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Back to Basics


  • M&A Courtyard 1619 Silver Lake Blvd Los Angeles, CA, 90026 United States (map)

“Back to Basics” is a coordinated effort to develop an installation without a design at the outset. It uses basic, off-the-shelf components and materials found in and around the exhibition space. A group of volunteers spent the last two months developing a fish farm, a shade system, and a new identity for the exhibition space. It was on display from 10am to 10pm each day until November 7th, 2009.

The fish farm is an experiment in urban aquaculture, one that recycled the remnant sunken base, or “dance floor,” of Eddy Sykes’ Yakuza Lou exhibition in the M&A courtyard, by turning it into the basin for a fish farm. One of the MatterApp participants, Blair Ellis, is an architectural designer whose thesis focused on fish farms in Southeast Asia. His idea to develop a fish farm at M&A for the summer inspired the group to pursue this project, drawing on local resources for fish to stock the pond and native plants for the bog garden that filters the re-circulating water system. Despite the drought, the M&A facility was able for the third year in a row to collect enough rainwater to significantly reduce reliance upon the city’s water supply for landscaping and pond refill water. Other simple materials employed in the construction of the aquaculture system include a rubber liner, camouflage tarps, and black-stemmed bamboo that grow on the premises. The bamboo was bent into a screen to protect the fish from raccoons using a technique taught to us by team member Brian Janeczko.

The woven shade canopy hovering above the courtyard is a MatterApp prototype that later evolved into a project called “String Theory." The canopy was used to shade the Pomona College commencement audience for their mid-May ceremony. The woven shade structure, made from trucker’s nylon strap webbing and rip-stop parachute fabric, follows a strategy developed from string figures – specifically, the “clown’s collar”- to create a customized net. After weeks of experiments with different types of weaves and knits, the string figuring technique, which is similar to lace making, was found to be the optimum balance of form and function. The overhead streamers create a gently undulating volume of unique and lively shade while presenting minimum surface area to wind load.

At M&A this past spring we shifted our focus away from a single architectural exhibition toward a program of pure experimentation. One of the first iterations of this new focus, “Back to Basics” was developed from a series of weekend workshops called MatterApp. MatterApp is a group of M&A supporters and enthusiasts from the surrounding community, as well as artists and scientists from as far away as San Diego who help build and explore new fabrication processes and techniques. As with previous MatterApp’s, this spring’s series hosted talks, technology demonstrations, and discussion. Designing and planning happened as a result of the group’s developments and discoveries. The experiments were used to drive design toward a more organic process that favors innovation and coincidence. We worked with the goal of creating an environment that is inviting and challenging to the public, one where we learn from and appreciate the process of creating.

For the opening of “Back to Basics” a puppet show called “An excited plasma event, one day on tilapia island, the end.” was performed in collaboration with neighborhood puppet theater “The Manual Archives.” The show was part of the kick off of a series of puppet shows involving the exploration of space by puppeteers and architects in collaboration. It was performed each night from June 5th until the 7th to sold out crowds.

“Back to Basics” was open to the public through the summer. In November, M&A hosted a closing party to share the harvested fish with a neighborhood fish taco barbeque party. 

Earlier Event: November 11
Beyond Appearances
Later Event: January 31
Extraterritorial Build