Works of art: Stacey Allan and Thomas Lawson, founders of the groundbreaking online art publication and book imprint East of Borneo, are hosting their second Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on December 14.
When Scottish artist, educator, and longtime REALLIFE Magazine publisher Thomas Lawson, 62, arrived in Los Angeles in the late ’80s, it was “a tiny art world” that greeted him. MOCA was “the game in town,” and prior to Santa Monica’s burgeoning Bergamot Station galleries, “a few little pod malls” garnered scarce traffic. “It was a very lowkey, quiet little art scene,” says the otherwise jovial dean of the School of Art at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), recalling the unassuming and decentralized community he described as “a city hiding in plain sight” in earlier essays. “Coming from the high-intensity and high-density of New York, you could almost think that there was no art world here.”
How does one then go about uncovering, connecting, and essentially “unforgetting” what is such a rich but elusive narrative? It starts with Lawson’s keen and forward-thinking notion that this is not a task for one; that, particularly in the Internet era, learning isn’t just the solitary act of reading a single voice, but rather engaging in a conversation and welcoming insight and perspective from many. And so, the art collector/connoisseur— whose work has graced The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum—enlisted the precocious and poised Stacey Allan, 35, a Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies graduate with a nonprofit background, who promptly traded New York for a city she’d never before been. For years, the pair helmed the academic Los Angeles and London-driven art journal Afterall, until October 2010, when, with continued support from publisher CalArts and the Andy Warhol Foundation, they founded a groundbreaking new online contemporary art publication and book imprint, East of Borneo. Alongside original essays and interviews, the site boasts a shared and growing archive, so that writers and readers alike can contribute texts, videos, images, and links to help fill in the pieces of Los Angeles’s storied art history—collectively.
In this participatory vein, EoB culminated its Summer Issues Cooperative—a three-week, free, pop-up art newsstand at Greene Exhibitions—with a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon event this past July. Themed “#UnforgettingLA,” about 60 art fans and 10 editors armed with laptops created a crowd-sourced list of cultural omissions from Wikipedia, which has noted gaps in arts and female contributions, plus new pages for local artists like Noah Purifoy and William Leavitt. The second Edit-a-thon on December 14 at the MAK Center will accompany a Pauline Schindler exhibition, and focus on building Wikipedia content for West Coast women in architecture and design. The timely topic coincides with EoB’s first title, Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader, a book about author and architecture historian (and champion of California modernism) Esther McCoy, edited by Susan Morgan.
“It seemed like a good fit, because so much of the architecture and design community is interested in corrective measures. Which, Wikipedia is, in a sense,” says Allan, articulating what could similarly be viewed as East of Borneo’s mission. “It’s a chance to put things on the record that otherwise are known by a very small group of people, but not by a larger community.” MAK Center, 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood