Alternative art spaces thrive in a city like Los Angeles, where the weather is temperate and where public space is proven contentious. Most people in the city drive, making an experience with art a matter of intention rather than surprise. Pamela Ramos is a young artist and the project coordinator behind El Clasificado, a newsstand turned roving micro-gallery. Relying on collaboration, Ramos and the artists she works with take the classic but underutilized newsstand as the scaffolding for unusual art projects whose placement outside of storefronts, alleyways, and sidewalks disarms its viewers, asking them to reconsider the space we share with others.
The original interview was conducted in October of 2018 using iMessage over the span of three days.
Angella d’Avignon (Degree Critical): To start, what would you say is the main objective of your project, El Clasificado?
Pamela Ramos: El Clasificado is a newsstand project where I invite different artists to collaborate with it (the newsstand). I think the project has two main objectives. The first is to provide a space for artists to work outside of the parameters and formal aspects of an art gallery or art space. The second is to make the work accessible by it being on the street, presented or in conjunction with an object that is understood as a space for transactions. I think the public life of the project also creates an interesting tension between the private and the public in relationship to art objects.
DC: In relation to [each project] being in public, how often do you leave it up? And how do you see if affecting the space around it?
PR: Well the time frame for each project varies. When I first began the project I had to create a set of rules for it to get going and have a flow. At that time I decided that each project would be on view for two weeks outside of Ramos Envios, which is my father’s business storefront in Los Angeles and the place where the newsstand originally resided.
As a whole, I think El Clasificado affects its environment by making viewers aware of the presence of the newsstand as opposed to it being a passive object in the landscape. Since it remains in its original context—the street‑but the content of the newsstand changes, peoples’ relationships to it change in the way they physically interact with it or the time they spend with it. It also varies from project to project. Dakota Higgins’ project consisted of turning the newsstand into a ghost, so we had a lot of eyes and giggles, but also profound conversations about death and religion with the audience. With Mynor Chinchilla’s project we had a lot of people asking if they could buy the chains he had used to increase the weight of the newsstand.
DC: El Clasificado strikes me as a distinctly southern Californian newspaper/object. What significance does it, being a Mexican or primarily Spanish language newspaper/publication, have for the project as a whole?
PR: Yes, it’s very California! I moved to LA from Oaxaca (Mexico) about six years ago and it was quite interesting for me to find these newsstand structures all around the city. There are various publications such as El Aviso but I was drawn to El Clasificado because of its graphics and because the newsstand is bright yellow and its presence was far more demanding than the others. When I first took the newsstand into the studio I was using it as a holder for my own photography. At that time I was looking at it as an object that had cultural, economic, and geographical history embedded into it and so I believed that it could provide its embedded information to the viewer without my images having to do so. During that time I was starting to think about accessibility and it was manifesting itself through the materials in which I chose to print (newspapers and doormats) my photographs.
Through reflecting and conversing with others about El Clasificado I realized that what drew me the most to the newsstand was how accessible it was. It remained on the street and it always had an audience! And it wasn’t just any audience; its audience were people whom have been historically excluded from art due to a lack of time, language barriers, content, or income to access museums and other art spaces. It was then that the decision of placing it back on the street and changing its content became relevant for me.
A shorter answer for that is that it being a Spanish publication had relevance for me because of my ethnically background. I was familiar with the content. But as the project moves forward I’m interested in access in the broadest possible way.
DC: In terms of content, what have been some of the most dynamic projects you’ve hosted and what experiences did they elicit?
PR: It’s so hard for me to answer that! Each project has had its own set of propositions, challenges and evocations. They all have been dynamic in very specific ways so El Clasificado is always challenging me. I will say that around August I found out that Stephan Simchowitz was starting a newsstand project too. His newsstand resides adjacent to the Kings Road Cafe on Beverly Blvd. The first opening for his project was happening on a weekend where El Clasificadowas taking a break before the next project and I found out about Simchowitz’s newsstand three days before his first opening. It felt so urgent to respond to him. So in three days I put together a ‘group show’ with a couple of artists who had already had a project in El Clasificado and others who were willing to provide work really fast. I have a feeling of repulsion towards Simchowitz’s strategy and attitude toward art and artists but it seemed to me that his newsstand project and my newsstand project mirrored each other. The title of our show was: Like Assassins, Beautiful Loving Assassins, which were words he used to describe his business partners. The content of each work was, to be frank, very random. I met with all the artists who agreed to be in the show the day before the opening.
