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North Hollywood's Own Stonehenge: A Pile of Used Sofas

To protest people dumping furniture on the streets, a local artist creates 'Sofa Henge.'

April 08, 2002|MARK EHRMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"I've been waiting for the sun to come out so we get some shadow activity happening," says artist Barbara Freeman, impatient for the night's marine layer to disintegrate under the morning sun. At 6 a.m., she and a few helpers had begun arranging old sofas in a ring around a vacant lot adjacent to the Academy of Television Arts and Science Complex in North Hollywood. Finally, three hours later, just as the last pieces--a creamy floral coach and ratty black loveseat--are set in place, long, double-fingered shadows creep across the grass toward Lankershim Boulevard.

For all the religious awe and reverence surrounding it, Stonehenge, the Bronze Age megalith on England's Salisbury Plain, has spawned an equal amount of silliness, most familiarly perhaps, the "Spinal Tap" song of the same title. And now, for an ephemeral moment in early April, Freeman gives the people of North Hollywood and the North Hollywood Arts District, "Sofa Henge," a replica of the great circle of stones created completely out of--you've probably guessed by now--discarded sofas.

"I'm miffed by the amount of furniture that people dump on the street and leave like 'it's not my responsibility any more,'" says the "50ish" North Hollywood resident by way of an artist's statement. "I wanted to advertise that there is an 800 number that you can call and have your bulky items picked up by the city for free."

Although her background is primarily in ceramics, most of her artwork, she says, "deals with the curiosity of human behavior and social issues." This, she says, is her first "ephemeral" work, referring to the fact that 24 hours after the "monument" goes up, the city is scheduled to come and cart everything to the dump.

First, she and a fellow local artist, Susan Krieg ("Susan has a truck and I don't," Freeman explains) scoured the streets for sofas. "We were worried that we wouldn't have enough," she says. "We worried needlessly." Even after 25 discarded pieces were quarried for her creation, says Freeman, "I know of places right now where you could pick up some more."

The artist isn't much of a druid and, in fact, has never been to Stonehenge, but "has seen a lot of pictures on the Internet." None, however, were used as a guide. Instead, Freeman chose to wing it.

"I am simulating it," she says. "I am not being true to probably the size and the girth of it. But the sofas work well as posts and lintels." Purists may be disappointed to find that the great monument's lying stones and outer rings were not duplicated, and as to whether any care was taken to orient the soiled davenports toward specific points of the compass, Freeman answers, "not really."

Still, the functionaries from the Community Redevelopment Authority and state Sen. Richard Alarcon's office are on hand to present "Certificates of Appreciation for Outstanding Community Service." "I believe that NoHo is an arts incubator, so it's a place where a variety of creative ideas can come together and to stimulate more ideas," says Lillian Burkenheim, the CRA's project manager.

"'Sofa Henge' is sort of fun, not a big deal, but it's something that one person in the community wanted to do and they will pull together and do it and so it's worthy of merit."

Worthy of money too. Ken Banks, executive director of the North Hollywood Community Forum, which has underwritten the project, says Freeman received a grant of $2,500 for her effort, which "illustrates that there are a lot of areas in North Hollywood that, on the first and 15th of the month, become depositories for used sofas."

Certainly, the creation of "Sofa Henge" had its unsavory moments, most notably those having to do with the 7-footer the artist describes as "puke green," for reasons having less to do with its sickly colored vinyl upholstery than with the stain upon it. Still, Freeman boasts that the entire project took about 5 1/2 hours to complete.

While a few friends and support-NoHo Arts District types turn out, most of the attention to her "innovative and ecologically sensitive" monument is in the form of turned heads in vehicles approaching the light at Weddington Street. What little foot traffic happens by keeps on going, despite an inviting spread of coffee, fruit and doughnuts, though occasionally the event snags one of those chatty types glad to find captive conversationalists.

Apparently, with such monumental art, there is a danger of the medium overshadowing the message, as it were. Indeed, even the phone number for bulky item pickup gets lost among the coffee and doughnuts and the commendations. (It's [800] 773-2489 in the city of Los Angeles, by the way.)

"We were wondering why all the couches were being put up here," says Doug Kern, who works next door as an instructor at the L.A. Recording Workshop. "We have a lot of students who live in dorms, so my first thought was these were all the old couches from the dorms, but hey," he adds, when apprised of the concept, "if this is trash and you put it to good use, who can complain?"

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