Archive for the 'Collage' Category

Apocalypto – Interesting Version

Enrique Chagoya has repurposed the bat signal to get the word out: the end is nigh. Instead of projected onto the clouds of the night sky however, Camazotz illuminates the top of several reconfigured one-armed bandit slot machines that form the center piece of the artist’s show 2012: Super-Bato Saves the World at Electric Works through July 2nd.
Not that the end year of the Mayan calendar should throw us in a tizzy. Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and after a few pulls at the machine levers you might just find yourself feeling pretty optimistic about the future. Chagoya has built up a colorful cast of post-mythological characters in a mash-up of American and Mexican secular and sacred iconography, past and present. He even provides a handbook for the perplexed, taking the form of an illegal immigrant’s secret guide and accordioned like a codex, to the strange groups that cluster together north of the border (“Liberals” are fittingly presented as a cartoon ball of whirling kicks and punches, from which the head of Batman emerges with a smirk).
Armed with your primer to Cabbage Patch-faced Uncle Sams and forewarned about the weird ways Mexicans have been represented in pop culture (one particularly disturbing pulp is referenced in a number of works), you’ll probably resign yourself to the fact that things have been pretty chaotic up ’til now in any case. Once you’ve tackled one border crossing, there are plenty more waiting for all of us on the road up ahead.


Parting a curtain, a landscape is revealed seen from an incredible height. It’s a city built on water where classical architecture mingles with the most fantastic: sky needles and skyscrapers, a hollow cube that looks like an ode to the toy models of molecular structures. It’s a World Fair built to last, viewed seemingly with approval and a sense of ownership from the man at the window. All this can too be yours is the unspoken pitch from a broker no doubt waiting nearby for the vista to work its magic.
The inverse of Wizard of Oz revelation, in the prints from Liu Gang’s Paper Dream (2008) series, what lies behind the curtain, or off in the distance, is betrayed by the surface details which proclaim the artifice. Streaks of light mar the figure of the man at the high window, tell-tale crinkles of the glossy advertisements which form the source material for the prints. A bank of what looks like a rolled up carpet that the man stands astride is a bunched up fold of paper testifying to the essential two-dimensionality of the urban dreamscape.

In other works, rows of gilt edged books redolent of the library of the well-read and well-bred sag as if an unfaithful tack has come loose, exposing them as nothing more than an image painted on a tarp or tapestry. In a print where a jockey poses atop his horse in the foreground, the eye strays toward an impressive array of multi-story buildings of concrete and glass peeking above the tree line. A second glance confirms that the same buildings appear more than once and in the same sequence.

My favorite of the lot was a racetrack receding into the distance, to one side the spectator stands filled with party confetti-colored motes and on the other, a row of wobbly looking apartments. It’s so packed with empty promises that it’s embarrassing how giddy it makes you feel staring at the image. Not only is the future waiting for you if you can close the distance, you’ll be racing toward it as the crowds cheer you on (the expressways in Heaven are all forty lanes across and empty of traffic). The pavement, blown up from the original is a mass of scattered halftone the color of red clay. But although the lines of the road converge at the horizon, we know that parallel lines will never meet. And the towering apartment buildings to your right will pass by lap after lap, always out of reach.
Curator David Spalding has paired Paper Dream with Living Elsewhere, (1997-1999) a video projection by Wang Jianwei (together they make up the complete billing of the SF Camerawork show, dubbed Even in Arcadia…). The documentary follows the plight of a group of people in Sichuan Province who have taken up residence in deserted buildings that were or were intended to be upscale housing complexes. Where manicured front yards would have stood, they carve holes in the crumbly dirt in the hopes of bringing forth a subsistence crop. Inside the villas, wall-sized holes are open to the air, convenient for emptying foul water from a pot, but also indicative that they would have required mammoth sheets of window glass to cover the space. Doors propped with bricks form makeshift tables. No narrative is forced upon the residents: the director is content with following them and letting them tell their story, or watching them trying to eke out a living in a setting built for opulence but repurposed by necessity.

