RUBEN OCHOA: Hello, my name is Ruben Ochoa. I'm here at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and we're standing here in front of my work, "What if Walls Created Spaces?"
The artwork that you see behind me is a photo lenticular documentation of a public intervention I did in Los Angeles, on the I-10 freeway, eastbound. I got funding from Creative Capital Foundation to wallpaper the freeway of L.A. I went around and photographed all the surrounding vegetation throughout the freeways of L.A. From 4x6 photos, I comprised a few and created a larger composite. The digital composite that I created through Photoshop was then printed digitally on wallpaper vinyl.
I had to find someone that was certified to wallpaper the freeway in L.A., which there's no one that wallpapers the freeway, so I had to find a contractor that was willing to do that. I had to take a course on how to shut down the shoulder of the freeway. We had to do it when cars were flying like 60 miles per hour, and we had these cones set up and we scaled the wall up and down with ladders.
There are so many freeways in that area, they actually call it the “malfunction junction.” When these freeways were put up, it would cause contention. It caused different areas, different barrios, different neighborhoods, and it dissected communities. This was done right in that area is what I was trying to capture.
When I was conceiving the work it was like, growing up in Southern California, you're always on the freeway, you're always driving, you're going from one neighborhood to another, but the freeways, you get to pass a lot of those areas, but as you investigate or you live in the area you start to understand why or how the built environment has disrupted several neighborhoods and communities. How it's like torn the social fabric in some areas.
The wallpaper was up for three months. For me, conceptually, it was like I wanted to document this intervention. I was like, how do I activate a photo on the wall? The lenticular was it.
What is a lenticular? The best way I describe it is, I don't know who eats Cracker Jacks anymore, but back in the days they had Cracker Jacks, and they used to give these little like holograms. When you look from one angle you see one part of the image, but as you walk back and forth you see the image transition.
I look at the work as an investigation. What if walls created spaces? Can walls create spaces? They do, you know, walls create spaces to allow people in, to not allow people in, keep people in and keep people out.
Ruben Ochoa deliberately tampers with the appearance of the I-10, a freeway that runs through East Los Angeles. He created a lenticular print that interlaces two different views of a freeway wall. As viewers walk past his photograph, the wall partially disappears, opening up a portal into an imaginary verdant landscape.
Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
America’s urban streets have long inspired documentary photographers. After World War II, populations shifted from the city to the suburbs and newly built highways cut through thriving neighborhoods, leaving isolated pockets within major urban centers.