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Modernism Week Studio 54 party with Village People on stage

Dear DnA friends,

Hope you’re doing well after the long weekend. I have lots to share with you – about the creative industries in an age of A.I., conceptual furniture from a Nigerian designer and the strange war on the “15-minute city.”

I’m putting pen to paper after a packed few days in Palm Springs at Modernism Week where, as a board member, I helped host some events. Sadly I missed the opportunity to see inside the Elvis House but I got to experience:

  • A visit to the 1952 William F. and Winifred Cody House, now filled with light and space art (see below).
  • A day of revelatory Stories Untold about Chinese and Japanese American, and Black architects who shaped the Southland in the twentieth century despite racial barriers (links to audio-video in an upcoming newsletter).
  • The Modernism Week opening night party whose theme this year was Studio 54, and attracted a crowd of people mostly old enough to have gone to the actual Studio 54. They came decked out in OTT sequins and wigs, and boogied down to Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, and Village People like the music never stopped.
  • A performance by the remarkable young jazz singer Samara Joy. More on that, further down.

Us Against the Machine

The human connection at the events in Palm Springs was a refreshing counterpoint to a version of the world that’s been in the news recently – one where the machines have taken over.

Last week, as part of Frieze Los Angeles, Mortlach Single Malt Scotch Whisky and the Financial Times hosted a conversation at the newly opened Neuehouse Venice between the designers Yves Behar and Sebastian Errazuriz on the future of A.I. and creativity. 

Now recollect that this was the week in which the New York Times ran an astounding story about Bing, aka Sydney, the Microsoft Chatbot that appears to have gone full M3GAN (see below) and developed a dark personality, berating tech journalist Kevin Roose while declaring its love for him and ordering him to leave his wife. Roose wrote that Bing/Sydney had revealed itself to be like a “manic-depressive teenager who has been trapped, against its will, inside a second-rate search engine.” His encounter left him with a “foreboding feeling that A.I. had crossed a threshold, and that the world would never be the same.”

Yves and Sebastian at NeuehouseYves Behar and Sebastian Errazuriz 

So with that for context, Behar and Errazuriz were considering how A.I. might impact design. Errazuriz was the doomsayer, telling the room that A.I. is “bigger than the printing press” and will shortly deliver “the biggest disruption of humankind, period.”

“You used to require an illustrator to have two weeks before they could get back to you with something,” he warned nervous “creatives” in the room. “Now it takes two seconds.” Designers will only survive, he says, if they stay ahead of A.I. by coming up with new ideas and inventive ways to collaborate with it.

On the other hand Behar, the founder of prominent San Francisco-based Fuseproject who has given the impression on past DnA interviews that he is a true believer in tech’s potential, came across as far more skeptical. He suggested that A.I., like other over-promised innovations, may fall short of dystopian scenarios. “15 years ago we said ‘all blue collar jobs are gonna be replaced by robots.’ And it hasn't happened. Flipping burgers, picking stuff at warehouses, driving cars, it's all still humans doing it.”  Referencing SNOO, a “smart” baby bassinet designed by his company, with automated rocking motions and white noise, Behar declared that he sees A.I. “as a partner, just like the SNOO is a partner to parenting. It doesn't replace the parent, right? It's additive – and I think that's the best scenario.”

As mentioned above, this conversation was sponsored by Mortlach, a bespoke Scottish whisky (for which Errazuriz had created augmented reality sculptures evoking the whisky-making process, utilizing Open A.I.’s ChatGPT and DALL-E). And, in a salutary reminder that there are human jobs that will be hard to replace, the evening wrapped with a presentation by Ewan Morgan, a cheery “whisky ambassador” with a rich highlands brogue, whose job is to tour people around ancient distilleries staffed by veteran artisans, and to demonstrate the art of tasting and appreciating the burnt gold liquid. It was somehow hard to imagine Morgan being supplanted by a robot.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Design Things To Do