Response and Recovery

Dividing the room nearly in half, a huge crimson bird stretches out wings made of bank notes. Faces peer out, stippled portraits of authority on what’s left of the currency, which has been trimmed into smaller birds that make up the whole. Streamers of red thread run from the top of the sculpture to the floor, where the spools rest.
All of the works at Toomey Tourell’s show in transit display this readily apparent playfulness. From the hallway outside of the gallery the blinding yellow of a lifejacket and a lace-thin arm of veins call out to be examined further. When you do, you’re struck by the morbidity of the subject matter, which still later reveals itself to be, in actuality, the work of an artist grappling with tragedy: grappling with it, ruminating upon it, sneering at its absurdity and plundering it to create beauty where it seemingly has no business being found.
The starting point for Lyndi Sales work in the exhibit is a plane crash that took the lives of all 159 passengers, including her father’s. Flight 295 proved not just an unfortunate accident: suspicions linger that the disaster was assured by the existence of contraband materials being smuggled into what was then still apartheid-era South Africa.

response2bBut what finds its way to the gallery walls? The aforementioned life vest, trimmed like a stencil to reveal the shape of lungs. There are heads of coral and blooms of bronchioles, either of which could be flipped to represent the other. Travel safety cards have been sliced into ribbons of airplane trajectories, as if vapor trails left tangible residue like a spider’s web to be delicately preserved (also reminding me of Amanda Hughen and Jennifer Starkweather’s Airport Project series). The connections are almost dreamlike associations, if sharp edged. Even after the sad origin of the works is revealed, the playfulness remains.

Odds and Evens

That tagline up on the header right now pretty much says it all. If it’s not walkable, it’s MUNI for me and sometimes this proves an aggravating experience. Fully caffeinated on a Saturday morning I wander around taking pictures and then settle in at Mariposa and Bryant to get my $45 worth.

Elapsed wait time: 50 minutes

No. of busses that pass by going the opposite direction: 4

No. of other potential passengers who give up: 1, a MUNI driver clearly about to start her shift, who had even less confidence in the service than I did.

Possibility that San Francisco public transportation might prove so enticing that citizens will give up their cars: 0%

When the bus arrives it’s packed to the gills. Armed with the knowledge that the elusive 27 likes to hunt in packs, I wait five more minutes and climb aboard a car with plenty of breathing room.

Waves of shoppers take up every available inch of sidewalk, mistaking an afternoon inferno for “nice weather.” It’s always a relief to give the Market St. crowds the slip by turning the corner onto a deserted street where 49 Geary waits in the relative quiet. It feels like you’re privy to some undisclosed location ignored by maps and directories. I give the secret hand signal to the security guard at the desk and head up to Toomey Tourell. This is what makes it all worth it.
God damn it.

Too stubborn to give in, I grab some carpet and pout. Now I have to pee, which means begging a gallery attendant or owner for a key. Screw it. I go down the hall to see if there’s anything new at Steven Wolf.

One end of a huge painted landscape of a mountain vista is peeking out of the office, looking like a ship that’s just pulled into port. On the walls are a series of collages by brothers Kent and Kevin Young. The news article clippings give the feeling of free association on the subject of twins. Extracted bit by bit from the surrounding context of whatever was deemed timely and notable that day, they come across as the plunder of an obsessive’s scrapbook. “Is it just us,” ask the conspiracy theorists, “Or do twins hold a peculiar fascination for people?”

In the side gallery a Milton Bradley game is set up at a table. According to the website, this was to provide Bay Area twins the opportunity to try out their ESP aptitude by quizzing one another during the opening reception.
Kreskin: the original Dungeon Master.

Nearby four monitors tick off the results of a million die rolls, perhaps highlighting the craps game of genetics that every so often comes up “twins.”
Next time: Toomey better be open. Still need to use restroom.

Quid Pro Quo

Fittingly, conservatives brought down the curtain on their eight years of failed and perverse policies by announcing that the theater was, in fact, on fire. It’s almost too much to ask of people to get excited about Barrack Obama’s election as president considering by now everyone’s probably suffering from sheer exhaustion, if they’re not frantic with worry about losing their jobs and homes. So it’s with a psychological acuteness that Galería de la Raza has titled their current show Strange Hope. They seem to have zeroed in on the feverish schizophrenic state of the union, where optimism somehow still finds root in the detritus left behind by the former administration.

quid11Strange Hope began with a gesture, the blind exchange of the works now on display amongst the participating artists on opening night. It’s a clever way to ground the exhibit in the moment by reinforcing a sense of community in the face of an outgoing ideology that largely looked after the monied interests of the few at the expense of the people they had sworn to protect, some of whom would end up face down in oil-soaked water thanks to disregard. Victor Cartagena’s Untitled, 2009 is the perfect spectre for a new era of economic hysteria: a bald-headed red-faced Polyphemus, the center of a dollar bill representing his single eye. The torn pages of script that frame it (Hebrew?) invite further exploration (any polyglots out there that can identify the text?).

