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Photos by Paloma Dooley
Many of us find respite in nature. For many living in the city of Los Angeles, the lure of retreating to nature and finding a restorative connection with the earth is strong. The urban landscape is harsh; it literally paves over the natural world. To garden in L.A. is to return to our essential connection with the land, to insist upon its vitality in the face of drought, climate change, and the ever-expanding development of the earth. And, gardens, of course, offer sustenance—in an expensive city like L.A., filled as it is with food deserts, gardens can act not only as reliable sources of food, but also of other medicinal, spiritual, and cultural materials. Like personal estuaries, gardens are where the private stream of domestic life meets the powerful tide of all that is out-of-doors.
The next year of Carla will feature photographs of L.A.-based artists in their gardens, the images becoming a record of the changing seasons. In cities especially, gardens manifest in many forms—in backyards, in community spaces, in coffee tins on a windowsill. This series will celebrate the variety of creative ways that arts communities in L.A. build gardens in support of their lives and artistic practices. We begin the series with artists Diane Williams, Heather Rasmussen, and Mimi Lauter, all of whom retreat to their gardens to find connection and tactile knowledge, the garden becoming a collaborator in their practices and a site to gather with family and friends.
However tended, gardens are in constant evolution—always blooming, retracting, dying, and being reborn. The artist gardener models an embrace of this cycle and a deep care for site, space, and community.
Especially as it pertains to this project, we at Carla would like to acknowledge that Los Angeles sits on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Gabrieleno/Tongva peoples—the original caretakers of this land.
In addition to a series of raised beds, vegetable plants, and four fluffy chickens, Diane Williams’ garden includes plants like hibiscus and indigo, which she uses alongside the coniferous tree needles that fall from neighboring trees to make natural dyes using pre-colonial Filipinx dye methods. She utilizes these dyes in her textile work, approaching harvesting and dye-making with a spirit of open exploration. For Williams, the garden is not a pristine or precious space, but something alive and active that invites participation and play.
Heather Rasmussen began her garden slowly. With plant cuttings gifted by friends, family, and neighbors, her garden has grown and evolved in a loose, improvisational manner— built over time from offerings from her community. Other plants were adopted from friends who moved away or were rescued from the sidewalk during her neighborhood walks. For Rasmussen too, the garden makes its way directly into her studio: she utilizes long-neck squashes from her father’s garden in her photographs, bending her body around their organic forms.
For Mimi Lauter, the garden is itself a painterly composition—one that is constantly evolving with the changing of light and the shifting of season. Lauter considers the tending and planning of her garden to be similar to making a painting—a splash of purple and lavender in one corner contrast a bloom of yellow in another. Reds and pinks swim together in a monochromatic daub. It is not only the intentional placement of various colors and textures, but the carefully-orchestrated timing—the growth, peaks, and death of each plant—that become a form of mark-making. As one plant is finishing for the season, another is just starting to rise, in a crafted ebb and flow.
This photo essay was originally published in Carla issue 30.