At the end, the works really came together. The act of responding that fast created a temporary micro community that I think came across in the exhibition space. That’s the only time that El Clasificado has hosted a group show and had a live performance so it was definitely a lot of labor on my part, on the part of the artists, and the audience as well. It was also fascinating to feel rejection from certain audience members towards El Clasificado when they were there to attend another newsstand project. Capital is a very peculiar thing. One can feel responsible to be confrontational, to be disrespectful, to be destructive, just as much as one can feel responsible to be generous, kind, giving, respectful etc. It’s all about listening to the space and realizing what it needs from you or vice versa. I think all art has a responsibility to the space where it exists.
DC: And how do you think art can be sensitive to space? I’m thinking of Adrian Piper’s Catalysis series and her way of moving through public space.
PR: Yes, Adrian Piper is a great reference in relationship to accessibility through various methods. What makes a lot of her work so amazing and relevant for me is that she places her body as the site for art and generates interactions that no longer necessitate a traditional architectural art space. She also interrupts conventional cultural spaces such as newspapers or funk classes and inserts critical gestures without excluding the general public. Her work is a magnificent example of how an artist can be sensitive to its surroundings and take responsibility for its environment. In this way maybe El Clasificado is also sensitive to its online presence and mimics gestures and generates confusion. This of course is a bit tricky in an era of fake news but it might also be productive that a newsstand can point towards how information online is being consumed. I’m still figuring this aspect of our online presence out.
DC: I saw that you recently collaborated with Leroy’s Happy Place in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. You placed El Clasificado at the doorway which is in the parking garage and off the street, maybe only visible to people who know about Leroy’s which in my understanding would be “art people”. Was there a difference between that project and a project you had out in front of Art Division or your father’s shop, for instance?
PR: Yes, the last project was Nobody is Perfect and I’m Nobody! by LA based artist Carly Goldstein. It consisted of a clay sculpture which was a replica of the original newsstand and eight classified ads Goldstein made to advertise her labor. As Goldstein and I discussed the audience aspect of El Clasificado she expressed interest in having an artist-based audience for her show and having it in an art space. For Goldstein, it was important for this to be the audience because she was seeking employment and her labor is specific to the skill set she acquired in art school. The classifieds she made used humor to draw people in and expose her skill set while also becoming humorous critiques on art education as well as artists’ labor. At its inception, Goldstein and I believed that it could live in the parking lot at Leroy’s and people could come and go and interact with it at any given time. But due to the fact that the objects Goldstein created were one of a kind we had to figure out a model where the newsstand could still be seen at any given time without the risk of it being stolen. Our solution was to drive the newsstand to whatever location the audience requested and display it there. So it was displayed at Leroy’s, at a coffee shop in West Hollywood, at Art Division, at someone’s house, and at the gallery where I work on the weekends.
Her project was definitely very different to Barak Zemer’s project: Si Su Vivienda Tiene. Zemer’s project lived outside of Ramos Envios for the two weeks it was on view. During that time Zemer’s piece was ‘stolen’ from the newsstand. His piece, like Goldstein’s was a one of a kind sculpture. It was very conflicting for me to come to terms with a stolen artwork (due to my Kearny experience of capital transactions and private property) while at the same time being happy and excited about someone taking Zemer’s piece by choice and owning a contemporary work of art. So El Clasificado can exist for an art audience in an art space but it can also exist on any given street and allow someone to own a work of art by the mere decision of taking something that exists in the public space.
DC: Thinking about labor, both artistic and otherwise (like emotional or affective labor for example), how do you personally see your artistic practice overlapping with the work you do with others at El Clasificado?
PR: I believe that the labor that I perform for El Clasificado is my artistic practice. I function as an instigator and support system (kind of like the newsstand itself). Labor is such a huge component of the whole project. The newsstand and the El Clasificado magazine are spaces where labor is traditionally requested and offered. In my artistic practice I am usually more concerned with photography and cultural symbols and although I do see and understand El Clasificado as a cultural symbol I realize that the labor this project demands from me is monumentally different to any other artwork I have done before. For El Clasificado I’m all kinds of things; photographer, writer, public speaker, friend, colleague, facilitator, graphic designer, etc. but I also remain at a certain level of energy. A vast amount of labors come up and I perform them and learn from them as I do. And from this learning I create knowledge in relationship to the material world and to the conceptual and ideological structures of people who come in contact with the project. El Clasificado consists of a set of exchanges and agreements. I give so much of my time and thoughts to each participating artist who creates a project for the newsstand. The newsstand, the artist, and I present the project to an ambiguous audience who then returns labor by interacting, seeing, or/and thinking about each project. In the end, I believe that the newsstand is a site for community; which is fundamental to my value system and to the way I want my art to relate to others. It is an attempt to communicate with other artists and also generate an audience while we do it.