All of the works are of the same dimensions, 8.5″ X 8.5″, all are works on paper, but there is considerable variety amongst them. Veronica Duarte’s Vision of an Immanent Order, 2008 for instance at first glance appears to be covered with layers of cardboard cut-outs forming wavy Pepsi logo-like hills piled one on top of the other. Actually, the paper has been skillfully folded to bulge in bas-relief. Strips of artificial turf and a single tiny tree adorn the crests. Sylvia Buettner’s Plaisir, 2009 uses affixed sheet metal and charcoal to heighten the contrast between two facing figures. The woman’s profile is incised into the white ink in precise little lines, whereas the man’s is rendered in charcoal. A printed floral design, perhaps from a woodblock stamp both divides the composition and thematically ties them together.
Two of the most striking images come from Tân Khánh Cao and Jesus Barraza. Untitled, 2008 by the former artist is a silhouette, Kara Walker style, of a little girl on her pony. Perched atop her head like a mortar board is a miniature F-117A Stealth Fighter. Barraza’s work is a silk screen print of a Native American man in blue and flesh tone against a field of white clouds. The economy of the colors in Alcatraz, 2009 calls to mind Shepard Fairey’s work, the iconic image after all helped convey the burden of our aspirations during the election, but Barraza’s work is obsessively detailed which complements the stripped down color scheme nicely.

Images were a little hard to come by for this post, but I managed to track down a few on the artists’ websites for your continued browsing pleasure. Check out Rio Yañez’s rather accommodating Batman here. Scott Macleod makes visible what we’re all thinking. Finally, the piece at the top of the post that appears on all the show’s fliers is by Jenifer Wofford, whose work I mentioned in passing way back in October when I stumbled across it on a kiosk on Market St. In my recent post on public art, I suggested that Wofford’s stuff deserved to be blown up to enormous size on a city billboard or wall, so get on that SF Arts Commission would you?

Didn’t You Get The Memo?

I try to adhere pretty strictly to a self-imposed rule that I only post on exhibits I’ve actually attended. I feel I owe it to you, Dear Reader, to actually make the effort to visit a show if I’m going to urge you to do the same (some kind of Marxist theory of art appreciation no doubt). I’ve broken it once, when I was too sick to see a show that I’d been looking forward to, and now extenuating circumstances have again forced my hand. You see, the clock is ticking on a certain exhibit at SFMOMA and it turns out you’re the artist on this one. Not sure if you were aware.
The 1000 Journals Project appears to be a straggler in the museum’s hit or miss The Art of Participation series, which reached dizzying highs with its inclusion of Janet Cardiff’s The Telephone Call but fared less well with some of the online exhibits accessible via terminals in the galleries. This one looks like a lot of fun though: starting out as blank journals, the books have been passed from hand to hand and crisscrossed the globe. On their many stops, additions have been added bit by bit, meaning that whether you’re intending to observe or add your own ideas there’s going to be plenty of inspiration on hand.
The hope of course is that you’ll contribute, so the museum is providing material in just such an eventuality. If you, like me, are still kicking yourself for not getting in line to take part in The Gift, now’s your chance to get even with all those satisfied go-getters. It also seems perfect for those eager to participate but for whom the thought of, say, reenacting a scene from Life Boat on camera makes you want to curl up into a fetal ball.

A word of warning, 1000 Journals has their own dedicated website, but my attempts to visit prompted a Google advisory warning of potential malware like Trojan programs lurking in the background. I’m not going to link to it here: use your own discretion and note that it’s linked on the SFMOMA page. Oh, and congrats on your first show, but get crackin’: 1000 Journals closes on April 5th.

