Meet our 2019 +LAB Artists in Residence: Cog•nate Collective

The 2019 +LAB Artist Residency is a creative place-keeping residency that will focus on addressing the most recent cycle of displacement that is affecting Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. These community-engaged artists are helping LTSC successfully advocate for the responsible development of two highly contested parcels of land owned by the City of Los Angeles: First Street North (FSN) and the Mangrove block (Mangrove). Through a series of free events and workshops, these artists aim to positively impact the devastation caused by past and present development that threatens the sustainability of our community. The artists are co-hosted by a local arts organization, and Visual Communications is proud to host +LAB Artists in Residence (+LAB AIR) Amy Sanchez Arteaga & Misael Diaz from Cog•nate Collective. Learn more about them and their project below.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.

Our lives, and much of our work, has been shaped by the experience of living along and across the US/Mexico border. 

Misael grew up between Tijuana, B.C. / San Diego, CA / Los Angeles, CA and Amy grew up between El Centro, CA / Mexicali, B.C. This binational upbringing between the Californias allowed us to experience complex geo-political, economic and cultural dynamics as a facet of our everyday. As a result, our work often foregrounds personal experience -- anecdotes, memories and family histories -- to reframe how it is that we can understand the border (and other border-ized spaces), as sites of trauma and pain, yes, but also as sites of immense creativity and resilience.


Recently, our work has been interested in tracing how the border and all its problematics are bound to prejudicial and unjust conceptions of citizenship, which define/delimit who belongs in the nation and who does not. This has been an outgrowth of our time as Artists-in-Residence at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, CA, where we have been able to develop long-term collaborations with immigrant-rights organizations like Resilience Orange County.

Because, as we mentioned, we try to ground abstract and/or complex political issues in the sphere of the personal, we often seek to engage communities in dialogue and conversation. As a result, interviews and other forms of sound recordings are consistent features in our projects, and we often share our work in public space through localized FM radio transmissions.


What pushed you to apply for the +LAB Artist Residency Program?

We were excited to work in the context of Little Tokyo, because of the historical and contemporary resonances we feel exist between our communities in relation to the question of belonging – resonances which can become the foundation for creating inter-cultural networks of solidarity and support.

In historical terms, we were interested in tracing the connections between the xenophobic federal policies that led to the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese American citizens in concentration camps during World War II, and the current border crisis – which is also fueled by racism and has led to the detention of asylum-seekers in unjust and inhumane conditions within present-day camps.

Given our work documenting the cultural significance and importance of downtown Santa Ana to the Latinx immigrant community, we were also excited to learn from the ways Little Tokyo has established itself as a space for Japanese, Japanese American, and, increasingly, multi-ethnic communities to feel at home; like they belong. 

More specifically to this point, we were excited to consider how such communities of color can organize to confront gentrification and displacement.  And again, we are hoping to rehearse one possible strategy, which is to build inter-cultural networks of solidarity to resist displacement and further marginalization.

Please describe your project and how it relates to the theme of "Ending Cycles of Displacement.”

FUTURE ECHOES is a site specific audio installation that will live on the First Street North block from August 17th-31st. People will be able to listen to the project by tuning into 87.9FM while physically on the First Street North Block and in the immediate vicinity. The project will feature stories of displacement and community resistance across time -- tracing how different communities who call(ed) the land that is present-day Little Tokyo home, have resisted erasure. For the project we also commissioned contemporary writers to speculate about the future of Little Tokyo and the First Street North block, so we think of it as an audio piece that is about historically-informed gestures of play and speculation. Future Echoes will launch with a Public Hearing event on August 17th at noon and, the public will be invited to visit a listening station that will be set up on JANM Plaza and to a reception at 341 FSN from 4-6pm. We hope the program, and the installation as a whole, will facilitate dialogue around the future of contested sites in the neighborhood, and make space for community members to share their memories, but also speak their hopes and wishes for their communities future.


What was the inspiration behind your project?

