USC Island Project: Pictionary & Picnic

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The undergrad public art class at USC (aka “Art In the Public Realm: Contemporary Issues”) is working on a project with Ari and Islands of LA. The aim is to develop an island-based action that let’s our group tease out – or butt into – ideas about public space/s in L.A. It could be a didactic intervention that articulates theoretical perspectives or it could be keyed for fun. Most likely we think it’ll be some delightful mix of the two.

We’re going to be talking about the project and exchanging ideas on the  (arguably) public space  that is this blog. So please join in with your comments and suggestions, we look forward to hearing from you – and class…..

Update: on April 17th, we met on an island on the corner of Figueroa and 23rd, between downtown and USC.

Below is the discussion that led up to this activity where we played Pictionary and had a picnic on a Friday evening.

Pictionary on an Island at Figueroa & 23rd, Los Angeles







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19 responses to “USC Island Project: Pictionary & Picnic”

  1. I propose an old-fashioned campfire night, complete with singing songs with guitar accompaniment, making s’mores, and telling ghost stories. It would a sort of nostalgic trip-down-memory-lane for anyone who ever went to summer camp, and I think it would be effective in bringing a group of people because of the inclusion of food. The biggest problem I can foresee would be the open flame – we would have to look up city ordinances and see if we could somehow bring one of those metal fire pits so as to keep the flames contained, or else figure out some other way to get a “campfire” to the island, whether it would be sternos, candles, or something else.

  2. Janet Owen Driggs

    My initial thought on this was some kind of limbo dancing activity as the sun went down – it was prompted by the idea of ‘islands’ and occurred to me as a bit of a joke. Now that I’m thinking about it though, I’m enjoying the way limbo dancing leads to the concept of Limbo. Which – to quote Wikipedia – is an idea about an “afterlife condition” derived the Latin limbus, meaning edge or boundary. I’d enjoy considering traffic islands in relation to limo. Does that resonate for anyone else?

    I really enjoy the idea of ghost stories and a bonfire Simona. We’d definitely have to be careful to explore the legalities though, and look into some heat/light source alternatives too. It could be an interesting way to build on Michael Hebbs’ cooking dinner on an island.

  3. As we’ve discussed in class, I would like to engage in a social activity that involves our interests and includes an element that involves our field of study. Since I work for the game industry, I would like to play a board game. It also seems very fitting since the class is very small, and I think it could be a fun, relaxing activity. I would also think the activities would go very positively if there was food involved (potluck, smores, bbq, etc.)

  4. Janet Owen Driggs

    Hi Lisa – how about bringing the game off the board into body space? Didn’t the queen in Alice in Wonderland play chess with her army? Anyway, I’m thinking more of citywide real-space role-playing + strategy games (aka ‘pervasive games’) like “StreetWars”.

    Before you read the description I pasted below from Hugh Davies though, check out:

    “The term Pervasive Games encompasses a wide range of emergingand interrelated game types. These games are typically played incity areas and often utilise a range of digital media platforms suchas mobile phones, websites and GPS tracking as well as analoguemedia such as posters, maps, notes and can involve physicalactivities including performance and treasure hunts.

    These gamesare often presented with or within other activities such as art installation, urban renewal, political activism and advertising.While there is currently little agreement on a definitivedescription of Pervasive Games, what distinguishes them asdifferent to traditional game types is that they use the real worldas a game play area and by doing so they blur the marginsbetween game and reality.”

  5. I would like to do a potluck and maybe find someone to give dance lessons. I think it’s fun for everyone to contribute (with food) and then dancing is active and interesting.

    My other idea is to plant a “Victory”-style garden for the public. It could include natural insecticides like marigolds and then vegetables. With food prices rising and lack of access to fresh off the farm produce in LA, it would make a small statement and be convenient.

  6. Regarding the question of a campfire in the City of Los Angeles:


    No person shall construct, erect, install, locate, equip, maintain, or use any incinerator, exterior fireplace or barbeque device, or burn any combustible material so as to constitute or occasion a fire hazard by the use, or burning thereof, or as to endanger the life or property of any person thereby.”

