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Meet Renée Reizman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Renée Reizman.

Renée, before we jump into specific questions about your work, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I like to describe myself as an artist who doesn’t make anything. While that’s technically untrue, my art practice is community-focused, meaning that creative output manifests as education and knowledge-sharing. I lead activities that illuminate how city infrastructure and policy works, from payphone legislation to retaining walls.

It took me a while to consider myself an artist. I’ve always loved to draw, made zines, and wrote short stories, but those felt like hobbies. I didn’t use my spare time to paint or sculpt, I wasn’t an actress or a dancer, and I wasn’t a published author. The projects I daydreamed about often required audience participation, like exchanging stories about family legends or collaboratively writing poems out of legalese, but I didn’t think an art gallery would exhibit work that was intangible and unable to be commodified.

Then I discovered Machine Project, a former artist-run space that was based in Echo Park (unfortunately, it closed its doors in 2018.) They were doing offbeat activities and calling it art: butter churning aerobics, optical illusion ping-pong, concerts for houseplants, lizard meditation sessions, cybersecurity workshops, and more. I realized there was an audience for this type of art that was difficult to categorize and it encouraged me to commit to this practice.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2011, I came here to work in the entertainment industry. I was a coordinator for visual effects and postproduction, and while I was doing quite well, my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to make art, collaborate with other creatives, and curate public programming. I started to apply to entry-level art gallery jobs, but without a BFA or any art world contacts in LA, it was impossible to get noticed. Then, I saw that Machine Project was taking interns. Even though I was working more than 60 hours a week, I applied for their program and went on to be a volunteer coordinator for a haunted cave, and then paid as a managing curator for a performance art takeover of the Los Angeles Public Library. This work made me happy and I knew I was an artist at heart.

I went on to curate my own independent art shows with a friend under the name ITSWOLF, and then I went back to school to get an MFA in art, where I found my voice and passion for socially engaged art. I blended that education with my interests in urban planning, infrastructure, law, and politics. Now, I’m an Artist in Residence for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. I’m working with the Vision Zero initiative to make artistic interventions that raise awareness to traffic safety.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Even though my art fosters participation and engagement, I’m a very independent person. I’m quite introverted, prefer to do things alone, and I hate asking for help. My need to be self-sufficient is counterproductive to my art practice, which is most enriched with collaboration. Also, my family isn’t passionate about the arts and have a difficult time understanding what I’m doing. Finding a support system has been tricky.

I do a lot of research when planning projects, which might mean I embed myself into a community, examine infrastructure in person, conduct interviews with strangers, attend public events, reach out to academics, or dig through archives. Sometimes it takes me a long time to access all this information, or I can get overwhelmed, or it may just take a very long time for an idea to formulate and connect all the threads together.

Another big challenge comes from trying to avoid the art market. I’m not interested in selling work in a gallery or creating decorative objects, but this world is easier to navigate if you’re making something that a collector can buy. I hope that public institutions and private art organizations find value in art that is intimate and ephemeral and offer me a platform to engage with their community in a more uncommon, direct way.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
In September, I started my position as the Creative Catalyst at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. In this two-year Artist in Residence program, I’m working with Vision Zero to address issues of traffic safety through artistic intervention. It’s a dream job, and what’s even more incredible is that I’m the only person in the entire city that gets to do this!

Vision Zero’s goal is to eliminate traffic-related fatalities by the year 2025. To do this, they believe that infrastructural change needs to come to our streets. That could translate to adding protected bike lanes, marked crosswalks, curb extensions, lane reductions, or new bollards to our streets. My task is to research the culture both within LADOT and with the city of Los Angeles and find creative ways to make people think more critically about this issue.

It’s very difficult to change people’s habits and ways of thinking, so I’m honored that the city chose me to take on this challenge. The job is still new, so I haven’t launched any art projects yet, but what I’m learning is that traffic safety is entangled with so many other civic concerns. Safer streets require collaboration from people working in public health, law enforcement, housing development, water and power, sanitation, community organizing, finance, homelessness and so much more. I think art can make these connections more transparent to the public, and that will help people advocate for safer streets.

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Image Credit:

Renée Reizman, Yubo Dong, Far Afield

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