Vendor’s Walk (Los Angeles: Forward Basic [slow, medium, fast tempos], Walk and Progressive Sidestep, Back Corte, Closed Promenade, Onestep Backward Reverse Turn)
looped sound recording, street noise
Installed on the terrace at JavaArts, Phnom Penh
Sound Engineering: Nigel Lundemo
Commissioned for On the Streets, an apexart Franchise Exhibition curated by Chuong-Dai Vo
This work developed from my observations of street corner vendors in Los Angeles, where I live. The vendors I see always work alone at traffic signals, usually selling flowers or bags of oranges. They showcase their goods––brightly colored objects held aloft in both hands––by walking on a narrow median or sidewalk alongside a lane of stopped cars. The vendors have a specific walk which, like the movements of an assembly line worker, is determined by the confines of their workspace and the requirements of their job. A vendor must traverse at least 50 feet both forward and back during the time a traffic light remains red and cars are paused. He or she will frequently pause and turn from side to side to check for and engage with customers.
Vendor’s Walk is a sound installation with two elements: a looped recording of footsteps that replicates a Los Angeles street vendor’s choreographed movements, and the ambient street noise from the outdoor terrace where the work is presented. Two speakers are installed on the terrace at JavaArts, inserting the amplified recording temporarily into the cafe’s space. The sound of the footsteps pans back and forth across the width of the terrace, aurally mapping the distance and duration of one cycle of the vendor’s walk. The pauses and turns are in response to the length of the cars, the invisible partners in this dance. And the varying speed of the steps and the lengthier pauses are timed to the imminently changing traffic light, which functions as the (silent) musical accompaniment. The sound of traffic, which is always present for the street vendor, is provided on-site by vehicles on Sihanouk Boulevard. Recorded and live, distant and near, composed and unscripted––the two layers of sound combine to form an amalgam of a situation with no exact temporal or spatial anchor. As produced and installed, Vendor’s Walk is ephemeral, nearly invisible, but insistent in its presence, much like the vendors themselves.
A vendor I spoke with in Los Angeles said he normally worked for about five hours straight; his walk could be multiplied by the number of red lights that occurred during that period. Street vending is illegal in Los Angeles and vendors, who must make themselves and their wares highly visible to oncoming traffic, risk arrest or deportation. These vendors operate in a space that is precarious in every sense, and it is rare to see the same vendor at the same location more than a few times. The interplay between visibility and invisibility pervades my conception of these workers. They are invisible within the accounting of Los Angeles’s official economy, but their existence and participation in the life of the city is a reminder of what the margin of that economy looks like. Most drivers who encounter vendors do not establish eye contact, especially if they do not wish to buy anything. My interaction with these vendors is strictly visual; I have not had a sustained conversation with any of the vendors I have seen. What I can do is convey a sense of a person who comes into and recedes from our view, over both space and time.