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The LAist Interview: Rachel Mayeri

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Rachel Mayeri is the founder of Soft Science, "a collection of video-curiosities created by artists and scientists. Behind laboratory doors are some of the most astonishing outsider art projects around. Autopoetic bacteria, tethered flies, ebullient nanogears – these data gems create wonder, beauty – not to mention knowledge." Los Angeles Filmforum hosted a screening of films curated by Mayeri at the Egyptian Theater yesterday. Read Margaret Wertheim's review in the LA Weekly. Let's hope there are more screenings in the future.1. Age and Occupation:

35. I am the Art Department for a very small college specializing in science and engineering in Claremont, called Harvey Mudd College. It’s not entirely true - there’s a photo teacher as well. I [also] make videos and curate events in Los Angeles.

2. How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?

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4 years; Echo Park.

3. Where are you from?

The Bay Area.

4. How did the Soft Science project begin? How have you attracted participants?

I made a video about a self-replicating geneticist, called "Stories from the Genome," and I wanted to see what other artists were doing with topics in science. So I wrote a “call for submissions” asking for videos that walk the line between science and art, or document experiments by scientists or artists who are the object of their own research, etc. I posted the call on just two listservs, theredproject.com, which is run by CalArts grad Michael Mandiberg, and asci.org, Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. which is based in Manhattan. The post was re-posted up by fineArt forum, which has subscribers from Europe to Australia.

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I wound up getting videos from Israel, Scotland, and France, and an e-mail from China. It was a chain letter on steroids.

5. In what ways is Los Angeles conducive to fostering highly interdisciplinary, multimedia projects such as Soft Science? What are some of the drawbacks and challenges of organizing these types of endeavors in LA?

There are many talented people here who seem to be interested in reaching outside of their disciplinary boxes. The gardenLAb show which just closed last week at the wind tunnel of Pasadena Art Center College of Design, organized by Fritz Haeg and Francois Perrin, was a great example of artists, geographers, urban planners, and ecologists coming together to present projects about the environment in Los Angeles.

Within the academy, there are innumerable workshops, conferences, and groups dedicated to interdisciplinary collaboration: a computer scientist and anthropologist at Mudd are working on teaching women to design video games. Ruth West and geneticists at UCLA were teaching a course on genetics and culture that covered both DNA sequencing and Alexis Rockman.

However, I find that the inclination for reaching across the disciplines is generally toward the sciences from art and the humanities. I don't hear of a lot of scientists saying, "come here sociologists and installation artists, and work with us." And there's obviously still a huge disproportion of funding for the sciences over arts and the humanities in our country.

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6. Soft Science provides a rare opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas from institutions whose academic missions are generally considered to have little in common (e.g. Caltech, Cal Arts, etc.). What are some other examples in which these types of exchange can take place?

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, The Center for Land Use Interpretation, and The Institute for Figuring strip ideas from their institutional costumes and allow them to breath.

7. What are your favorite local video and/or experimental media venues in the LA region?

We're really lucky because a number have sprung up recently. The audiences have a strong sense of community and engagement, and the work presented is often inspiring. I am a great fan of REDCAT, c-level, Echo Park Film Center, LA Freewaves Media Art Festival (opening in November), and, the venerable LA Filmforum.

8. What's your preferred mode of transportation?

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I have moments of urban bliss on the Metrolink train to San Bernardino, which I occasionally take to work in Claremont.

9. What's your favorite movie or TV show that's based in LA?

Peter Brinson's experimental documentary It Did It about taking Prozac in the frontiers of suburban development in Valencia.

10. Best LA-themed book?

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner.

11. What's the best place to walk in LA?

Reaching the snows of Ice Canyon in May was pretty spectacular.

12. It's 9:30 pm on a Thursday. Where are you coming from and where are you going?

Besides being on the 10 for 45 minutes, on the way home from work? Let's say I have shown Adaptation in my Language of Film class, and I'm off to see The Yes Men.

13. If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?

The Jurassic period.

14. What is the "center" of LA to you?

The downtown skyline, the Pho/Tropical triangle in Silver Lake, or the Indian Sweets and Spices/Museum Row in Culver City.

15. If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?

I want a low-rent urban neighborhood that has parks and friends within walking distance, and it's OK to keep chickens in the backyard. So essentially, any house in Echo Park five years ago.

16. What is the city's greatest secret?

The underground network of fungus.

17. Drinking, driving. They mix poorly, and yet they're inexorably linked. How do you handle this conflict?

Get ensconced in one place and be the last to leave.

18. Describe your best LA dining experience.

I follow Jonathan Gold's near-obscene food poetry to places like San Gabriel for Muslim Chinese.

19. Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?

I'd prefer all three. I love the Weather Channel.

20. Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?

I'm thinking I'll have a good view of it from my house here on the hill overlooking the downtown skyline. But then, I'll probably go down too.

Image from Rachel Mayeri's Miracles and Disasters in Renaissance and Baroque Theater Mechanics, 2004.