Llano del Rio, Scores for the City: Social Choreography and Imagination for Southern California

Every inhabitant of Los Angeles has to deal with spatial geography. The sheer proliferation of it everywhere. The necessity of traversing huge swaths of it in order to get to jobs, events, meetings, recreation. The hours spent not at places, but in between them. To the uninitiated, it can seem empty and numbing. But to the practiced Angeleño, it becomes first an opportunity for detoxification and zen meditation, and then eventually, a space where imagination, nuance, and possibility can flourish, unhindered by the tighter spaces, structures, and expectations of a more compact metropolitan area.

Llano del Rio, the artist collective that produces a series of thematic maps of LA, recently came out with its second edition, titled Scores for the City. Whereas its first publication, A Map for An Other Los Angeles, was more of an actual map, sketching out interesting and productive alternative venues throughout the neighborhoods of Echo Park, Silver Lake, Highland Park and beyond, Scores for the City takes a conceptual leap forward. Treating our sprawling habitat as something of a moving canvas of time and space, Llano del Rio has assembled a collection of performative scripts and recollections, designed to animate the past, present, and future of this city we live in. In the collective’s own words, “All actions passive or aggressive in the landscape phenomenologically have consequences… shaping consciousness, demanding more, rewriting the city by how we are in it.”

Scores for the City is a genuine delight to read. Julia Wallace’s remembrance of experiencing the Rodney King riots as a child, and Sandra de la Loza’s analysis of a 1976 incidence of police harassment of Chicano muralists, are politically energized stories that ground the city in specific times, places, and contexts. Adam Overton’s explication of his subtle bodies series of ongoing performances, and Nancy Popp’s whimsical proposals for urban performance acts, open up windows of light-filled possibilities. An interview with Joel Kyack, whose Superclogger project provided mobile puppet shows for frustrated commuters, gives a taste of one person’s optimistic intervention into LA’s daily grind. And Jonah A. Schwartz’s touching Crank Mob memoir celebrates the positive impact of a community activity on one individual’s life and outlook.

On the flip side of the publication are several mysterious historical anecdotes that add even more color and texture to this mini-symphony of LA living—the Wilshire Witches of the 1970s, who held seasonal rituals at the La Brea Tar Pits; and Joel Arpichuck, who gave the finger to Ronald Reagan’s memorial library every day for a year, among others. The pretty graphics are punctuated by encouraging words: “For the city is made up of readymade stages. Angelinos, movement choices are endemic—stimulate something visionary now.”

In both of Llano del Rio’s maps to date, I do love how lyrical and evocative their language is, and how open and free-ranging their narrative, which seeks to be a frame for artistic practice rather than be a practice in itself (according to their mission statement). It accurately captures the subtleties of local culture at the same time that it tries to move readers toward a sharper consciousness of the power and magic of creative actions. The first map was criticized by some for appearing to be an insular manifesto of an elite hipster culture; although as I read it over now, I find that it’s informed by a deep knowledge and love of the area’s history, as well as genuine excitement for the projects they describe, and an unbiased inquisitiveness going into the future. (The next map is tentatively titled Map Guide of the Assholes of LA—can’t wait!!)

You might still be able to get a free copy of Scores for the City at various locales around town. You can also purchase it through Half Letter Press. Finally, check out this cool performance that happened in conjunction with this publication.

2 Responses to “Llano del Rio, Scores for the City: Social Choreography and Imagination for Southern California

  1. Hey thanks for the thoughtful review.

    Two notes:

    1) This map is available free to anyone in LA County for the time being, for others Half Letter’s the way to go. Besides picking it up at the places linked to, you can send Llano Del Rio an email with your mailing address and we’ll post you a copy for free.

    2) Glad you spent more time with Map For An Other LA.

    One of the essays on that map, “Is An Other LA Possible”, explores the notion that autonomous, yet collective, activity can constitute something other than autonomous activity. Following in the footsteps of Chris Carlsson’s book Nowtopia, the essay explores the notion of constituent power displayed through DIY activities in the context of LA. Some of the groups in the Map are consciously a-political others certainly practice a disciplined politics. The question for us was how can we conceptualize a cohesive and emergent politics constituting themselves here as leisure and creative activity- hence the other LA.

    If the hipsters that are mentioned as an object of critique are Allen Ginsburg’s “angel headed hipsters” existentially doing battle with convention and order, seeking personal reason and meaning in a beat world than the idea that this is a hipster guide is something we certainly would agree with. If the hipster’s mentioned are the petite bourgouiise who seek meaning through consumption alone, I wouldn’t completely disagree with that sentiment. Many of the practices represented in the Map For An Other LA are easily accessible both to those shopping for a “life” and those making a meaningful life in their everyday by making it.

    The map focuses on open ended typologies that are gateways to productivity. It should be stated that none of the typologies focused on in the map have a steep buy-in and many are categorically free. Anyways most of the practices in the map exemplify more activity over theorization- which is a hallmark of anarchistic formations rather than marxist. Sometimes the outcome is sloppy and loose and not neccessarily ideological, but productivist. What is interesting though for us (as noted in the essay) is when these non-ideological activities bump into politics (as can be seen in the cycling community, and the back yard gardening movement in LA).

    The essay “Is An Other LA Possible” also takes on the issue of the impracticality of self-organization to seriously address on scale whole cities. This continues to be somehting worth considering in my opinion. Finally, as to the idea that the guide is “elite” – that’s just funny- considering that it’s freely distributed and has no desire to match the power of Eli Broad, Getty, Villaraigosa, Bank of America, British Petroluem, Whole Foods or any of the other elite corporations and entities that actually shape our lives. The community gardens in los angeles, the bike spaces, the DIY spaces, etc are by definition very open to be used and accessed by outsiders- many are multilingual and will work with neophytes and experts alike!

    Again thanks for the wonderful write up.

  2. Hey ldrg, thank you for the detailed notes! I know there was a lot more to this project than I could get into via this blog post… and I do hope to keep revisiting your maps as time goes on.

    When I got the first map I was with a group of people who saw that the map was heavily weighted toward the stereotypical “hipster” neighborhoods of Echo Park, Silver Lake, and Highland Park, and dismissed it as such. I can see why they would have that reaction off the bat, not being residents of those areas themselves. But if one takes the time to actually read the map, I think one would find genuine ideas at work that go far beyond hipster stereotypes, as well as outreach toward fairly diverse outposts in LA.

    Looking forward to the “assholes” guide! 🙂

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