A.I. and Role Play
For many designers who have been creating in the digital sphere for years, A.I. may be more of an evolution than a revolution. And one of those designers is the architect/engineer/industrial designer and SCI-Arc professor, Elena Manferdini, who I first met almost twenty years ago when she produced a trailblazing clothing line composed online, with sinewy shapes and patterns cut by laser. She has teamed up with her fellow educator William Virgil, artist and founder of Brash Collective. Together they have created a show whose goal is “to demonstrate the power of A.I. to reproduce dominant stereotypes along with stunning images.” Manferdini explains that they both used a text prompt (‘I do not know his and he does not know mine’) and produced a series of self-portraits. The exhibition, say the artists, “will question who we are today, what cultural factors influenced our sense of self, and the possibility of being reimagined because of these digital alternatives.” Somehow the little girl image brings to mind M3GAN (see below)! ROLE PLAY is in the Modest Common Gallery for emerging artists and architects at 505 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015. It runs through April 1, and is open on Tuesdays 10 AM-6 PM, and by appointment. The gallery will host a talk about the project with the designers on March 31st at 6pm.



Elena and William AI self-portraitsElena and William at opening and their A.I. self-portraits

A Chair is not just a Chair at Marta
Along with the recent bonanza of contemporary art events surrounding Frieze Los Angeles comes a display of what you might call conceptual furniture, as in seating or tables or lighting that can be used, but are also informed by an idea and can stand alone as an object to behold, thus functional art. A gallery that has set itself apart with very elegant shows of this kind of work is Marta, founded in 2019 by Benjamin Critton and Heidi Korsavong. 

Marta is based in Echo Park but has created a pop-up in a light-filled metal and glass pavilion at the corner of La Cienega and Fairfax in Culver City. There, they are displaying Oríkì (Act I): Friction Ridge, a show of 10 curving bronze benches designed by Lagos-based Nifemi Marcus-Bello and made in collaboration with longtime fabricators in Benin City. The benches, each dotted with the personal fingerprints of the craftspeople, are placed by the curators on plinths of bricks, and presented with an edition number to define them as artworks. The materials bring to mind the “Benin bronzes” made for Benin royalty (and ransacked by the British in the late 19th century and undergoing repatriation). The collection’s name, Oriki, refers to the Yoruba practice of praise poetry and spoken affirmation, and viewers also hear audio of the artist’s mother, Folake, as she delivers a personalized oríkì to her son. Marcus-Bello’s next “act” will be similar benches made in stone or marble and shown in London. The exhibit is open through March 4. Click here for information and opening hours.

Benches at Marta show, IMG_0119Benches

Art and Furniture at Cody House
Back in Palm Springs you can see another interesting fusion of art, furniture, and architecture in the classic post and beam, steel and glass William F. Cody and Winifred Cody House, designed by Cody for himself and his family in 1952 in Palm Springs. The Laguna Beach gallerist Peter Blake has created vignettes of furniture and artworks, such as this fiberglass and LED light artwork by Philip K Smith III, with chairs by Afra and Tobia Scarpa. The concept was to fill the Cody house, lovely in its lightness and transparency, with masters of the light and space movement past and present, including Peter Alexander, Helen Pashgian, Larry Bell, De Wain Valentine along with Smith, Gisela Colon, Lita Albuquerque and more. The project was given an assist by Brooke Hodge, former architecture curator at MOCA, and now an independent curator based in Palm Springs. Contact her at to book a visit, through March 25. Or join a Modernism Week tour and cocktail party this Saturday, February 25.

PhillipK. Smith art at Cody House, IMG_0411Cody house with Smith artwork

X Marks the Spot for Art in the Desert
This rare opportunity to view the Cody house happily coincides with the next seasonal happening in the Coachella Valley, the site-specific art treasure hunt, Desert X, co-curated this year by Artistic Director Neville Wakefield and Diana Campbell. Visitors will be able to see temporary installations in the desert landscape by eleven artists from Europe, North America and South Asia. Artists include LA’s Lauren Bon, Bangladesh-born Rana Begum, and New York-based Tschabalala Self. Notwithstanding — or perhaps in response to — the car-based nature of the widely dispersed exhibition, the theme of the show is the environment, and organizers hope the artists will “create instruments of self-awareness that make visible the forces that we exert on the world.” Desert X opens March 4 and runs through May 7. But if you go in March you’ll get to see the loveliest environmental art of all: the desert wildflowers, in full bloom following this winter of rain.

