In his crowded El Sereno studio and workshop near Cal State L.A., artist Kiel Johnson has turned city building into an art form. In this case, the cities are miniature, table-top versions cut, folded and glued from paper and cardboard. They come complete not only with buildings but other elements of the urban landscape, from billboards to traffic jams. A city he built for a TEDActive conference in Palm Springs earlier this year included more than 1,000 buildings jammed into a platform measuring eight-feet square.
Buildings and scenes from across Los Angeles are depicted in his cardboard cities, which have been exhibited in galleries and events around the world. But anyone who lives in and near El Sereno, where Johnson has worked and lived part time for about four years, might recognize a building or two from the immediate area. Said Johnson:
This whole city is in there somewhere. It all goes in my head and gets jumbled around then comes out while I’m building buildings. Many buildings on Valley [Boulevard] are in there for sure. Many of the street patterns, little taco stands and homes on stilts all come from being influences by the architecture around here.
Johnson’s urban landscapes and other cardboard and paper pieces have not only won the attention of the art world but have also been used to discuss the urban environment. Next week, the 37-year-old artist is taking his paper city to New Zealand where he will be part of the ongoing discussion and planning on how to rebuild the earthquake damaged city of Christchurch.
Once Johnson returns from New Zealand, his cardboard cities join the others stored in his studio, some of them left sitting on their side for reuse in other shows and events.
- Paper Metropolis: An Interview with Kiel Johnson. L.A. I’m Yours