Between 1987-93 I would be dropped off in the morning and then picked up to go home in the evening at the No. 8 & 12 Blue Bus Stop on the corner of National and Sepulveda in west Los Angeles.
I would sit sometimes for hours on the concrete wall that bordered the parking lot of a strip mall containing a 20/20 Video, a Hallmark Stationary store, a Vons, a Subway sandwich store and various other places. There were also those occasions when I would get off the bus late from school to see that my mom had already arrived and had parked by the tree in the parking lot.
When I photographed it recently, I noticed that the concrete wall had been painted from gray to beige. The street was loud and if I waited long enough, I saw dozens of traffic cycles, as well as people getting on and off the bus every fifteen minutes. But no one stayed as long as I did. When I finally got home, my clothes would smell of the street, while others, who stayed in offices would smell of carpeted floors or hallways, not the exhaust of LA traffic. I was eleven when I started going to the bus stop and sixteen when I stopped. The more time I spent at this bus stop, my friendliness to strangers diminished. I began to purse my lips and stare coldly ahead into the distance if someone stared heavily at me, especially around 11th and 12th grades in High School when my older brother had graduated on to college and no longer waited with me.
The mask of my aggravated look is something I carried with me into college and, upon reflection, seems a strange way for a young girl to behave. Lustful gazes bothered me because there were no public places I could find privacy in.
Before we moved to Hawthorne we were living in an apartment complex in the Palms area that bordered the 405 Freeway. I attended Charnock Road elementary school from the 3rd to the 6th grade. Had I continued to live in the Palms area, I would have gone to Mark Twain Jr. High and then to Venice High School.
Our move to Hawthorne put us out of the LAUSD school district. We found someone who would let us claim their residency so that my brother and I could attend Emerson Jr. High and University High School. When I went to Emerson, many of the kids already knew each other from the district’s elementary feeder school. In the transition between the primary school and college I lived in three very different parts of Los Angeles: Palms, Hawthorne and Westwood. The demographics of these areas were acutely diverse. In Palms, much of the housing was reserved for students of UCLA with families, and the neighboring areas south of Venice and east of Palms were more diverse in age and ethnicity.
In Hawthorne, when we first moved there in 1987, the community was largely white, with a small percentage of Asians and by the time I was in college, the demographics had changed from Caucasian to Latino. African-Americans and Latinos predominantly attended my districts High School, Leuzinger; in contrast, University High School had over two thousand students and was much more integrated. Due to the lack of middle and high school aged children living in the immediate vicinity of Brentwood, Bel Air and Santa Monica, students were bused in from all over the city.
From moving across such different territories, I gained a sense of fragmented experience and I began to realize how knowledge and social relationships are regulated and sustained by place. A one-way trip from University High to my home in Hawthorne was about 13 miles; the distance was insignificant, what mattered had to do with the places themselves.
The No 8/12 Bus Stop is one of many places in the piece, Everyday Past, 1981-2001. In it I revis ited the places where I lived, went to school, and played (The Mar Vista Park). All the days that I have lived in Los Angeles can be charted through the spaces that I have occupied, domestic and institutional. Each group of individual images is defined by street address or the name of a place
The pictures are arranged intuitively, and the only consistencies between the groups are images of corners. The corners are easily identifiable as the place where the wall, the vertical, meets the ground, the horizontal. The image is abstracted due to the photographic flattening and what becomes apparent are the textural differences between the materials - whether there is dirt or concrete ground; wood, cinder block or steel; weeds or sod; whether it is kept clean or dirty. The maintenance, or neglect, of the space is also more evident in the corners.
The lack of my subjectivity and personal narrative within Everyday Past is necessary to talk about the spaces themselves. They are significant to me in memory and past experience, however they hold no more of me than they do of the people who currently live, attend school or work there. Although the piece reflects almost everyday of the majority of my life, it mostly reflects the present.
A specific personal history is only present in the structure of the map itself. The composition of space arranges and orders human experience. The physical presence of a wall, the breadth of a concrete ground, the width and length of a hallway, these details of spatial containment affect the way our bodies move and feel. Spatial arrangement is not inseparable from our sense of self, not only in providing a relationship between our body and the world, but our sense of identity within a space. Each space provides a subject/object relationship through its function. The user is the subject and the place is the object. My identity changes in relation to the function of each place: at an apartment complex I am a renter; at a grocery store I am a consumer; at a school I am a student privileged to stay there until no longer enrolled; and at a bus stop I am a citizen utilizing the public service of the local city government.
Moving in between these spaces produces a permeable and flexible identity. My identity as a consumer in a grocery store is different from the clerk who stands behind the cash register. At a school I have a different relationship to the teachers and administrators who occupy offices and classrooms and maintain territories that are not as temporary as those of the students.
These internal and external hierarchies determine questions of access and usage. Revisiting spaces I no longer have access to, my gaze is stopped at the exterior. The interiors are only discernible in the group Freeman Avenue, in which a backyard becomes visible and in Silver Lake Blvd, in which a light is noticeable in the front windows of the home. My distant, impersonal gaze situates me as an out sider looking in. These spaces that were once so intimate to me, have now moved me alongside the viewer who has absolutely no access to my memories and experiences of these spaces. The places that we no longer inhabit, or use for part of the day, or just drive by, become lost to us.
— Michelle Matthews