A sliver of a yard can be a powerful thing. Materials & Applications has proved this time and again by collaborating with architects to put up fantastical creations on a 25-by-40-foot gravel yard fronting Silver Lake Boulevard.
Past double-take-worthy installations include a golden-leafed Mylar canopy in the shape of a black hole by Ball-Nogues Studio, a motorized vegetative cover that opens and refolds like origami by Eddie Sykes and a sinuous, fire-shaped gazebo made of pressure-laminated panels by Edmund Ming-Yip Kwong. The installations turned the M&A yard into a local landmark — a pocket park in a privately owned space.
An exhibition at the University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach, which runs through April 13, encapsulates M&A's decade-plus of activity.
A feeling of isolation after 9/11 pushed Jenna Didier to start Materials & Applications, a nonprofit research and exhibition center dedicated to advancing new and underused ideas in art, architecture and landscape. "I felt disheartened and hopeless. Rather than sink into an introspective art practice, I wanted to open up and engage everyone," she said.
Oliver Hess came on board two years after Didier began and the two involved the neighborhood by hosting public building workshops alongside each project. M&A "is part of the warp and weft of the Silver Lake community," said Kristina Newhouse, University Art Museum curator.
It also filled a void for adventurous architects. "Places like M&A provide architects with the opportunity to fail. I mean that in the best possible way," said Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues, whose practice got its start at M&A. Ball-Nogues works are now in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Not many clients will support a trial-and-error process on an untested structure. M&A is a place where you can do that."
M&A is moving beyond the frontyard by collaborating with like-minded individuals and community groups on public art projects through an initiative called Urban Applications.
In partnership with the Council for Watershed Health, UA turned an old alley into an inviting and informative walkway by painting a 300-foot wall with images of local flora and fauna in a Mexican Otomi-style. With a Proposition 50 grant, UA is designing shaded seating areas along Woodman Avenue in Panorama City that tell the story of Los Angeles water in partnership with the River Project.
Meanwhile, Hess has stepped away from M&A to start his own studio, Aperiodic Industries.
M&A will still put up courtyard installations. Its next one, a fanciful human-sized bird cage made of bent steel tubes, is scheduled to open April 19 with a grant from the Warhol Foundation.
Materials & Applications events and happenings
Five ways to engage with Materials & Applications:
1. "Materials & Applications: Building Something (Beyond) Beautiful, Projects 2002-2013." Museum retrospective looks at the first decade-plus of M&A's work. Through April 13. University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach. www.csulb.edu/org/uam or emanate.org.
2. Hands-on painting and assembly of M&A's latest installation, "La Cage aux Folles." Join architect Warren Techentin and his team to help paint and reassemble the "big bird cage." Through April 1. Info:www.facebook.com/pages/Materials-Applications/391176766943.
3. "Tactical Urban Interventions" panel discussion. In conjunction with the M&A museum show, Urban Operations' John Southern moderates a discussion on communities and the development of public places. 7 p.m. April 10. University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach.
4. Long Beach architectural bike tour. M&A enthusiast Brian Janeczko leads a three- to four-hour bike tour of Long Beach architectural gems. Noon on April 12. Ride departs from University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach. Info: www.facebook.com/pages/Materials-Applications/391176766943.
5. "La Cage aux Folles" installation opening in the M&A courtyard. Music by DJ Pierrot (Mark Wright of South Pasadena's Vidéothèque). 4 to 8 p.m. April 19. 1619 Silver Lake Blvd., L.A.
How to create an engaging frontyard
Jenna Didier offers ideas for opening up your frontyard to foster a stronger sense of community.
• Build a nook where you can leave things you don't want but others might find useful. It's the same idea as Little Free Library (littlefreelibrary.org), which invites neighbors to "take a book, return a book."
• Plant fruit trees and put up a sign inviting people to pick the fruit.
• Hang a photo frame on your front gate and switch out the inserts with photos, quotes or poems.