Building Community Through Collage

An interview with Lucy Cook

Text & Photos by Margaret Andersen

 

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Finished work on display; Eline Mul and Lucy Cook working on their collage pieces

Finished work on display; Eline Mul and Lucy Cook working on their collage pieces

A lot of people in LA still perceive the San Fernando Valley as a place of urban sprawl and homogeneity. But venture north of the 101, and you’ll find that it’s actually a diverse network of communities, each with its own rich cultural history and identity. New revitalization efforts are in the works for several Valley neighborhoods, like the city of Pacoima, where business leaders plan to make it’s busiest streets pedestrian friendly, and offer residents more in the way of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. Make your way down Van Nuys Blvd., and you’ll already find walking tours of over 50 murals donning the walls of buildings within a mile radius of Pacoima City Hall, a hub for community-driven arts initiatives. The modern glass and concrete structure is host to workshops and art projects like Talleres Publicos, an event series led by several CalArts alumni. We spoke with Lucy Cook, one of the Artists in Residence, to see how she and her former classmates got involved in the project, and why its important for designers to engage with communities outside their immediate surroundings.

Thanks for speaking with us today Lucy! Can you tell us a little about yourself and Confetti Confidential?
I’m a designer working and teaching in Los Angeles. Laura Bernstein, Ania Diakoff, Kate Johnston, Julie Moon and I were in the CalArts Design Program together graduating between the years of 2010 and 2012. Confetti Confidential spawned from CACA, the original CalArts Collage Association. The motive was to have a place to come together, socialize and make work outside the context of the crit room. This carried out to meeting after work regularly at Laura’s apartment in Hollywood. Through the process of cooking, eating, discussing and making, we’re creating a body of work that is a totem of the time spent together, of friendship and intimacy, discovery of new materials and the joy of self-expression and assembling.

I have a lot of respect for the group. It’s one that facilitates support, friendship and community. During a talk with Tom Leeser’s Center for Integrated Media class, Tom commented on his interest in our group’s ability to continue the classroom outside of the academic classroom. I believe he was surprised how our group managed to sustain our weekly collage evenings as life was actually happening to us from all sides. I don’t think this question has been answered. Coco has also been invited for several other residencies that include Human Resources, Echo Chamber and Honor Fraser Gallery.

What has your design practice been like since graduating from CalArts?
Since graduating, I’ve led a freelance and teaching practice in design. Teaching has been the greatest surprise of all and I have come to find how much it means to me. Right now, I’m teaching Bookmaking for Photographers, a workshop in the CalArts Photo/Media program. Also, I teach Evenings of Collage, an ongoing workshop series at Women’s Center For Creative Work (WCCW), a non-profit center co-founded by Kate.

 

How did Confetti Confidential become involved with Talleres Publicos?
Leonardo Bravo of Big City Forum reached out to us. At the point he approached us, we had concluded a residency at Honor Fraser Gallery, a talk with Tom Leeser’s Center for Integrated Media class and leading an Open Collage workshop at the Spring CalArts Print Fair. We’re thrilled about this Pacoima opportunity because it reveals grounds for engaging a wider community with collage.

How was Pacoima chosen as the neighborhood for this project?
Leonardo selected Pacoima for its vibrant neighborhood and personal and geographic histories. It is a bilingual and intergenerational community outside the LA city limits, and it is his intention to get architects, graphic and urban designers, artists, and social and community activists out there for everyone to come together, collaborate and share. Pacoima City Hall is a beautiful space, with gorgeous natural light and will facilitate all of the activities and programming for the project. We’re delighted to try on new shoes and get involved with the local community.

Why is it important for designers to participate in projects that engage directly with the community, specifically communities in the northern San Fernando Valley?
Because communities located outside the periphery of LA have stories to exchange. As design practitioners, we are socially responsible and should assist others who want to express a particular voice in a Northern San Fernando community for outside audiences. Perhaps communities are not getting the attention they deserve or perhaps they do not have geographic accessibility to certain resources for growth or to sustain commerce. Neighborhoods such as Echo Park and Highland Park are sprawling but it did not used to look this way. What would it look like if more people circulated communities in the Northern San Fernando Valley? For designers to come in to offer expertise alongside architects, urban designers, artists, and social and community activists, would be hugely impactful.

What makes collage a great medium for participatory design?
Collage is for everyone and it’s certainly a physical and performative medium involving a materials pile and variety of tools. The medium offers an undeniably satisfying basis for pure learning, self-expression and sharing. The process of undoing or tearing apart is as vital as the initial compositing. The ritual of collage can flourish in a group setting. The group dynamic, public or intimate, offers a generative initiative for producing studies, final pieces of art or sculpture or exercises for one’s professional practice or personal outlet. There’s always a participatory entry because scissors and glue sticks have been staple objects for everyone since elementary school. And most importantly, the artifacts produced in the end are a testament to the process of time spent together.

 

Closeup of mural at Pacoima City Hall

Closeup of mural at Pacoima City Hall

Mural of actor and Valley resident, Danny Trejo

Mural of actor and Valley resident, Danny Trejo

The next Confetti Confidential event will be held this weekend:
Sunday, October 18th from 1–4pm Exquisite Corpse / The Living and the Dead

Exquisite corpse is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition, taking turns in sequence. The outcome is often surprising and revealing of a group’s shared experience.

The theme of this workshop will focus on El Dia de Los Muertos and our relationships to the spirit and materiality of time, as well as Pacoima’s own identity, beauty and darkness.