Keith Bormuth
Keith Bormuth

A Farewell

June 2013


A Farewell


I will miss most the light in Los Angeles. There isn’t another place in the world that slaps gold around corners and onto streets. It can be passed off quickly as just beautiful, or so LA, but the light in LA is a celebration of immolation and reconstruction, and it structures itself by way of diffusion—a recurring party. I read John Fante’s Dreams from Bunker Hill in my mid 20s and it changed my understanding and feelings about LA, untwining the fiber of this desert town as he captured the light and dust from the 1930s. The starving creative can ascend the universe with any character emblem in LA, even cowardice or arrogance, what Fante’s heroes typically overcome. Just look toward the dust. The flips of light between palm fronds will show Los Angeles' 20th century to you.

I moved on from LA last week to join the Pinterest product design team in San Francisco. I couldn’t be more excited and more ready to hustle hard with the incredible team starting mid-July. It’s a beautiful product, and I am fortunate to join something so influential, useful, and unprecedented.

Having been in LA for almost a decade, I am sorting through what I leave behind and what I take with me up to the bay, figuratively. Part of me wants to leave behind the current east side and take the east side from 2005 or 2006, when it truly was glowing with grit. Coffee wasn’t a fetish yet. Kids could manage cocktails out of ice and water, and you could feel the desert in the streets after midnight, swaying silence, boozy nights and rambling strolls homeward. The look of the farmhand and artisan hadn’t yet been co-opted by all culturally progressive subcultures, and any tension around personal image was more around how dandified you could get and not how proletarian you could get. It was more Band of Outsiders, less Herzog. Fashion hadn’t yet been liquified by the internet, technology was still held suspect in many circles, and coexistence happened with the city at all levels. The most superficial thing held potential to be the most abysmal.

And Beverly Hills had, as always, its dreamy youth and dreamier wealth, and its spirit of questioning the seasons. It’s the near lack of seasons in LA that gives this barren, sparkly town its pause between yes and no. And that pause exists everywhere here. It is strongest for me in 2006.

I had just graduated with my BFA and was starting work as a designer at the Hammer Museum for pennies. I was over the moon and bravado filled my pockets. It would take over an hour to travel 15 miles to work across town. This gave me hours of reading each day. I scored the city with books that summer, creasing it on Sunset’s 302 line. I left the museum pretty quickly to get my MFA at USC. The small and kempt MFA student body was an animal kingdom, and the tender of art and design bounced from studio to studio, critique to critique, echoing like monkey roars. There was a fine line those two years between believing too hard and not believing hard enough. And in that hairline held magic. Looking back, that little crevasse now exists as a bedrock, and the ability to translate value in and out of objects, in and out of aesthetics and words exists with all product design decisions. It remains a second nature.

The LA art and design world captured me for years. It has always had a Don Quixote urgency to be LA before any other town could be LA, slaying itself as its own windmill. Progressive design and the concept of design at the time was pronounced in two main ways. It was either the far side of a specific breed of LA pop, or it was used scrappily to induce meaning between the artisanal and the technological. Powerpoints were used as art pieces, Youtube lists were to be understood in the same classicism of decoupage or something. The coolness of lettering was gaining speed, a cute medium to reject the technocrat. On the pop side, design was either a “dissident” affect of an unknowing culture, like Vice, or it was a celebration of a specific regionalism, a specific LAness, like fonts only a palm tree and a glass brick wall could sit comfortably next to. Both LA-specific beliefs in an avant-garde for design placed design as an expression, or a crystallization by way of design. Nowhere in Los Angeles, and this speaks to the lack of a product design culture that one can easily find in the Bay Area or New York, was design utilized outside of an understanding of a more traditional graphic design or branding discipline by designers or artists. However, it was in spots in New York and deep within the Bay Area where a new design conceptualism was being born—which has more of a likeness to 70s conceptualism in art than it does to any previous decade of design. LA always catches up in its own time and in its own style. Something unique will sputter up from the dryness of the ground, and it will stick forever, like tar.

I will definitely take with me the Chinatown art galleries before they dissolved away, and the arguments around Artforum’s then new blog-like Scene and Herd and how the internet was so problematic for so many people, from artists to designers. Designers didn’t want to be “Web Designers” and artists were spooked they were living in Walter Benjamin’s post-pre-modern Mechanical Reproduction purgatory week after week. And then the insurgent conversation around photography and a return to the moves of the Pictures Generation dominated LA for a bit. Day-tripping Diedrich Diederichsen around the LA art world is an important memory. From isolating Frankfurt school tendencies in Paolo Virno, to joking about wannabe French absurdist LA art, to Diederichsen’s full-force consuming of everything in Amoeba on Sunset, that jaunt remains a staple to my education.

I packed my library for San Francisco last week and thumbed through some old friends. I never really realized how these objects, these texts become talismans, a cross-section of relationships, education, work, alcohol, mornings and nights. My own seasons exist in the collection. I am thrilled to begin work at Pinterest and on a product that does something very similar, a place for the world to categorize and archive anything into relationships.