Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

SOMEWHAT LIKE A WHALE


As regular, or even irregular, readers will know, and not only from my previous post, I still have quite an affection for the old Volkswagen Beetle, and at this point in history that may be part of my ongoing affection for many dying (though not quite dead) forms: the printed map, vinyl, the novel, unshaven pudenda.

When I came to live in Los Angeles – about a decade ago now – there were still a lot of Beetles on the street, more than you ever saw in London, and way more than you saw in New York, the places I lived immediately before coming here.  It had a lot to do with the bad winters in those places, I’m sure.


And so when I arrived here, determined not to be part of the cliché that nobody walks in LA, I’d go walking, if not exactly randomly then certainly without much purpose, just looking at things, and I’d make a note of how many VW Beetles I saw.  Sometimes I even photographed them.  And when I got home I’d think, “OK, today’s was a 3 Beetle walk.  Yesterday’s was a 5 Beetle walk” and so on.   Unsophisticated stuff I know:  Walter Benjamin would have been saddened.


The number of Beetles in LA has declined significantly in the last decade, though there are still a surprising number, especially given that (unless they’re imported from Mexico) even the most recent of them is a over 30 years old.  I’ve always been most fascinated by the ones that have the most patina, that show the most signs of wear, age and ruin, but the truth is, I no longer look at (or for) Beetles quite as obsessively as I once did when out walking.

Last week my pal Anthony Miller and I went for a walk in the wild east part of LA’s downtown and although we weren’t strictly in search of Beetles, we came across rather more than we expected.  We stated at Sci Arc (that’s the Southern California Institute of Architecture), a college housed inside a quarter-mile long former freight depot, a building big enough that you do plenty of walking while you’re inside it, especially if you’re there looking for an exhibition and are too guyish to ask anybody for directions.


The exhibition sounded intriguingly inscrutable, and its title was “Ball-Nogues Studio: Yevrus 1, Negative Impression.”  The description read as follows:

        “Constructed from non-architectural artifacts, Yevrus 1, Negative Impression is a disposable architecture of literal references that calls into question the contemporary architectural vogue for digital complexity and abstraction. The cast impressions of 1973 Volkswagen Beetles and speedboats unite to form a strong structural whole that serves as a lookout tower in the SCI-Arc Gallery.
        "After studying a variety of objects within the Los Angeles suburban-scape, the designers selected the individual components for their iconic and structural potential, as well as their availability. Once chosen, the parts were digitally scanned in three dimensions and cast in biodegradable paper pulp using a proprietary technique the studio refers to as a "Yevrus"—the word "Survey" spelled backwards. With this work, the first in a series of experimental Yevrus projects, Ball-Nogues rethinks the purpose of the site survey. No longer seen as a simple tool for construction and engineering, the survey becomes an instrument for finding form, seeking structural stability and realizing iconic meaning.”

I’ll forgive you if you didn’t read all the way to the end of that, but there was a very cool image (below) that advertised the exhibition.  I imagined that the thing in the picture had actually been built as a life-size set, so that we could walk into it and around it, like a kind of Ed Kienholz art installation.


As we walked across the vast sea of parking lot that surrounds Sci Arc I couldn’t help noticing a glistening silver Beetle over across the other side.  It operated as a beacon.




And when we got up to it, we saw it wasn’t just painted silver, it was actually wrapped in some kind of silver foil, in order that (we concluded) a mold or several molds could be made, without sticking to the car itself.  That’s one of the molds sitting next to the Beetle, on the right.


 Encouraged, in we went, walked around in an aimless way for a while, and eventually stopped being guyish and asked directions from a man who looked a lot like an architect (black roll neck, spiky grey hair, ornate specs and a German accent) and so we found our way to the exhibition space.  And that’s when we discovered that thing in the picture was actually just a picture.  There was no walk-in Ed Kienholz-style set.  Were we disappointed?  Yes, but we cheered up at the site of the pod in very middle of the space.


Now, that pod, as perhaps you can see, is partly made of casts taken from a VW Beetle, the one outside presumably, colored some very interesting shades, assembled, and lit internally by fluorescent tubes.  It was by no means what we came for, or had expected, but there was no denying it was kind of cool.



So then, afterwards, when we went walking “properly,” we saw this very clean convertible on the street:


And there was this one apparently being used as part of a photoshoot: 


Looking for Beetles was not the main purpose, or even the highlight, of our afternoon, but somehow our perambulation had become a kind of Beetle walk.  Not one of the great ones; essentially just a 3 Beetle walk, unless you counted the casts, and I think it was probably best not to.


And above is a photograph of my fellow walker, Anthony Miller, looking Jonah-like, as if he's inside the whale, if there had been fluorescent tubes in there, and if the whale had been shaped like a Volkswagen.  Very little room to walk in there.

2 comments:

  1. I've just recently seen a few newer Beetles painted/decorated to capture the 60s look. One was covered with daisy decals and one actually had the doors painted a different colour to mimic the 60s hobbled-together Beetle look. I had to do a double-take.

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  2. Thanks Guy - I like the sound of the fake "hobbled-together look." I'm a big fan of the "rat rod" look too - though I've never actually seen one of them while out walking.

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