Encompassing items such as fold-up motorcycles and an earthquake readiness program assembled in a city park from cardboard boxes, " California Design Biennial: Action/Reaction" takes a look at how practitioners of industrial design, fashion, graphics, transportation and architecture have responded to recent shake-ups in America's economic and political climate.
"The recession was a huge wake-up call for Southern California's design community to pay attention," says Biennial graphic design curator Louise Sandhaus. "I'm interested in how design engages with sustainability economically, socially and culturally and environmentally."
Instead of hammering "green" clichés into the ground, Bob Aufuldish's artful brochures for sustainable architects SWA made the cut in part because illustrator Katherine Warinner transcended standard eco-shorthand. "Usually, the established visual vocabulary is green," Sandhaus says. "I loved that they didn't use green. They came up with another vocabulary that was abstract rather than literal to talk about the aesthetics of sustainability."
Sandhaus, who teaches at CalArts and runs a design firm, also selected a series of evocative subway posters that celebrate a polyglot vision of Los Angeles as expressed through neighborhood portraits by Stas Orlovski (representing Expo Park / USC), Shizu Saldamando ( Little Tokyo) and Jonathan Anderson (Gardena). Sandhaus says, "Sometimes when a centralized organization like the Metro system creates an identity, it does not pick up on the different personalities of all these communities. This poster series bridges that gap with distinctive images that distinguish very diverse areas of Los Angeles."
Graphic design standouts also include The Groop's clever variations on a doughnut-themed logo for the Live Earth global warming campaign; UCLA's "Culture + Globalization" poster, which arrays dense sets of data into a handsome array of semi-abstract grids; and Handbuilt Studio's vivid set of banners that were silk-screened in a community workshop.
Representing the activist art tradition is Amy Martin's red- and blue-veined "Keep America Healthy" map of the United States. For Sandhaus, the poster distills complicated policy issues into a powerful metaphor. She says, "Amy's piece shows great visual intelligence in the way it puts across this message about America and how the health of the individual and the heartbeat in Washington is all tied in together. It very elegantly communicates this very complex idea in a way that you cannot do in words."
"California Design Biennial: Action/Reaction" runs through Nov. 1 at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.