After immediately being faked out upon entering by Gallery Counter, 2008 (why are they forcing that poor woman to sit behind that obscenely tall desk?), I learn to take the name of Baer Ridgway Exhibition’s show to heart. It’s not like they didn’t warn me: the title is reproduced countless times in the entryway.
Mads Lynnerup, like most of us, has the recession on his mind. You are the Artist, You Figure it Out is largely an exploration of the things we deem of value, whether objects or concepts, and why such value might be misplaced. As is stated in the voice over of one of the video art pieces, “…if the good times have really ended, they were never really that good to begin with.”
That’s from Squirrels (Recession), 2008 which you can get a little preview of here. My first thought was that the squirrel might be Lynnerup’s stand-in for us at our most acquisitive. In the video they are certainly indefatigable “workers,” and the bowl of peanut shells nearby seems to be suggesting we should recognize the metaphorical implications. There’s a sense of longing in the squirrel posed gazing at the skyline in Squirrel (speculation), 2008, or is it discomfort? Perhaps it’s just the opposite: they’re the ultimate rainy day saver-uppers, a lesson to many who live on credit. In any case, you can ponder the lesson they have to tell from the comfort of the provided burrito couches.
Water, 2005 was my favorite part of the show however. In the video, Lynnerup hauls a water cooler jug to various establishments, all within a few blocks radius of Baer Ridgway. What he’s hoping for is that they’ll let him fill it up with a cup or two of water before moving on. In the course of his journey he hits the Cartoon Art Museum, an EMT training center filled with students practicing resuscitation on mannikins, the GLBT Historical Society and SFMoma (through the employee entrance) as well as posh locations like the W Hotel. The reactions are usually initially ones of bewilderment. It’s hilarious to see the woman at the desk of the Academy of Art Institute trying to relay the intent to a faculty member (“Water!” she yells into her phone). Most are accommodating even if they at first were completely nonplussed. The guys at the firehouse send him off with a friendly wave. Others, like a staff member at the chain restaurant Chipotle is less than enthusiastic. “It’s really weird. I don’t care if you take some water.” Lynnerup takes it all with good grace, balancing the jug’s mouth awkwardly under the soda fountain dispenser.
His long trek does a good job of illuminating the distances between people. Even given an odd request, people were generally willing to accommodate much more than we might suppose. Given that art still carries with it a kind of sacrosanct quality, Lynnerup obviously has an easier time of it (relatively) than just any old person on the street walking in to a place of business. But that seems to be partly the point: that social constructions can form barriers and open doors and yet act at a subconscious level. In the busy South of Market business district, how strong is a feeling of community within spaces largely given over to work and vacated by dusk?
I should add before I go that the people at this gallery were great and seemed genuinely enthusiastic to have a visitor and to hear what they thought about the exhibit. One of them watched Water with me on one of my numerous viewings and pointed out that people at the show’s opening had drank from the water in the jug (now ensconced in the gallery next to the television on its base). Given the exhortation at the beginning of the show that if I “see anything interesting” I should “let someone know immediately” I direct your attention to Baer Ridgway on Minna St.