Every first Friday, a community of artists, gallery owners, musicians, and art lovers (even from San Francisco) gather around the Telegraph and West Grand streets to, not just see art but, experience art as well. One of my favorite galleries, Johansson Projects was showing clever artist, Jennie Ottinger. Unfortunately, the last night to see her work was last night. It was a very fortunate and pleasant surprise to catch her show! Her work is a combination of wit, re-storytelling, and painting. Interestingly, the ability to participate in the exhibition (opening and closing the books to read her versions in book report fashion) made it all the more engaging.
It’s All a Blur is far from a blur when you consider the show’s theme does not really have much to do with temporality. Walking through the exhibition is nothing like walking through a flurry of sales at the mall or a bustling city block. The Blur artists take what is often fuzzy in our lives and sharpens our focus. Each experience finds its way into the crevices of our subconscious. Individually, each work reconfigures and re-contextualizes American history and Western culture. Although the pieces are seemingly disparate, they investigate and, sometimes, muddle ideas such as labor, hybridism, non-mutuality, non-exclusivity, and absurdity.
The varying forms presented in Blur may not draw immediate connections for the viewer (i.e., kitten drawings in the same space as a green screen live action performance piece where the patron is asked to become a part of the actual installation). Collectively though, the subject matter binds what is uncommon and makes them common under a thin shroud of Americana. The haziness of all the action settles into making each particular piece a work of art. Guillermo Gomez-Pena and La Pocha Nostra, Dale Hoyt, and Tony Labat amplify instances in American life and the gallery serves as the lens to look through and into the tightly wound fabric that binds a multitude of elements that create American and western culture.
TIR (After Niki) by Tony Labat – 34″ × 24.5″, Shooting range target with paint and photo collage, 2007
One of the more psychologically moving works was Tony Labat’s bullet laden piece titled, TIR (After Niki). It arrests your sense of security and the longer the gaze the more provocative it becomes to the baser part of human nature. The inability to look away, as much as you may want to. I was unable to do so. I returned multiple times to this particular piece during my visit. What exactly is the message Labat has for the viewer? How does the mind fathom and reconcile the implied actions? The suggestion of killing the pretty blonde woman coupled with looking at actual bullet holes circled by a permanent maker around the killer’s head is allegorical of the culture we find ourselves in. We witness a moment but within that moment, the viewer is seeing what the mind’s eye may be already doing – killing the perpetrator. Labat has done that for us. Or, has he?
In ‘Blanket Policy’, Labat re-uses thrift store paintings, stitches them together to create a tent and aptly creates a ‘blanket statement’. Ironically, the tent is restrictive, cold, and with extreme angles, and mimics a traditional looking tent yet doesn’t create a cohesive whole. Circling the piece, I felt compelled to go through it. The longer I viewed it; I couldn’t help but look at particular paintings, wishing away other ones because they seemed ridiculously incongruous with the rest of the paintings. There was a compulsion to rip away what I felt didn’t belong. Even though each painting was stitched to become one piece of fabric the radical differences in style, composition, and tone brought unease (even within such a tightly created structure). Human beings organize and govern themselves but there are those moments of friction and action that go against the whole…
Peace Roll, another piece by Tony Labat is accompanied with a DVD loop. In the video installation, the viewer watches a woman walking through Golden Gate Park and various parts of San Francisco rolling a jumbo gigantic peace sign, which is actually a sculpture in the exhibition. I’ll provide a bit of scale here. I’m 5’1” and the sculpture, its diameter, is 7” taller than me. Although height doesn’t matter, I wanted to give you a bit of spatial context when imagining the sculpture. Aside from its obvious meaning, the footage was the most interesting aspect of the work. Watching the people watch this young woman rolling a peace sign all over the City reminds me of memory and what is memorable. Again, going back to the idea that the contents of this show are far from something fleeting, it is an act, a gesture that remains engrained another viewer within an environment. Talk about reverse psychology!
What exactly is attainable in western culture? Labat looks at unattainability in ‘Leisure’. The simple act of grilling becomes laborious and far from leisurely. You may be wondering, ‘What exactly am I supposed to glean from this obscenely tall Webber?”. I’ll tell you.
You need a job to make money to buy a home with a backyard to place a grill to cook for friends and family and it must be a Webber. Repeat (maybe). A Bigger house. A Bigger grill. (Repeat).
This can go on ad infinitum, really. It’s not too dissimilar to an individual going to their local Best Buy store to purchase a large screen HD television only to find out you pay a delivery fee, an extra warranty fee on top of the actual manufacturer warranty just in case it becomes damaged or stolen. Then, you realize, there’s no space for your television! I looked at this piece quite humorously considering I’m a vegetarian and not very into grilling much of anything but if I were, would I stand in yet another long line of people wanting the matching ladder that comes with the grill? Instant gratification in this culture is rampant and a blur. Yet a consumer is willing to do whatever it takes to have the leisure and the luxury without much thought of the energy expended.
