The Ultimate Culture Guide 2009: U

United Artists

It’s sometimes said that during recessions artists shift away from the frivolous and self-indulgent toward more socially and politically engaged work. Today is no exception. In Los Angeles a number of artist collectives—antimarket from the start—are addressing sustainable living, locally sourced food, and environmental issues with projects that are adventurous, surprisingly unpreachy, and smartly attuned to the times.

1. Fallen Fruit

Writer Matias Viegener and artists David Burns and Austin Young started their “activist art project” by mapping fruit trees on public land in L.A.’s Silver Lake section. Bananas, figs, plums, pomegranates, and avocados from such trees can legally be gathered for anyone in need, and the trio appears at museums and other venues, sharing foraging tips and leading communal jam-making sessions.

2. Farmlab

Situated on 32 acres of public land near L.A.’s Chinatown, Farmlab is famous for its Friday salons—complete with free homegrown lunch—led by community activists, scientists, and artists. Its founder, artist Lauren Bon, calls it a “large conceptual art project” about “the value of earth, seed, water, and process in keeping things alive in the city.”

3. The Institute for Figuring

Run by sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim, this “institute” takes the form of workshops, talks, and exhibitions, currently focused on one large, ongoing collaboration: stitching environmentally toxic plastic bags into kaleidoscopic, realistic-looking coral forms. The project, titled Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef (“hyperbolic” refers to the high-surface-area forms that coral make), highlights the fragility of reef ecosystems and the inanity of consumer waste.