Before the LA coastline was engineered, before Venice was dug out and drained, one wouldn’t be surrounded by California palms or oil fields, but by what frontier boosters called an ‘uninhabitable swamp.’ But the shellfish-laden wetland, where Mussel Beach sits today, had been a food source for the Kizh Nation for over 7,000 years, until they were enslaved by the Spanish to build the San Gabriel Mission. Photo: endless oil fields on the strip between Venice and Playa del Rey, once site of the Ballona wetland, ca. 1930s.

Mussel Beach navigates the past, present, and future of Muscle Beach, California, by looking at mussels. Conceived as a series of site-specific interventions, performances and a guided audio walk, Mussel Beach delves into a holistic health model for the human body, the body of the mussels, and the body of the city of Los Angeles.

You can also watch your mussels grow. Photo: Rob Stanford Collection, 1976. Courtesy of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles.
Mussel Taco on the Boardwalk. Mussel Beach, Los Angeles, California.

Shifting between Muscles and Mussels the project tells lesser-known coastal episodes taking mussels as the main protagonists of metabolic processes: filter feeders that clean seawater by breathing. Active ‘digestive machines’ that capture and break down pollutants, they are used in Mussel Beach to explore the diverse ecologies of Venice Beach and how to improve the state of life–human and nonhuman–in the city at large.

These visions unpack how oiled muscles overtook salt-watered mussels; how shaping biceps, butts, pecs, traps, and triceps is deeply entwined with mussels, barnacles, oysters, and clams. They all call us to pay attention to mussels, but also to grow your mussels. CLIMAVORE encouraged participants of Mussel Beach to be shellfish!

In exploring Mussel Beach one encountered a series of site-specific interventions: a Mussel Taco eatery, Mussel Beach t-shirts and merchandise, performances by local skaters wearing mussel shell outfits and a collaboration with Muscle Beach Nutrition to offer Mussel Beach protein shakes for your muscles, and your mussels.

At the heart of Mussel Beach a terrazzo sculptural piece made out of mussel shells, inspired by Clifton’s sidewalk terrazzo in downtown LA, provided a contemporary interpretation of visions for the Californian economy in the 1940s. If a century ago, oil, cinema, and tourism were at the forefront; today California can reimagine its coastal horizons through the eyes of mussels: as new protein sources, water treatment, innovative building materials, or human surgery applications.

For a full workout routine, listen to

“I didn’t know these muscles existed!” we say when we sense the unworked insides of our body, when we find ourselves sore in a new place. At Mussel Beach skaters practice dressed in shells.
Visions of California through the eyes of mussels made in waste shell terrazzo. Four mussel scenes depict the future of the mussels of Mussel Beach: a source of superglues, protein-rich foods, filter feeders, and building materials. California becomes the place where we learn from, work, clean, and live with mussels. Mussel Beach, Los Angeles.
Mussels really deliver—for water health and for muscle health. A single serving offers human muscles 20 grams of protein, 19% of the recommended daily dose of Vitamin C, and a striking 340% of the daily dose of Vitamin B-12. Remember. With every mussel you eat, you build muscle. With every muscle you build, you help cultivate mussels. Eat, repeat. Be shellfish. Waste shell terrazzo detail depicting mussels as food protein. Mussel Beach, Los Angeles.
Mussels rely on their filter-feeding capacity to mitigate the effects of eutrophication. To collect enough food to survive, a mussel must filter almost a gallon of water per hour. Waste shell terrazzo detail depicting the future of mussels as filter feeders for the city. Mussel Beach, Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, long before human muscles, there were mollusk-ular mussels. Mussel collection, Natural History Museum Los Angeles.