    You can only light fires or burn things in places that are specifically designated and posted to allow open flames. Sec. 63.44(P)(1). And the Code lists a number of parks in “high fire hazard zones” where lighting fires or burning any substance is completely prohibited. See LAMC 63.41(P)(2)-(3).

  7. So does that mean that in some places there are fire-pits/grills already and those are the only fire-friendly zones? Or is it that in certain places setting up a small, temporary fire is okay(like on a concrete-only island)?

  8. while this is being researched, i’m wondering what people’s opinion is: do you think it is possible to safely have a campfire or a bbq on certain islands?

  9. Janet Owen Driggs

    Thanks for the legal intervention Zachary. The whole suggestion of fire does bring up a slew of ethical questions in addition to the legal one though doesn’t it? Would you remind us too Ari about the various legalities + ramifications of planting on an island? Charlotte’s suggestion has me think that, even if digging over an island turns out to be unfeasible, we could scatter seeds discreetly over lots of islands and watch them bloom. (FYI: Jane Song’s “Everything is Alive” is a really nice project that involved Jane planting poppy seeds along her daily commute, including on what looks in the photo like an island. More at


  10. Oh! I forgot to add this:

    If you go to Google Maps and use the yellow human icon on the left side of the displaying map, you can get a virtual street view on the block that I mentioned above. Just drag the icon around on to San Vicente Blvd, and stroll between La Brea and Fairfax; you’ll be able to see those islands and the neighborhood.

  11. Hi everyone,

    I have a question: Have we decided on the exact location/ island in which all of these are going to take place? If not, I have a suggestion for location. Last weekend, I was driving on San Vicente Blvd, and between its intersection with La Brea to Fairfax,there are these huge (well, in my standards, they are pretty big) islands with grass bed and trees planted on them. Moreover, it is situated in a residential neighborhood, and with our conceived activities such as bonfire/ BBQ/ storytelling/ performances all seemed very “family-friendly”, I think the residents will actually be very interested in what we are doing. Also, since this site is in a residential are, the spectators that we are going to attract might be ‘homogeneous’ as oppose to downtown LA? I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Just a thought.

  12. After researching this, I believe having a small bbq on an island could be done in a manner that is safe and legal.

    planting is not allowed, i believe there is even a CA statute that says digging isn’t allowed.

    maybe we can pick a day and a location? what other issues might we consider aside from it being a safe island with a crosswalk? for ex, does it matter if one of us lives nearby?

    kelly suggested the ones on san vicente in the mid-wilshire area (see link below and zoom in). if there are other suggestions for location, you can paste in a link to your comment and we should all get it,+Los+Angeles,+Los+Angeles,+California+90019&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&split=0&gl=us&ei=o0TDSd6WMJ3gsAO2uLBU&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&resnum=1&ct=title

  13. On Friday, April 24th from 5:30 to 7:30 PM, USC’s Public Art Studies spring 2009 class will host an event of both small proportions (a closed guest list) and large ideals (philosophical charades, anyone?). Good food, interesting people, and intelligent conversation is difficult to find, but all will be available on the traffic island at 23rd and Figueroa.

  14. Since the location of our island is directly located on the leftside for those who are exiting from the 110 fwy, perhaps we can make use of this advantage and plan our strategies for attracting attention accordingly? I feel like cars coming off of the freeway will be the one of the steadiest inputs from the public when we host our event, and given with the STOP sign at the corner of our island, all the drivers coming off the freeway from 5:30 to 7:30pm are destined to witness this spectacular get-together! So lets get these drivers involved!
    Sounds good? Any ideas?

  15. I guess I don’t find it necessary to go out of our way to get attention and distract drivers. I find it mildly dangerous in addition to the fact that people who want to pay attention will pay attention.

  16. Great question and Charlotte raises important concerns. Safety and responsibility are critical. These spaces are highly visible yet are there ways to interact with drivers that doesn’t interfere with traffic safety/access? In any case, here are some examples:

    Miniature postcards passed out from an island:

    Another possibility is to create a large sandwich board, like we often see on the street. We could create one or use what was installed at an exhibition for a show called Soundscape, curated by Tiffany Barber, a recent public art studies program grad.

