Lauren Bon’s metabolic sculptures are concerned with transforming the paradigms that control land use. NotaCornfield in downtown Los Angeles in 2005-2006 involved acres of corn planted on a derelict site that would later become the Los Angeles State Historic Park. For months visitors weaved their way through the green and gold stalks for screenings, readings, rituals, and concerts. People returned again and again. The 32-acre site came alive with their traffic and the community’s new sense of attachment. Today, ten years after this work began, the Metabolic Studio is poised to reconnect this park to the nearby Los Angeles River that once annually flooded this ground.
The signature projects of Lauren Bon’s Metabolic Studio begin with a device of wonder—a large field of corn, or an aquaponic garden of strawberries in the case of Strawberry Flag 2009-2010. The work goes on long after the sculptural activation ebbs. The studio calls this long-term engagement durational performance. And this goes on as long as it takes to catalyze the intended paradigm shift.
Strawberry Flag was sited at the Department of Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System campus on land deeded as a home to veterans in 1888 by Arcadia Bandini de Baker and Sen. John P. Jones. Over the years, the function of the property has changed to being only a hospital. Many of the buildings have been abandoned or underutilized. And all this in a city with the largest homeless veteran population in the country.
Bon’s red, white, and blue Strawberry Flag had veterans caring for strawberry plants on a large lawn surrounded by three nearly empty buildings. This cultivation and the return of people to the space sparked an “innovation zone” of jobs and training. Bon went to Washington D.C. to talk to then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gen. Eric Shinseki about Strawberry Flag and the veterans. Soon after her visit, the VA allocated $20 million to create housing for homeless veterans in Building 209, a former mood-disorder lockup that had sat empty for years.
Strawberry Flag was instrumental in defining space for the people who need it the most. The Metabolic Studio team has continued to activate space with durational performance. Long after the sculptural activation of the Flag object ebbed, they have established a food forest known as Arcadia’s Garden, a newspaper run by veterans called the Strawberry Bulletin, a veterans print studio, and a dedicated team committed to holding this space for veterans just as the land was intended to be used—as a home—for as long as it takes for this paradigm to shift.