Weingart Gallery opened its doors to the public with the release of photojournalist Bear Guerra and journalist Ruxandra Guidi’s photo and film exhibit “South of Fletcher: Stories from the Bowtie” Sept. 13. The artists, who form the Fonografia Collective, worked in partnership with Oxy Arts and Clockshop, an art nonprofit in Los Angeles that works with California State Parks, to bring this project to fruition. Guerra and Guidi explained that the project curates a story through multiple platforms, including a podcast and series of discussions with the artists.
According to Guerra and Guidi, they spent nine months familiarizing themselves with the Bowtie, an 18-acre piece of land alongside the Los Angeles River that will transform from an abandoned railyard into a state park within the next five to 10 years.
“It’s a place that preserves the elements of what it once was, a railyard, and still manages to represent nature in LA,” Guidi said. “It’s next to the river; there’s willow trees, native places, and birds that pass through there. So it’s a really unique and kind of in-between place.”
The Bowtie is a unique open space in a city that lacks in this resource, according to Guidi. The goal of the project was to preserve the space before it changes into a state park, which is why Guidi and Guerra’s photos reflect the idiosyncrasies in the space itself, including the graffiti, trash and lack of vegetation.
“Los Angeles is a place that’s constantly changing, constantly gentrifying, so we thought it would be a good challenge to try to tell stories about a place that is in flux,” Guidi said.
According to Guerra, in a subtle way, this project captures the underlying issues that exist around the Bowtie. The space is centrally located between four neighborhoods that are rapidly gentrifying: Atwater Village, Cypress Park, Glassell Park, and across the river, Elysian Valley (Frogtown). The project focuses on the land, but it also focuses on the people who use it.
“The goal behind this project is to hear from people whose voices aren’t necessarily a part of the discussion about how things change,” Guerra said.
Clockshop Director Julia Meltzer explained that she commissioned Fonografia Collective to document this moment in the history of the LA River in order to raise awareness about the site. In addition, she wanted Fonografia Collective to allow the audience to feel like they have a voice in what this site becomes when the revitalization of the Bowtie starts to takes place.
“We wanted to really learn more about the people who live next to the land, on the piece of land and document their feelings and experiences before the land changes and those feelings and experiences are erased,” Meltzer said.
Oxy Arts Director Meldia Yesayan said that she wanted to make sure the project came to Occidental because she thinks that it is important for the college to build relationships with community partners and create certain dialogues on campus about how LA is changing, for better or for worse.
“As a liberal arts college that’s in the center of a global city, we have a responsibility to learn about our community and ensure that we build lasting community partnerships, with respect and understanding to what’s happening around us,” Yesayan said.
According to Yesayan, three classes this semester are incorporating the exhibit into their curriculums. In one of these such courses, “Art of Resistance!”, students study the LA River for a few weeks and then attend the exhibit, according to Ajda Celebi (sophomore), who is taking the class.
Many members of the community, including Eagle Rock residents, Occidental alumni and students, attended the opening reception of the exhibit Sept. 13. Occidental alumna Courtney Dusenberry ‘09 heard about the event through a friend who works at Oxy Arts and was intrigued by one of the photos.
“What really struck me was the photo of the animal carcass stuck on the fence,” Dusenberry said. “What if the carcass has been there since the train depot? It was just really interesting to think it was a passage of time frozen right there.”
The exhibition is open until Nov. 4. The next opportunity to experience Guerra, Guidi and the Fonografia Collective’s work will be through a panel discussion that will take place in Choi Auditorium Sept. 24.