Jennifer Lanski
Los Angeles County
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“Los Angeles County” (La Verne)     India ink on BFK Rives paper     10” × 44”     2004–2006

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(left) Los Angeles County, California
(center) La Verne
(right) Polulation: 33,250 Area: 8.48 square miles
“Los Angeles County” is one work consisting of 88 drawings, one for each city located within Los Angeles county. The work explores the megalopolis of Los Angeles (a geographic area that is larger than the official city limits of Los Angeles itself, the way the term is frequently used, and so is taken to encompass the entire county for this work) through representative attention to each city contained within the boundaries of Los Angeles county.

For each city, the number of structures represented in the drawing corresponds to the population density of the city (as can be determined from the population and area information given in the lower right-hand corner of each drawing), with one structure represented for every 1,000 people per square mile in the city. When this population density requires at least one structure, the city hall is always chosen and centrally located, as a city hall is a defining feature of a city; identically present in a city (no city is without one; one does not exist in the absence of a city). As the number of structures that are required increases, residences are added (since the population density is calculated based on residents, not on people who may be present only during the day for employment or other purposes); and as the number of representative structures needed further increases, other appropriate structures such as businesses, libraries, and fire stations are chosen. For sparsely populated cities in which the population density rounds down to zero (in actual numbers, fewer than 500 people per square mile, since one structure represents 1,000 people per square mile), no structures are pictured; instead a bare indication of an environment is drawn, which corresponds to some actual aspect of the city being represented.

The drawings were made in the studio, using photographs as reference material. The photographs were taken by the artist on visits to each city in Los Angeles county. Generally, upon entering the city, the artist proceeded to the city hall for the initial photograph, being attentive to the character of the city en route. After the city hall had been documented, the artist proceeded to select and photograph other representative structures within the city, sometimes traveling on foot, sometimes using the car. If there was a consistent architectural type or material used in the city, for example, a representative structure reflecting this local character was chosen.

The drawings depict these representative structures as being located all in a line, as if on a single street, when in actuality this composite image contains elements from different and nonadjacent locations in the city. The artificial nature of this created city street is evident from perspective that is consistent within each structure but shifts as one moves down the drawn street from structure to structure. Additionally, each structure is allotted the same space on the page, so larger and smaller structures are scaled by different amounts, resulting in another kind of visual shift from structure to structure. The resulting image is not intended to trick the viewer into thinking this street actually exists, and points to the composite nature of this representative sample. An unintended but visible consequence of combining these images taken from around the given city is that additional characteristics of the city become visible from the accumulation of nonstructural elements (and this prevalence could not be gleaned from a single structure alone); fences of lack thereof, large grassy lawns, or overhead power lines, for example, become visible and even dominant characteristics in the representation of some cities.

For the densest cities, in which there is not space enough on the page to represent the required number of structures on one line, a second row of structures peeking out from behind the first row is drawn, as a way to include the requisite number in the fixed space of the page. These images feel more crowded, and call further attention to the fact that these drawings are also a visible representation of population density. When the work is installed for exhibition, there is not a set placement of the cities in relation to each other. Intentionally, a geographically based layout is not used. Neither is another fixed possibility, such as an alphabetic scheme. The purpose behind this randomized installation is to give a fuller sense of Los Angeles to the viewer of the work. Someone residing in a city depicted might be familiar with adjacent cities or cities located between a residence and place of employment; these would be geographically related. By shuffling the cities on the wall, relationships are made and comparisons are suggested between neighboring drawn cities that may be geographically far apart, and otherwise might be unfamiliar to or ignored by someone who is familiar with some of the cities in real life. As people tend to seek out the cities they are familiar with, they are required to see other cities, since there is no way to know where a specific city is within the installation of all 88 cities. In this way, a fuller understanding of “Los Angeles,” or at least this representation of it, is achieved.

“Los Angeles County” has been exhibited in its entirety in Los Angeles; a selection of drawings from the work has also been exhibited in Santa Ana, California.