Published in Artfacts Vol.IIX, No 1, USC Roski School of Art and Design, Fall 2003, Los Angeles, CA
The following was the introduction to Daniel Buren’s second lecture of a three part series titled ‘The Desertion of the Studio and it’s Implications’ at the University of Southern California School of Fine Arts Twentieth Annual Getty Lecture Series.
The title of Daniel Buren’s lecture tonight is Works in Situ.
By way of introduction, instead of attempting to sum up the amazing career of Daniel Buren, I thought I would share my experience of one of his works. In 1995 Andrew Freeman was hired by Anne Rorimer to document Daniel Buren’s work titled Bus Benches dated 1970/82/95. At the time it was included in the MOCA exhibition Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965-1975, curated by Ann Goldstein and Anne Rorimer. The work consisted of 52 bus benches throughout Los Angeles. On the backrest of each bench, where the advertising would be, green and white bands of color 8.7 cm wide, covered the back of the bench in standard bus poster material. Andrew Freeman hired me to assist him in documenting the benches. We went to each of these bus bench locations at least once, some several times. Four were missing and one was mismarked.
Generally when given the choice of several benches with advertising and a green and white striped bench, the public preferred to rest on Daniel Buren’s work. When graffiti-ing on bus benches people also preferred Daniel Buren’s work, though in consideration of the form, they often wrote their smaller texts within a band of color.
Our conversations with people regarding the bus benches were generally one sided. Mostly it consisted of telling people they were sitting on an artwork that was about to be photographed and would they consider moving to the bench next to them if they didn’t want to become part of the documentation. One elderly woman in front of a convalescent home was particularly taken with this information. It pleased her to know she was sitting on a work of art connected to MOCA.
As we collected these photo souvenirs, we looked forward to seeing the context of each bench. A simple act of recognition, the oh there’s one began to fix in our brains. As we drove around Los Angeles they became old friends. I look at the bench on Beverly and Kingsley Drive to this day. The business has turned over twice since then. We have a photograph of that location. A woman sits on the striped bench holding a child with the word liquor advertised on the wall behind her in large red acrylic letters.
The life going on around the benches became a frame, which could not be separated from the work. This was further affected by the vulnerability we felt through the camera’s presence.
At Vermont and Olympic I stayed in the pickup while Andy took out one camera. The pickup was unlocked and a man on a bike came towards the car. I pretended not to see him looking in at the equipment. When he made a U-turn back out of the parking lot, I locked the doors and watched him switch off the bike to another man who rode it somewhere behind me. When Andy returned I said, "I think we are about to get jumped" and we decided to leave. As we backed the car out we saw the guy on the bike behind a wall. There was a van in the corner of the lot, a possible third person. As we pulled out past the McDonalds, the first man was practicing his boxing moves on the sidewalk. He stopped and watched us as we drove by. There was plenty of traffic.
At the corner of La Brea and Hollywood Blvd. drug deals were being conducted from the green and white striped bench. We returned on several occasions without making photographs due to the awkwardness of pointing a camera at criminal activity. As a last resort we went first thing in the morning only to find that there was still a person posted at the site. As a show of good faith, we paid him twenty bucks to move.
The last bench photographs was the most compelling Los Angeles experience. It was on the corner of Santa Monica and Thayer in front of a Human Rights Center. We had walked over to the field of tall grass across the street to examine the best vantage point when a barefoot woman came running out of nowhere and started to beat Andy on the head with a shoe. It took me a minute to realize she was alone. In my strictest voice, I told her, “You need to stop that right now.” And she did, moving back into the bushes telling us something to the effect that you people need to stop bothering me. Stop coming here. We had not been to the site before. Her act was a defensive one, not aggressive. This particular experience proposed the need to put into context the homeless woman, our experience, and our labor now behind us with the work of Daniel Buren.
Please welcome, Daniel Buren.