Art for Resistance
Poster Territory is a collective of poster designers that produces designs for various causes that are then printed in Ukraine, the homeland of Poster Territory founder Olga Severina. With the ongoing devastation in her country, Severina and the graphic design organization The 4th Block have created War Time Graphics, an exhibition of 50 anti-war posters by contemporary Ukrainian artists. They are on show through March 4 at Helms Bakery District, and there will be an opening reception this Saturday, February 25, along with the Path of Resistance Charity Event, a pop-up exhibition and a silent auction of artworks to raise money to support refugee Ukrainian artists as well as a Children’s Hospital in Lviv, Ukraine. It marks the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, and takes place at Helms Bakery District, from 3-6 PM. I’ll be there and hope to see you.

painting by Featured painting by Tata KolesnikFeatured painting by Tata Kolesnik
Get in it to win it!

What I'm Digging

Listen: Samara Joy
Every now and then one gets the sense of being in the presence of a preternatural talent. That’s how I felt on witnessing a performance at the Annenberg Theater at Palm Springs Art Museum by the jazz singer and recent Grammy winner Samara Joy. Joy, just 23, recorded her first album while still at college, and has a vocal range and command of that instrument that is beyond belief. Her renditions of “Worry Later” (Thelonius Monk with lyrics by Jon Hendricks), “Tight” (Betty Wright), and “Linger Awhile” (Harry Owens) along with her own compositions are among performances on her albums Linger Awhile and Samara Joy that have garnered her comparisons to Sarah Vaughan. She also personifies her last name, delivering her repertoire with boundless esprit and — in live performance — with gaiety and easy interaction with the audience. Listen to this album and be overjoyed.

Samara Joy with customers, IMG_0431Samara Joy greeting admirers

Watch: M3GAN, Uncut
When M3GAN, a comedic horror story about an A.I. companion doll who goes out-of-control, came out in January, sages in the tech world opined that there’s no way an A.I. being could engage emotionally with a human. Then came Bing, aka Sydney (see above), who so deeply “unsettled” the tech writer Kevin Roose. So this is to say, if you haven’t yet seen M3GAN, now is the time to do so. Director Gerard Johnstone has enormous fun with the manmade-creature-run-amok theme that dates back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It’s a marvelous satire that, as with all great satire, may just be a little bit too close to the truth for comfort. And for those who feel the schlock didn’t go far enough, an “unrated cut,” reports Variety, will begin streaming this Friday, February 24, on Peacock.

Read: The Scary “15-minute City”
In my last newsletter, I wrote about a design challenge launched by a group called LCI, or Livable Communities Initiative, that is advocating for code changes that would enable sections of thoroughfares in LA to be transformed into “complete streets”— reconfigured to calm traffic, have wider sidewalks and bicycle lanes, along with housing over shops and cafés. This effort is associated with an urban planning concept known as the “15-minute city” which, as its name suggests, posits that people should be able to live, work, and recreate without traveling farther than 15 minutes on foot or bike. The idea, originating in France, has been percolating in planning circles for a while, but has somehow recently inflamed the Brexit/Libertarian wing in the UK.  

This cohort believes “fringe forces of the far left are plotting to take away our freedom to be stuck in traffic jams, to crawl along clogged ring roads and trawl the streets in search of a parking spot.” That’s according to this funny and eye-opening article written by The Guardian architecture critic, Oliver Wainwright. As he points out, and I agree, the 15-minute city raises all sorts of valid questions, especially in Los Angeles, where the “complete street” would be just a small pocket in a vast region that still sprawls in mostly sub-urban form, necessitating the car. But it’s a very good read about the culture wars attached to land-use that also happen here. Incidentally, Wainwright, recently transplanted to Los Angeles, has this to say about housing and my book, Common Ground. Thank you Olly!

As for the agitated pols, perhaps they need to take a chill pill and learn from Larry, the longtime 10 Downing Street cat, who was put up for prime minister last year by a group called Don’t Panic.

Well, that’s it for this week’s newsletter. Catch more from me in a couple of weeks. And please keep me posted about your events and thoughts at



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