Music, With Occasional Gun

Lulled into complacency by Christian Marclay’s video Screen Play looping right inside the street entrance I’m totally unprepared upon climbing the steps and entering New Langton Arts’ gallery proper on the second floor. It’s, well, it’s big, and the current show Every Sound You Can Imagine has a scope to easily fill the space. Presenting works that date back to 1974 (a little bit of uncertainty there, other sources seem to state that 1975 was when New Langton went live) the show broadly explores the interplay generated by conceptual collisions of music and the visual arts.
Here’s a sampler of some of the pieces that caught my attention, leaving out so much that I’m afraid only a proper visit will give you some sense of how extensive the exhibit really is (hint, hint).

Always contrary, I attacked the show counter-clockwise rather than the path laid out for me which takes you first down a little cul-de-sac before doubling back to cut behind the front desk. First stop was Fluxus composer Dick Higgins’ Symphony #186 from The Well-Colored Symphony: part of the series A Thousand Symphonies, 1968/1997. 4 pages of orchestral paper are riddled with holes; the holes surrounded by nimbuses of pigmentation. At times they appear variously like clouds or galaxies except where the punctures have practically torn the paper apart (fittingly, these seem to correspond to notation on the score indicating percussion). The effect was achieved by machine gun, as employed by a New Jersey police officer who directed his fire at a paint can which contained the score sheets.

Stephen Vitiello’s approach also shows an inclination toward the element of chance in its composition. Overlaid upon the sheet music of Pond Set 1, 3 and 5 are images of thin reeds in standing water. Where the vertical lines of the stems cross the staff is presumably indicative of the usual presence of clefs and notes. Since so much of the composition relies upon uncertain variables (there is no telling where the vegetation will cross the staff until it is superimposed and the superimposition is the result of any number of accidental decisions like the position of the camera and framing of the plants) Pond Set performs the function of a mandala. Musical composition is a process of molding sound into a pleasing or remarkable sequence. It requires the human element of choice (unless you’re composing with machine gun) yet strives for something organic. There is a certain irony in the amount of work necessary to achieve a melody destined to be deemed “pastoral.”

Already it’s apparent how important the musical staff is to the artists as a conceptual starting point; a familiar structure to riff off of. Yasunao Tone has also seized on the importance of notation’s placement as a kind of trigger point. Anything crossing that horizontal plane at a particular point can constitute a direction for performance, whether conventional sign (F-sharp) or incidental like the lines of elevation in Tone’s Geodesy for Piano, 1962. The starting point is a topographical survey map this time, specifically one produced by USGS/USC & GS of the Thirteenth Lake region of New York, N4330-W7400/15 in 1954. According to the printed handout provided by the gallery “…the intersection of lines on the sheet of acetate with contour lines on the topographical map are used to determine the heights, angles, and positions from which a set of objects is to be thrown from a ladder onto a piano.” I wonder if Tone incorporated any of the names of prominent features in the region into his score? They’re wonderfully evocative: Balm of Gilead, King’s Flow, Kettle Mountain, Lost Creek, Siamese Ponds…

Steve Roden’s When Stars Become Words conjure up the pleasing aesthetics of an H.A. Rey book, yet from a few steps back look like the kinds of interplanetary fantasia that used to adorn the covers of old pulp magazines like Astounding Stories and Amazing Stories. But by the time I reach Douglas Hollis’ work I’m ready to see something that isn’t another improvisation on the musical staff. Thankfully Hollis’ Scored Bridge is narrative, conceptual, elegiac and steeped in memory. He recounts how the idea sprung from a structure from childhood reminiscence dubbed “the Singing Bridge” due to “the humming it made as we drove across its steel grating.” When he discovers that another beloved metal bridge is due to be superseded by a concrete replacement, he devises a score as if sung by the latter in memory of the former, the melody of a structure with no particular music of its own in dirge to another whose song was itself.

Stepping up to Alison Knowles’ offering of strips of onion peel fallen at intervals like leaves on a long strip of vellum I’m already mentally planning my Ode to Nicotine wherein a slow moving sheet will catch spent clusters of ash resulting from long drags on a Marlboro Light. But I imagine it would be better if I leave that endeavor to someone else- I really need to kick the habit.

On the Masthead

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