Archive for the 'Repurposed Art' Category


Arriving at Togonon Gallery I find there’s an artist talk already in progress, so I drift to the back of the room to hear a few details about Viva Paredes’ prayer wheels. The cross beams are all reclaimed wood, fitted together without nails. Her mindset regarding material is deeply influenced by past experience working with recycled products. I’m dying to give the wheels a spin. I’d like to get a closer look at the frosted image of a fleeing family on the surface of the jars and the medicinal plants contained within as well, but mostly I want to spin them. Not the most spiritual response to a work inspired by an object intended to foster wisdom, mindfulness and merit.

samsara1The talk ends, everyone stands, and I inch toward the sculpture but am cut off by the attendees headed toward the food and wine table. I am eventually pressed right up against it as people crowd around the artist with further questions, so I get a good look at the contents inside, even if I can’t identify them. Why herbs? The title, I learn, is Benediction for a Wetback, which means that setting the cylinders tumbling might be a way to prompt reflection upon those who uproot their lives either to escape hardship or to support their loved ones. Considering the wheels can be spun both ways on their spindles, the imprinted image is a clever comment on the plight of the migrant family: there is always the possibility of constant movement back and forth. Following work means there may be no easy measure of “progress” in a journey. Setting the wheel spinning makes you to some degree responsible for the silhouettes’ current plight, whether rapid flight or frenzied backtracking. I decide after all that maybe I’d rather let them be for the moment. Paredes’ work has given me something to contemplate, but already it’s safe to say it has inherited a penchant for instilling mindfulness from its archetype.

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.

Persistence of Memory

Standing ten to twenty feet back I can’t make out anything. Splotches of dark and shade shuffle about on the wall until washed away as waves of white overwhelm them. It’s something like the effect of someone passing back and forth close to the lens of a projector. I rejoin my friend Amy at the benches in the back of the gallery and slowly images begin to be perceptible with a bit of concentration. What looks like a DC3 is coming in for a landing. As it nears touchdown, it’s whisked away and something new is rushing madly in front of our eyes taunting us to identify it.

We’re checking out Jim Campbell’s installation at BAM, the latest work in his Home Movies series. The exhibit takes up the entirety of the far wall and is constructed of vertical hanging wires with LED lights attached at regular intervals pointing toward the wall. Light Emitting Diodes are much more ubiquitous than i realized. According to How Stuff Works, they’re the common element for providing the number displays on everything from alarm clocks to microwaves. Pop an LED bulb onto a transistor and pass a current through them and you get light, even in the infrared spectrum (invisible to the human eye) depending on the conductive material used in the diode. They generate very little heat and lacking a filament that will eventually burn out last a long time. Campbell has coordinated the charge passing through each individual diode so that they collectively project moving images on the wall. Since an LED only needs to be illuminated when light is present in its sector of the grid, a buzzing noise rises and falls in pitch as more or less of the diodes are in use. At times it’s a pleasant constant hum and at others, when the image is flooded with white, it’s like the droning of a swarm of mosquitos.

All the footage is acquired; scraps of amateur film stock that Campbell has accumulated over time. They are the typical fare of the home movies of the piece’s title, with the notable exception, as far as I noticed, of human subjects. What I did make out was the aforementioned plane, footage taken from the window of a moving car, a slow pan down a waterfall. This is the perception of a world in motion, the distinctly modern apprehension described in the book by my friend Sarah’s professor Mitchell Schwarzer appropriately titled Zoomscape. Arrivals and departures, discrete segments of journeys now running together and colliding as they loop back upon themselves.

What compels us to record these moments? It’s surely not for posterity. The fact that the footage Campbell is using was discarded is fairly telling. They were quite frankly doomed in any case as the unrelenting march of planned obsolescence replaces existing recording devices for the next media type and player. Outsourced memory has a shelf life. I think about the piles of documents sifted through and compiled for presentation at The Chinese of California exhibit. Paper hasn’t proved obsolete just yet. Will future generations be able to extract all the data of the digital age? Already video games that I played as a kid exist only as code on some superseded format. Campbell has chosen to resuscitate source material of unknown provenance. Resurrected from film or tape to digital file format what do these dimly recognizable landscapes and subjects have to tell us? If there’s anything we can say with certainty it’s that the importance of the captured images was wholly personal. The subjects are preserved, but their initial meaning is lost, probably forever.

In George Johnson’s book Fire in the Mind there is a dizzying chapter on information theory. Advocates in the scientific community believe that information may actually exist as a discrete form of matter or energy (which as Einstein hinted are just two sides of the same coin). One goes so far as to declare that we could one day power a car using information alone. Somewhere in the world of the quanta subatomic particles of information are zipping about, waiting for us to identify them. If I mucked that up Mr. Johnson, forgive me, for even in school I had problems with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I was incredulous that anyone could quantify disorder. If a dried-up leaf was blown an inch or two to the right was there more disorder than there was before? It seemed so subjective. And so it is with information. What value, if any, does meaning add to information? How do you measure meaning? The images that blossomed on the wall across from us or were wiped away as if a rolling paint brush had obliterated them: how much meaning did they have left as the private become public?

This is what is so curious about the installation. Because the projections of the array are so blurred, it takes some degree of effort to make them out. There is the strange feeling that if you tried hard enough you would not only be able to identify the images but remember them. They beg to be understood. This is eerily similar to the latter half of Wim Wender’s film Until the End of the World wherein a machine is introduced that can project a user’s dreams. The character Claire becomes obsessed with viewing the resulting grainy playback, attempting to decipher the products of her own mind, which while familiar are created by some locked away part of her consciousness. Campbell’s curtain of lights constructs a kind of archaeology of moments. They are engrossing and unsettling in their ambiguous origin, lost until the day perhaps when we discover a quark of meaning fluttering about in the cloud of the charmed and the strange.

