Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Rabe’s "Vast Wasteland Project" takes shape. Guggenheim app to come to document abandoned TV sets.

WARNING: By reading this blog, you are participating in an art project.

As you may know if you’ve read this blog at all regularly, I’ve been looking for some traction for my ongoing photo essay on the abandoned television sets of Lincoln Heights and Cypress Park.

On Monday I wrote, “So far, no calls from Taschen or the Annenberg photo center. Maybe because of the glaring lack on conflict or even the vaugest narrative thread. No arc, as they say.”

So when Kevin Roderick charitably linked to the blog on LA Observed, I took it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a sign to get a move on.

I e-mailed Mark, a professional grant-writing friend, about how I might take this further. Mark wrote back:

“A Guggenheim Fellowship, I think: an artist transplanted from the Midwest to LA wants a grant to drive around California to document the state's love/hate relationship with television, as expressed through a certain physicality, an undeniable confrontation with the physical reality of television: when you hate more than just what television represents, but the structure itself and what it represents in your living space. What is it, exactly, we're kicking to the curb here?”

Eureka! And other California towns!

In other words, Mr. Guggenheim, how did we get from here …


(“A small child stands with his hand on one of the new Hoffman TV sets.” LA Public Library photo archive.)

… in which the television set becomes a part of the family, trusted with our children, the nation’s future … and here …


(“Picture of a console model of a Hoffman 19" TV set in a living room setting, with blonde wood. This is Model 896. A picture of a girl with a horse is shown on the screen. LA Public Library photo archive.)

... in which the television becomes an integral part of The American Home, the "blonde wood" of the set mirroring the American ideal of beauty … to here ...


(March, 2010. Cypress Park, abandoned television. Vast Wasteland Project, (C) 2010 John Rabe.)

... where the beloved televisions of the past are so much trash, have themselves become, in essence, the “vast wasteland” that Newton Minnow bemoaned in his famous oration on the evils of television so many years ago. Indeed, “What is it, exactly, we're kicking to the curb here?”

The Guggenheim application period doesn’t open for a few more months, so I’ll keep you posted.

(Check out John's weekly show Off-Ramp.)

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