From the anonymous, rogue artists that brought the Griffith Park Tea House to L.A. last summer, Petal Drop happened today in a tiny alley off of Broadway.
When we arrived close to dawn, the city was still quiet. Aside from sleeping homeless people wrapped in blankets and nestled in doorways, the sidewalks were mostly empty along the few blocks we walked to reach the metal door. As the daylight intensified, so did the hustle and bustle of the street, a crowd began to gather, a stream of city buses passed by, rattling shopping carts with staticky, blaring radios were pushed along. The line that formed was a bit of a fashion parade with cute, small dogs being one of the most popular accessories on display. We waited in line for a while (with our own dog, too large to carry, at the end of a leash) for our chance to enter the alley . The mood was upbeat and friendly There was a sense of exception and mystery. People introduced themselves and made small talk while the dogs sniffed each other, their own version of small talk.
Eventually it was our turn to enter the alley, in groups of about a dozen (we took turns while one of us waited outside with the dog). In a skinny, leftover gap between two buildings, not much wider than the door you entered through, a confetti of rose and cherry petals wafted down from above, swirling through the diffused natural light from the gauzy, white sky overhead, an open sliver between the rooflines four stories high. It was instantly peaceful and quiet, the familiar noises of the city street just a few yards away drowned out by the soft clicking of petals hitting various surfaces and a typewriter tapping from a fire escape landing above. No one spoke above a whisper. An element of theater, a few mute workers going about the business of alley, transported us to another world as if stepping into a play in progress. Visitors were handed small clipboards and asked to write their memories of Los Angeles, which would then be filed away for safe keeping. After 10 minutes or so, a soft bell encouraged us to leave the alley to make room for the next set of visitors. We arrived back on the sidewalk with a few petals scattered in our hair as mementos of the experience.
The softness, lightness and pink-ness of the flower petals was a contrast to the hard materials that form the building blocks of the urban environment. But those materials are natural, too: metal mined from far underground and forged with intense heat; brick and concrete made of sand, cement, clay and water, also dug and scooped from the earth itself. We manipulate these basic elements to create the rigid world we live in and feel like we are in control. Then we pine for a sense of nature that is untouched by human hands, that is beyond our control and that can surprise us and make us feel small again. But we are not separate from nature, we are nature (which reminds me of my favorite billboard, “you are not IN traffic, you ARE traffic”).
In one of the largest cities in the world, art has the ability to transform a “worthless” space into a sublime and transcendent experience shared by former strangers who are now connected by this event. It is a genuine gift by a collective of artists who love Los Angeles and generously share their vision, ideas, resources and time with us, accepting no credit for their work and expecting no compensation for what they provide.
Tomorrow, the alley will go back to its normal state, hidden from view, empty, vacant and soon forgotten. Today, it was a special place that brought people together to enjoy a few moments of peace and beauty. Hopefully the “(01)” in the title of the project means we can look forward to version (02), yet to come….