Frequenters of the incoming Expo Light Rail’s Bergamot Station will have a lot to look at.
The stop will be lined with 24 locally inspired collages made up of photographs and found objects, all by the artist Constance Mallinson.
Residents may find parts of themselves in Mallinson’s work, which is collectively titled “Local Color,” and that’s because she spent hours casing the neighborhood looking for photo opportunities, discarded objects, and themes.
The artistic gatekeepers over at Metro were primarily familiar with 18-foot by 6-foot collage-like landscape paintings that Mallinson had made years ago. She was happy to recreate that style but recognized that making 24 of them could take a decade. She had 24 weeks.
Mallinson turned to digital media, opting to create the new collages through photographs she’d take and things she’d find in Santa Monica. The collages were then transferred to porcelain enamel steel.
One is a montage of hundreds of cyclists who were captured by her camera over the course of a Sunday. Another features a beach party made of objects — beach balls, towels — she’d found after a day walking along the shoreline.
About half the works feature some found objects and the other half are only montages of photographs, Mallinson said.
A tribute to Santa Monica’s recycling plant near the station is a slew of colorful bottle caps she found.
Drought-tolerant succulents are featured in another. One focuses on Santa Monica’s neon lights and another on the Third Street Promenade.
A collage features photographs of houses of all different sizes, shapes, and colors, all taken from within about a one-mile radius of the station.
“Metro has a rule that none of their artwork can contain car or truck or any kind of motor vehicle,” Mallinson said. “A couple times I had kind of forgotten that and a car showed up somewhere and had to be removed because they’re really emphasizing, obviously, public transit. I even had a toy car that I had found and we had to 86 it because they didn’t want any sort of suggestion that you might prefer a car. It was kind of fun.”
Another parameter that Mallinson enjoyed was the process of making something interesting while also keeping it appropriate for all ages and walks of life.
“If it’s something edgy or disconcerting, all the better in my personal work” she said, “but in a public artwork you’ve got a whole different set of considerations. I found that really interesting and challenging. How do you maintain some sort of critical edge with your work and still make it not controversial but interesting to keep looking at? It’s a tremendous issue in contemporary art these days because a lot of it does rely on some gimmick to catch people’s attention. And then what?”
Still, some edge found its way in.
“If you really wanted to delve into the housing one — the pictures of the little tiny bungalows next to the mansions — your mind could go places with that,” Mallinson said. “You could either say, ‘Oh, this is an extremely diverse community.’ Or you could take it other places. The series is not without some sort of thought provoking but it just takes a little more finesse to pull that off in a public art context.”
Other panels may have unintended political undertones.
“One of the things that really struck me was the amount of change that’s going on,” she said of Santa Monica. “One of my panels was construction. One of the favorites, actually, is a montage of all the construction down there on Ocean.
“In fact, I even got hassled by construction workers,” she continued, laughing. “I thought I was too old for that but you’re never too old: ‘Hey baby, take my picture.'”