The Art Department
The Art Department is an anonymous, LA-based team that creates free, surreal, meaningful, and gorgeous installations in unexpected urban sites.
- Los Angeles Area
- Group experiences
- Highly detailed, gorgeously stylized set design
- Highly evocative with a focus on the senses
- Abstract narratives to balance surreal landscapes
- Low agency, but powerful actors
- Light to no physical touching between performer and audience
More on The Art Department
Seeing the city as muse and co-conspirator, the Art Department has installed pieces in an electrical substation, a recently burned canyon, a working concrete factory, and an abandoned swimming pool in Griffith Park.
The Art Department aims to connect Angelenos through poetic disruptions of everyday life.
The Art Department installations are free to the public thanks to public funding and generous grants from Fulcrum Arts, the California Arts Council, the Whiteley Institute, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles Recreation and Parks, Culture Matters, and a number of private donors.
The Art Department experiences perfectly capture the childlike wonder of exploring something so beautiful that it feels like magic—but it’s real. Marrying immersive elements with nature only serves to heighten their experiences and provide an intimacy that current audiences crave.
Griffith Park Teahouse (June 2015): Installed overnight on an abandoned concrete platform in Griffith Park on June 30, 2015, the teahouse was built from salvaged redwoods that were damaged in the park fire of 2007. A love letter to Los Angeles, the teahouse collected over 6,000 wishes for the city during its stay in the park.
Petal Drop LA (01) (February 2016): Starting at sunrise, a steady rain of petals fell all day long in a narrow downtown alley. People entered for fifteen minutes at a time, where they encountered a performative bureaucracy dedicated to the collection, transcription, and archiving of memories.
Petal Drop LA (02) (May 2016): Jacarandas are an iconic street tree in LA: entire neighborhoods turn purple in May. The bloom is a temporal sign in a city often derided for having no seasons. People love them for their beauty and hate them for their mess. Installed overnight, the vivid purple flowers (over two shipping containers’ worth) seeped into the city like some surprising, ubiquitous raw material.
Night Life LA (02) (June 2017): A strange bureaucracy; the beach at night; the ocean stretching before you, the city at your back; a rare chance to communicate, as best you can, with living, glowing bioluminescent algae.
Lost and Found (November 2017): Installed two months after the La Tuna Canyon fire, this installation was inspired by kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and gold. In marking breakage with gold, kintsugi illuminates damage as a meaningful part of an object’s history. The project transformed a site of loss into a place of memory, renewal, and occasional exuberance.
Night Life LA (May/June 2018): After almost two years in the making, The Art Department invited participants to a ninety-minute journey into the mountains for a rigorous moonlit hike, interactive conversations, and the exploration of communication and connection. This communication was centered around the fascinating bioluminescence of plankton, masterfully flanked by experiences in which analog phones rang and cookies were shared among patrons. While this phenomenon is often challenging to seek out, the team at The Art Department curated a vast playground of algae and plankton to provide a surreal landscape for this adventure.
Night Life LA filled its moments with clever immersive interactions and surreal moments that perfectly blended the real world with the alien world of the plankton. Dressed in achromatic outfits, intake officers referred to us by number, seated us for processing, and handed us tongs to extract paperwork from an over-sized manila envelope. Silent guides led us up the mountainside with only the light from a lantern at the end of a long stick and the windows of tiny skyscrapers lighting our path. And scientists at the top of the hill performed eager experiments in which they poured water that glowed into existence with each splash as they punched measurements into antiquated machines. It’s these moments that truly excited the immersive fan inside of me, and I wanted to further explore this world of wonder, learning more about this organization conducting midnight experiments against a moonlit backdrop.
Dandelions (May 2019): For three days only, The Department of Small Things That Float on the Wind invited guests to their latest installation: the transformation of a working power substation into a whimsical wish-factory focused on the growth, categorization, and processing of dandelions and the wishes associated with them. Aptly named Dandelions, this free forty-minute experience combined wonderfully interactive immersive elements with the beauty and surrealist nature of the industrial backdrop.
This experience was hallmarked by the marriage of whimsy and poetry interlaced with the process and procedure of a nameless, shapeless corporation. Specifically, wishes with no home rained down from two suction tubes in the ceiling, as a line printer spat out elegiac statements: it’s the light that breaks hearts in LA and LA feels like only a half-formed city. Dandelions felt surreal, abstract, a bit enigmatic, and ultimately, elevatingly beautiful.
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