    Firefighters have used islands to interact with drivers and raise money for MD…

    We can also consider the use of islands by homeless to interact with drivers as well as by vendors. In regards to vendors, check out this article by urban planner/theorist Margaret Crawford about how street vendors often define the urban landscape:

    Whatever we do, drivers will notice us as we have our intimate yet public experience. But since this is a stop, we at most would have a few seconds of their attention.

  17. I think what we discussed in class was that we would play charades or pictionary and allow the drivers to notice us on their own. It’s probably surprising enough that we are on the traffic island at all, since they don’t often see people spending time on them.

  18. Islands of LA – Press Release
    April 17, 2009

    Afternoon sunshine in downtown Los Angeles makes perfect picnic weather. While lawn chairs and pre-made fruit skewers may provide a surreal scene amidst the flow of rush hour traffic, the sight of urban castaways marooned on a traffic island certainly provokes a multitude of questions. Are they really playing charades? Is that a doughnut? And, moreover, what does picnicking on a traffic island have to do with art?

    An intimate gathering on a traffic island at the intersection of 23rd street and Figueroa is the locale. The attendees are a collaboration made up of USC Public Art students and Islands of LA: Janet Owen Driggs, Christopher Michlig, Alexis Turzan, Simona Merchen, Kelly Johnson, Lisa Takehana, Charlotte West, Cesar Garcia, Liz Lidgett, and Ari Kletzky. This island party is part of an ongoing effort by Islands of LA – a public art project designed to encourage civic engagement by activating the city’s urban archipelago of traffic islands, stranded amidst the concrete jungle of the city’s urban byways.

    21st century art practices are not only concerned questions of aesthetics. Instead artists, like the charade-playing castaways, are increasingly concerned with interrelationships, socio-political issues pushing the boundaries between public and private, and performative experimentation within and through space.

    Traffic islands exist in a limbic space that is held in constant tension between questions of ownership, use, and engagement. While traffic islands are meant to increase the flow of traffic and reduce hazards to pedestrians, they vary in size, shape, location, and design. Hosting an event on a traffic island such as a party, afternoon tea, or a barbeque fosters public participation through responsible interaction, allowing participants to activate a dialogue concerning social utility while safely intervening in the city’s metropolitan landscape.

    The island event is not simply a gathering of like-minded artists and interested citizens creating a public spectacle. Instead, the island event is meant to generate provocative conversation concerning the contest of meaning and use that occurs within the realm of quotidian spaces often ignored or taken for granted. Through the processes of collaborative activation and the occurrence of a traffic island event, both participants and passers-by alike are encouraged to rethink Los Angeles’ overlooked traffic islands as everyday spaces for meaningful exchanges of ideas, experiences, and culture – facilitating civic engagement while questioning the interstitial spaces unique to the cityscape’s urban face.

  19. I thought that the Traffic Island Project on April 17th was generally successful. Though I had some doubts and concerns before executing the project, we were able to enjoy each other’s company without any accidents or unfortunate events.

    I also did not feel as uncomfortable in the space as I had initially expected. The traffic island was large enough to contain the people in the party and left room for safety. The space was ideal as it was not surrounded by heavy traffic on all sides, and the street with the heaviest flow of traffic (Figueroa) did not direct towards the island but ran parallel to it. Also, though we did have quite a few stares, having a bus stop on the island made it less noticeable and strange to have people on the island.

    Another thing I was particularly fond of of the project was the socializing and the activities. We were able to have fun with chatting, food and games while being responsible and without endangering ourselves or others.

    The one thing I would change, though, is the time. Though it’s the summer time and the sun is still out and the weather is not uncomfortable, 5:30 to 7:30pm is not the time I would have preferred the event to take place. The traffic is heavier during this time due to people leaving the Downtown area from work, thus having a higher chance of getting into accidents (or having others get in an accident). Also, as the evening approaches and there is less sunlight, there are safety concerns of the surrounding neighborhoods. The area with the traffic island is not the safest, and with increasing concerns for safety of the USC area, I would not mind driving out to a safer neighborhood the next time we have a Traffic Island Day.