Dandelions, which grow rampantly across the US, are apparently in short supply in Los Angeles. The artist collective known as The Art Department had a hard time finding the flowering weeds for Dandelions, their newest bit of immersive and interactive theater-art set in an active electrical substation, which proves thoughtful and memorable despite checking all the trendy “experiential” boxes. The artists spent over a year mapping and tracking the wild flowers, across parking medians, vacant lots, school yards. With their harvest, they managed to transform a rather empty industrial building into what they call a “clean, sustainable” wish factory, open for four days only.
The experience starts off fairly dully: you follow a path within a garden of dandelions into another room that is humid and fecund like Doris Salcedo's great installation Plegaria Muda but without the heavy metaphor of mass graves—or any perceptible meaning at all, really. But things pick up from there, with an impatient administrator-type in one room soliciting wishes and a bureaucrat (played by a real Los Angeles County court stenographer) in another taking your tickets and sending them up through a pneumatic tube. This leads to a room with a “wish map” hanging on the wall, where you can write a wish on a scrap of paper and pin it up, akin to Yoko Ono's Wish Tree.
Along the way is a cluster of old-school personal computers with DOS commands asking questions about your wish: “Do you have your wish ready?” or “Is your wish related to yourself?”. By the end of this decision-tree, the computer announces the likelihood of your wish coming true. It is an effective set of prompts to help you start thinking critically about your wishes and enter the dreamier part of the exhibition-experience, which is the heart of the show.
In that final room, you can watch the gentle drifting of dandelion fuzz through large windows, a mesmerizing form of drawing in space, and receive your own individual dandelion stalk for wish-making purposes. The three members of The Art Department I met on site (who work anonymously) explained that this light shower of dandelion puffs was the generating idea behind the entire project, which they developed after visiting various industrial sites from pickle factories to water treatment plants.
“We have always been interested in juxtaposition—heavy industrial infrastructure held up against the lightest, most ephemeral things,” one of the artists said. “At the same time, we are interested in imagined realities: what if these concrete, industrial complexes were dedicated to the sorting and distribution of desires?”
Previously, their best-known work was a teahouse they built in 2015 in LA’s Griffith Park out of redwood trees that had been killed in a fire there. They thought it would last a weekend, but the city took some sense of ownership and granted the group a temporary permit to keep the installation up for a month.
This project is more ephemeral, as the site is a working substation. Will the artwork pop up somewhere else like dandelions themselves tend to do? That remains to be seen.
• Dandelions runs through Sunday, 12 May. Parking and free tickets at 6700 Garfield Avenue, Bell Gardens, CA 90201. Saturday 9am-6:30pm; Sunday 1pm-6:30pm