It’s not so often that we see graphite drawings much less collaborative works. Dale Hoyt and Steve Thurston’s Kitten drawings present an array of all the things we may love and hate about cats. A combination of innocence and repugnance mingle and surfaces in these drawings. To be clear, these are not exquisite corpse drawings either. The markings are deliberate and some modified to shoo away comfort and thoughts of ‘cuteness’. Being a lover of animals, I found myself transfixed by the kittens’ slight aberrations and brought back in by the gestalt effect (with the artist purposefully negating a portion of the body, as seen in Whole-listic). Humans idealize and romanticize all the time. With Kittens Kollaboration, the Hoyt and Thurston take the liberty of presenting difference to slow the quick gaze.
Guillermo Gomez-Pena and La Pocha Nostra video installations located within a room off to the side of the main gallery was my last stop. It involved watching a pastiche of vintage and semi-contemporary movie clips that provide the viewer with American perceptions of Latin American/Mexican culture. Nestled to the sides of the larger screen, you are bombarded with impromptu interviews with people on the San Francisco streets being asked to imitate a Mexican or an uptight ‘white’ person (sometimes, for money since many people will all of a sudden become gregarious for a buck and some incentive). The long-lasting effect is on the exhibition patron – the viewer. What exactly does the viewer get from this experience? Besides a cringe worthy moment, there is a sheath of embarrassment in the not so random act being a witness to this social experiment and performance. Ironically, it may have been a blur to the individual asked to participate but not to the person on the receiving end of the message. The gallery patron is left with someone’s knowledge and or experience, which in many cases causes discomfort.
I’m trying to finish up a piece on the show currently showing at the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco, CA, titled, It’s All a Blur featuring the art of Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Dale Hoyt and Tony Labat. I’ve been working on this piece for a couple of weeks now. There’s so much to say about the exhibition but I’m trying to be as eloquent as possible and flesh out the salient points amidst all of the first impressions.
If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, It’s All a Blur will be showing through January 2011 and is well worth the trip.
It’s been a relatively relaxing new year’s weekend but as I prepare for the week, I’m pondering what I’m hoping to achieve, art and writing wise, this year. As the subject line states, New Media Art, has definitely piqued my interest. I love traditional art (for me, traditional art includes drawing, painting, and sculpture, pretty much all things ocular) but one of the many things I love about art is the nature to evolve into something different that pushes the viewer’s understanding and perceptions. One of the magazines I picked up last year, Elephant, actually delves into how the commercial artist use their skills to create works, by art world standards, considered to be fine arts. New media artists face a challenge. Being part of a technologically driven world, how does a such an artist define themselves? How does one create work that both engages but can elevate the viewer to a higher level of thought? In any case, I’m definitely hoping to explore these topics and answer them along the way. What’s your idea of new media art? I’d certainly like to know what it is!
Thanks to my dear blogger friend, LA Aesthetic, I was introduced to Artist A Day. The objective and mission of the site is simple – To raise awareness of art globally and bring more art to more people*.
I highly encourage you to take a look. If you are an artist, you can actually submit your work. Please check it out and share what you find. Have fun discovering new artists and, oh, happy new year! 🙂
* Taken from the ‘About Us‘ section of Artistaday.com
Who said beauty doesn’t matter? Similar to art, beauty’s ubiquitous and enigmatic nature is ever-present in our visual landscape. It is not just on billboards, in magazines, or the growing number of photographs we see of others (i.e., seeing our own ‘beautiful’ friends on social networking sites as we all re-define self-portraiture in this digital age) but even deep seeded in our histories, you will find how standards of beauty have been created. Our histories reside in our bodies. It is obvious in the way in which we care for ourselves.
The Pagbabalik Project created an excellent performance piece comprised with rich stories and experiences of women within the Filipino culture. They looked at the cross sections of American and Filipino history, post-colonialism, and standards of beauty and how each are inter-related. After viewing this ‘work in progress’, it definitely goes beyond the Filipino community and steps into more universal themes such as acceptance, equanimity, tolerance, and a desire to learn about the self as well as other.
My only criticism at this point: Looking at standards of beauty with the LGBTQ community (but during the talk back session of the opening weekend performance, this is an element of the entire project that has yet to be incorporated), which I was very excited to learn. I also heard the collective is interested in seeing how such issues are depicted in the Visual Arts (across genres). I foresee some amazing art coming out of The Pagbabalik Project!