Why so many L.A. creatives meet up at a secret, underground spot: Ikea

The homespun residency has no reason to believe their corporate landlords want them out, but there is a contingency plan in case that should happen.

“It’s parody law,” Blair-Schlagenhauf says as a line of defense, using Nathan Fielder’s trademark-proof Dumb Starbucks stunt as a benchmark against copyright infringement. “We as an organization are very influenced by the aesthetic, but the artists themselves are definitely more interested in doing their own thing in dialogue with Ikea.”

It’s a long way from the Scandinavian furniture giant’s actual artist-in-residence program, which debuted earlier this year. The first, official Ikea Artist in Residence is none other than Annie Leibovitz, the world’s most recognizable living portrait photographer. The collaboration has Leibovitz mentoring a handful of emerging shutterbugs as she “takes us on a creative journey across seven countries, capturing 25 personal portraits that reflect the authentic lives of people at home.”

For Shizuka Kusayanagi, a single mom of two boys making a career shift from graphic designer to painter, the Ikea Residency is an invitation not to escape from domesticity, but rather to engage with it.

“For me, it’s really about not taking art so seriously,” she says, adding how isolated one can be as both a painter and an Angeleno. “The art world can be very crushing, so it’s really about connecting with other artists and feeling like I’m not alone.”

She’s paired with Angella d’Avignon, a freelance writer whose work mainly focuses on “capital-P Place.” “I’m interested in the social interactions that happen [at Ikea],” d’Avignon says, as well as “the way desire is expressed there, how interiority is made so public and visible there.” She also plans to eavesdrop on shoppers, taking a cue from Sophie Calle, the French artist who went undercover as a chambermaid to photograph hotel guests’ belongings. “I’m curious where more fights happen between couples,” she says. “Possibly the bedding section?”

Back in Burbank, partners Connor Walden and Krista Ramirez-Villatoro planted themselves inside Ikea until they hatched a plan for their October stay. Ramirez-Villatoro is a design media arts MFA student at UCLA, where “side quests” like this are encouraged. Ikea seemed “ripe for mischief,” she says. “I wanted something weird.”

The pair moseyed the budget-friendly aisles, going from consumers to culture jammers in the process. Tough for Walden, a sculptor who had just moved in with his girlfriend. “The first place we thought to go was Ikea, at least to think of ideas and dream of what’s possible,” he says. “And, of course, we bought things while we were there.” He and Ramirez-Villatoro now fixed their critical eye on the paradox of Ikea: at once aspirational and accessible, a supposed ethical conglomerate responsible for devouring 1% of world’s lumber annually.

“It’s not quite Disney World where it’s a total fantasy,” Walden says. “But it is your own fantasy that you’re then projecting onto their display rooms.”

For most, Ikea serves as a stopgap on the way to new beginnings. To the residency’s artists, many early-career, the store offers a new lease on their creative life. To keep it going, the residency plans to be as adaptable as their namesake. It might mean changing the name to “Idea Residency,” explains Blair-Schlagenhauf and Anderson, or decamping to another big-box retailer all together.

If anything, they hope Ikea Residency serves as its own artist statement.

“I hope people are inspired to make art in weird places and not wait to ask for permission,” Anderson says. “To ask themselves, where can art exist? Can I just do it myself? And can I take agency over this process that’s so heavily gatekept most of the time.”