Bitter Melon Trellis - A Jungle Gym of Bamboo Springs Up at LACMA

Bitter Melon Trellis: A Jungle Gym of Bamboo Springs Up at LACMA

Materials & Applications (M&A) performed its fifth MatterApp workshop, "Bitter Melon Trellis," constructing a bamboo structure for the National Bitter Melon Council. The piece titled "Promiscuous Production: Breeding is Bittersweet" is located at LACMA, at the base of the Japanese Pavilion, adjacent to the tar pits, and opens to the public on June 27th, 2010. The structure is visible as the melons grow and fill in over the next several weeks.

The project is part of EATLACMA, a year-long program at the museum exploring food, art, culture, and politics, drawing on works from the permanent collection and from artists in the Los Angeles community. The Bitter Melon Trellis is the first of the exhibitions that is complete.

EATLACMA, curated by Fallen Fruit and Michelle Urton, will commission several artist's gardens on LACMA's campus in addition to a host of events and workshops.

Over three weekends in April, M&A hosted a series of free community workshops to construct a sculptural bamboo trellis for experimenting with melon genetics, attempting to cross-pollinate bitter melons with sweet melons. Artists Jeremy Liu and Hiroko Kikuchi, collectively known as the National Bitter Melon Council, educated community volunteers that melons are considered a "promiscuous fruit". Their hope is that the bitter and the sweet melons will mingle over the summer, producing a bitter-sweet melon. Brian Janeczko, the lead fabricator at M&A, led the project given his extensive creative experience with bamboo as a building material.

For the first weekend, volunteers successfully harvested over 200 poles of bamboo from the LACMA campus, which were then sliced, trimmed, and prepped. As a result of prototyping and experimenting with bamboo and its material properties, it was discovered that the bamboo at the LACMA campus, a timber bamboo called Bambusa oldhamii, was less likely to arch gracefully, and more likely to kink like a drinking straw. As a solution to this issue, Janeczko used propane heat torches to steam the bamboo, allowing the bamboo to arch more easily.

The second weekend marked the beginning of the trellis construction. With sited flags and rebar in the ground, pairs of volunteers carefully heated and molded two poles of bamboo into arches, lashed them together with jute, and inserted each arch into its corresponding rebar. The resulting vertical components of the trellis frame formed a carefully spaced singular tunnel that bifurcates into two arching tunnels, referencing the genetic experiments of the melons themselves.

During the third weekend, volunteers installed and lashed the diagonal bracing to the bamboo arches to provide support for the overall sculpture. Finally, planters were installed on all sides of the trellis where the melon seedlings will be planted and can begin to grow over the structure.

The garden officially opens to the public on June 27th, 2010, but the trellis structure is already visible to the public. In the coming months, the melon vines will weave themselves onto the bamboo trellis and produce fruit, culminating with "Let Them Eat LACMA," a one day event with over 50 artists and collectives on November 7th, 2010.

In addition to the Bitter Melon trellis, M&A co-directors Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess will create an aquaponic garden called 'Food Pyramid' at LACMA for the EATLACMA exhibition. Constructed of IBC totes, the garden will be a vertical development of the Fish Taco Garden prototyped at the M&A outdoor exhibition space last summer.

For the past six months, Materials & Applications (M&A) has been taking their workshop series of experimental construction off-site, expanding into larger public spaces of Los Angeles. Previous projects include 'Extraterritorial' at Barnsdall Art Park in Hollywood, 'Fat Fringe' at FIX Gallery in Pico-Union, and currently 'Bitter Melon' at LACMA. In addition to public workshops, M&A has also produced a series of discussions and public outreach operations to expand their scope to eventually include a unique brand of social constructions throughout southern California.

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