All Aboard the Art Express

Okay, this is getting obnoxious. For the second time in two weeks I’ve arrived at an art exhibit that isn’t open despite evidence to the contrary.

I Muni it way the hell over to Dogpatch to catch Tammy Rae Carland’s show An Archive of Feelings and then wander about 3rd. Street trying to find the gallery. I pop into Sundance Coffee and the guy working the counter is confused when I ask about the Silverman Gallery since he says it up and closed doors recently. He points out the stairwell that leads to the door of the defunct operation so I head down to see if they left a note or sign about a new location. No note, but he’s right: through the glass I see blank walls and paint buckets on the ground. Maybe I should change the name of the blog to Through the Looking Glass. In any case, an archive of my feelings at this moment would not likely fall on the side of sanguine.

Luckily the 22 Fillmore stop is right across the street and it’ll get me to where I’m going next: the Renegade Craft Fair. (Let me just say as an aside that the trend to label mundane activities as outlaw elicits reflexive and unrepentant eye-rolling from me. You’re engaged in the felonious pursuit of wallet creation and purse making?). I look around for a hat (I’m going a little hat crazy these days) and finding none see if there might be a gift to send to my friend Jill in NYC. Man is this event girly, but it’s beautiful out at Fort Mason today so I’m glad I made the trip. No fog in sight and the view of the bridge and bay is fantastic.

I take it all in pretty quick and leave empty-handed, grabbing a bite to eat at Caffe Union. The Irish-American in me says “yes to say yes” to their version of the Reuben: corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing sandwiched between two herbed potato pancakes. The sound of it is so good, the food itself is almost an afterthought.

Can I possibly hit one more? Sure I can! We need to redeem this day somehow. I catch the 47 Van Ness and hurtle (hyperbole ahoy) toward my last stop: the William T. Wiley exhibit at SF Electric Works.

There’s a real showstopper here, but it’s going to have to wait because I’m totally fascinated by a series of artworks in the front of the gallery based on the character Punch (I’m kinda gagga over puppets). They’re sculpted perhaps in paper mache, but it’s hard to tell because there are layers of masking tape on the figures. I love this. It reminds me of the Red Moon Theater Company shows I used to attend when I lived in Chicago. Paint applied with broad strokes to the constructions and all the seams showing. It gives the figures in Wiley’s show the feeling that the time between their conception and execution was brief – as if Wiley could be essentially sketching and painting simultaneously. It seems a wonderfully immediate medium to sculpt in. We’ve got Punch Meets the Slanted Step where the character is viewing a panel, a substitute head tucked under one arm. Would that we all could break out an alternate head from time to time to help make sense of things. Whether Punch has come to some kind of realization is unknown, he’s staring pretty intently at that chalkboard-like drawing of the step and his dunce hat is still perched on his head, littered with Wiley’s scribbles about O.O.E. (Only One Earth, the real theme of the exhibit, despite the catchy title Punball). There’s also Punch at the Tower of Purity (by the way, insane props to Electric Works who made the list of sculptures available as a pdf on their site. I had written down a bunch of the names from memory when I thought about it a few blocks away and invariably mangled them). Punch is now a kind of chimera, human head with a bird body but the usual Wiley notations indicate he’s also a war veteran. Between Wiley and Twombly I’m finally coming around to the utility and liveliness of incorporating text into artworks. Punch is again transfixed. This time he stares at a skyscraper of the Transamerica Pyramid variety. Punch certainly spends more time these days trying to understand rather than busting heads at the appearance of every annoyance. Looks like Wiley has found the perfect stand in for us.

About this time one of the Electric Works folks comes by and offers to answer any questions I might have. Electric Works must have done their hiring through some agency in Nirvana because both of the people I’ve met have been fantastically helpful but vanished into the background the moment I became absorbed in the exhibit. I ask him about the kind of reverse shark fin on Punch’s back. I don’t really remember seeing that before. Apparently it’s a stylized hump: a kind of stock trait for comic characters. I mention how much I like the Punch stuff and he points out Punch as Ol’ Blue Eyes in the corner. Punch does indeed look like he’s about to belt out a tune, cane in one hand and legs kicking up in the air.

And of course there’s the pinball machine. Wiley’s hand decorated version is on one side of a wall, the original around the corner. The plunger seems a bit sticky but after a while I think I’ve got just the right pull. I’m a little rusty it seems. Maybe I should do some practicing over at Brain Wash.

I take a bit of time to explore the store. Man, I’m coming back here when I need a gift. My co-worker Heidi who tweaked me to the fact that the show had been extended in the first place walked out with a pair of amazing headphones. Viewmasters and custom reels with subjects like Kafka also available for your viewing and shopping pleasure.

I decide I’ve had enough of busses for today. I’m walking home from here. Some guy in an alley is playing basketball using a street sign as a backboard. An empty King Cobra can zips by (people still drink King Cobra?). Every gas pump is occupied as I near the corner at Harrison, despite the prices. I realize that I’ve long since forgotten how annoyed I was about the closed gallery this morning. Pinball will do that to you. I’m reminded of climbing into a reindeer suit at a Paul McCarthy show, red faced but grinning like an idiot. The Japanese businessman who sat down in the wooden hut next to me was in the same predicament. We laughed at each other’s discomfort. I’m remembering also the Babilonia show in Berkeley where the gallery guide let me climb into Kenji Yanobe’s little atom car on display. More stuff we can participate in please. Wiley’s exhibit is so attractive because after a room full of art that says “don’t be stupid folks” and “try to remember we’re in this together” it then nudges you with an elbow and says “hey, let’s play some pinball.”

On the Masthead

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