As we started doing research we were thinking a lot about the word "speculation" and it's relationship on the one hand to investment and speculative capital, but also to investment in the form of cultural and social imagination and liberatory politics. We realized that one of the ways that communities can take control and hold power over their neighborhoods is by controlling the narratives that exist about their histories in those spaces. Gentrification erases history – that's part of what makes it so violent – so our project seeks to make stories tied to Little Tokyo more visible. You will see a lot of blue run through the aesthetics of the listening station and posters and other aspects of the project and this is inspired in part by the blue tile roofs of the plaza, but also in thinking about blue prints and planning for the future. A future that is accountable to the historical struggles of residents and ancestors who have resided in this neighborhood.

What do you hope people take away from your project?

Our hope for much of our work is that it can serve as a starting points for people to connect with their local history, and get involved with local political struggles. We hope that we can create space for the collaborators we work with to share their work, and we can amplify all of the good work that is being done in the neighborhood already.


Any particularly memorable persons or encounters you have experienced through your project?

On June 27th we were able to participate in the Fort Sill protest that took place outside of JANM. We got to hear wonderful speakers from the Little Tokyo community and did a recording session with people who shared words and thoughts about solidarity across communities. It felt powerful and exciting to work at the intersection of contemporary struggles for the humanitarian treatment of migrant people, and the denouncing of the historical dehumanization of Indigenous and Japanese Americans who were incarcerated there. We look forward to continue being in solidarity with such actions during our time in Little Tokyo.

LTSC +LAB Presents: Little Tokyo Summer Art Series

As the +LAB Artist Residency comes to a close, please join Cog•nate Collective for their summer events below. Click here to see the rest of the events.


FUTURE ECHOES is a site-specific sound installation reflecting on the ways past, present and future inhabitants of the First Street North block in Little Tokyo have confronted displacement, and resisted erasure.

The project culls together sounds excavated through research, speculative fiction written by local authors and recordings produced by Cog•nate Collective in collaboration with traci kato kiriyama, LTSC’s Youth Group and other community partners throughout their time as +Lab Artists-in-Residence – with Visual Communications as host organization.

Beginning on Saturday August 17th, the public will be able to experience this work on the First Street North block by tuning their radios to a frequency that will be announced in the days leading up to the launch, and displayed outside of 341 First Street North. 

Throughout the month, Cog•nate will also host Listening + Recording Sessions which will provide interactive opportunities for the public to engage with the audio and participate in the recording process.

Stay tuned for more details about upcoming programming!

Who: All ages welcome! 
When: August 17th Noon to August 31st Noon 
Where: First Street North Block, Little Tokyo


Join 2019 +Lab Artists-in-Residence Cog•nate Collective as they celebrate the launch of FUTURE ECHOES, a site-specific sound installation that invites you listen to the local air: to stories suspended in waves over First Street North, speaking tales of displacement, resistance, shared struggle and acts of radical hope.  

Gather, listen and reflect on how we might (re)chart paths towards more equitable, just and inclusive futures. Today we hold the airwaves, tomorrow we’ll hold the land. 

Who: All ages welcome!
When: August 17, 12:00 pm — 6:00 pm
Where: 341 FSN


What: What does Little Tokyo sound like to you? Is there an aspect of this sound that you would want to preserve for posterity? Please contribute it to the FUTURE ECHOES sound-capsule!

Bring a song (in any format), a sound-producing-object or simply a story that conveys your feelings about First Street North/Little Tokyo to our launch event.

We will be conducting recordings to produce a mixtape that will air as part of FUTURE ECHOES broadcasts.

Who: All ages welcome!
When: August 17, 12:00 pm — 6:00 pm
Where: 341 FSN


What: In collaboration with traci kato kiriyama’s PAST PRESENT: CONVERSATIONS WITH THE FUTURE Cog•nate Collective will be hosting an interactive Listening Station sharing stories of speculative fiction produced by local Angelino writers, imagining what a “historically-informed” future in Little Tokyo looks like, what it sounds like, and how it feels.

Who: All ages welcome!
When: August 28, 29, 30 7:30 pm — 10:00 pm
Where: Japanese American National Museum Plaza

This publication is part of the +LAB Artist Residency program in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, CA. +LAB connects with partners and collaborators to develop creative solutions to address the evolving challenges facing Little Tokyo. +LAB is a project of the Little Tokyo Service Center. Click here to learn more.