed collaboration. More like theater without a director, a star or a screenwriter."
With Fallen Fruit constantly evolving and manifesting in different variations around the world, their future is, simply put, unmapped.
Yet, the destination is known. Burns foresees that all the roads lead to Rome.
They're fascinated by the role that political and social upheavals play in germinating fruits, which ultimately become representative of the emerging cultures. From the Mormon Church in Utah to Spain colonizing Mexico, Burns says all histories go back to the Roman Empire, which is where you'll likely find Fallen Fruit next.