It's All a Blur Exhibition at the SomArts Cultural Center

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?

 

Blanket Policy by Tony Labat, paintings on canvas and metal

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 by Tony Labat, 68" diameter sculpture and DVD loop/installation

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!

 

Leisure by Tony Labat, 72"×72"×34" Webber Grill with extended legs

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.

 

Whole-Listic by Dale Hoyt and Steve Thurston (Kitten Kollaboration), 16.5"×14", Graphite on paper, 2010

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.

 

La Pocha Nostra Installation

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.

Photography by: Dorothy Santos

It's All a Blur Exhibition at the SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco, California

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.

Labour of Love Installation by Elyse Hochstadt, Eggshell halves on end 11’ x 9’ and wooden swing, Courtesy of the Artist

Eggshells.

Easily discarded but often associated with the idiom of not wanting to hurt one’s feelings (hence, walking on eggshells), Elyse Hochstadt’s Labour of Love installation of eggshells with a wooden swing hanging off to a corner of the piece provides the viewer with an identifiable reference – a carpet.  Yet, the thought of walking on this eggshell carpet makes actually walking on it an impossibility, which proves the point that most, if not all, colloquial phrases have a sense of absurdity. The cliché as art form proves to be a laborious task for the artist as well. According to Ms. Hochstadt, this piece must be assembled every time it is shown. The appeal, for me, has mostly to do with the process in that it is meditative in nature as well as a mental and physical exercise in creating order. Without seeing the assembled piece, I gather its similarity to Andy Golsdworthy due to the organic nature of the material and precise structure of laying each shell to create the perfect amount of tension for the entire piece to be held together. Its assembly and orientation differs every single time and no eggshell is ever put in the same exact place. In addition, to take such simple material and make a rather complex visual statement, there’s a sudden barrage of activity associated to the material that comes to mind. The act of cooking, cleaning, the notion of the home, of instability and the precarious nature of childhood with the swing. This imaginary being swinging atop eggshells must rely on a force other than their own body, perhaps, to gain momentum but with a resignation that something may break. As a viewer, you either want the setting to be serene and untouched or you want to run over the eggshells like a child running after birds on a sidewalk or through crispy fallen Autumn leaves.

There is something that stops you though. What exactly is it? Love has never been such a laborious or strenuous task to understand, which probably explains its intensity.

Portrait of George I by Elyse Hochstadt, Courtesy of the Artist

With the valiant effort of keeping with my “art diary” format and writing as much as possible in the new year (every day to be exact), I figured it would be nice to write about a Bay Area artist. I’m hoping to learn more about her work as well as her processes as the year progresses. There will be more, I can promise you that, dear reader. For now though, I’m just spinning my wheels and getting the juices flowing. So, let me begin today’s entry…

As an adult, I’m much more fascinated with fairy tales and their allegorical meanings than ever before. Today, I had the opportunity to sit down with artist, Elyse Hochstadt, to discuss her art work. During our conversation, I was drawn to Portrait of George I instantly. Hochstadt mentioned her affinity to Grimm’s Fairy Tales as we talked about some sources from which she draws inspiration. Intrigued by her fascination, I couldn’t help but read through some of the various stories (i.e., The Wild Swans, The Juniper Tree, etc.) when I got home. Recalling my experience of seeing Portrait of George I, it was both a visual and physical representation of a fairy tale. Although a chair has a function and purpose in daily life, there is a repurposing of the ordinary into something extraordinary with this piece. It is enigmatic and magical. At first glance, there is a sense of wonder and fear as if the chair were to suddenly come alive to the touch. The illusion that what you are seeing in space must become something other than what it actually is, which is a well crafted piece of art work with carefully placed feathers using the chair as a base for the overall structure. However, the organic form offers no hard lines other than the wooden legs visible at the very bottom of the piece. It’s a mirage of sorts that welcomes your own interpretation and re-working of your mythologies.

This is just a mere introduction. More thoughts to come…

"To develop its Neurocapital applications, Acclair implements a fundamental architecture that includes (a) a wearable sensor (consumer brain-computer-interface) communicating with a (b) smartphone (personal application) that send information to a (c) “Data cloud” server (“meaning production” system), which provides the arguments for a (d) progressive reward mechanism used by both individual and institutional entities". ~Photo and text from the Acclair Neurocapital Services Site

As much as I would like to view art as an escape, it’s not. I use my brain (a lot) when I’m looking at art (all types). Of course, I enjoy art yet I’d like to think I glean as much as I can philosophically, psychologically, as well as artistically when attending an opening or a much-anticipated exhibition because it is my hope that a deeper meaning and connection are forged that correlate to my passions. Yet, I’ve wondered, what if my musings and perceptions were to take on some form of currency, would I be hard pressed to return to my day job? Seriously though, even with such a simple act as looking, what if there was some reward? An incentive for looking?

Contemporaneously, art is rather demanding, isn’t it? Even with paintings, drawings, and photographs, there is a higher level of skepticism, processing, and perception that adds to the already multi-layered experience of viewing art. With many genres, cultures, and sub-cultures capturing a myriad of ideas in various forms that already add to our growing lists and categories of things in the world, what if there was a way to evaluate art per the user’s experience? What if there was a way to measure and quantify cognitive processing? What if your brain activity served as an exchange for something you wanted, maybe needed?

With your neural network engaged synapse after synapse regardless of you enjoying or vehemently disliking a work of art, the Acclair Neurocapital Services uses technology to create brain scans of your art experience. Imagine a scientific method that would allow you to see how you process artwork! In turn, helping refine your tastes, allowing you the ability to experience art in a way that is truly interactive, and witnessing the parts of your brain most activated by particular works.

Artist, Luther Thie, partnered with Cognitive Researcher, Eyal Fried, and created the Accalair Neurocapital Services, which involves brain scanning and looks at neurological processes to somehow transform what we see into “biometric currency”. I have yet to put on the brain scanning device but I’m awfully intrigued to see what my scans would say about me, my preferences, or what emotions are triggered. As innovative as the project is, it steps far into the realm of science where beauty and genius become demystified by our collective experiences (i.e., data collection and metrics) and presents a new way of governing ourselves. Yes, I used the word governing because even tastes and preferences can be controlled (Maybe not in the Western world but I’m also thinking historically. Art has been used to govern and/or teach people ideology. I also realize this is a whole other issue so I’ll try to stick to the topic at hand). Imagine if this device were used by people who wanted to see a sampling of individuals intellectual and emotional reactions to some sort of propaganda? I know, crazy thought but just throwing it out there. As much as I admire and see the value in the neurocapital services project, there is a part of me that feels discomfort in seeing my profound love or dislike (for something I may or may not be able to even explain) as a cluster of data. I would, however, love to see the brain scans morphed into a project later on down the line but I’m sure there are other important aspects of the project that have yet to be fleshed out.

Either way, the Acclair project has certainly caught my attention and here’s hoping I get a chance to physically see arts effects on me in the near future.

I’m a huge believer in seeing art everywhere. Many people believe art must be an object (i.e., painting, drawing, etc.) exhibited inside museum and/or gallery walls and reserved for some elite group’s viewing pleasure. The contemporary artist must be well-rounded though (i.e., staying apprised of the arts and technology). Look at Takashi Murakami. Fans of Hip Hop artist, Kanye West, are probably very familiar with Murakami’s art and design for album cover, Graduation. Yet, I’m wondering if these same individuals know Murakami had a series of sculptures exhibited at the Palace of Versailles or that his work is auctioned off by Sotheby’s to very wealthy collectors. Probably not.

Having the technical skills and a fine arts sensibility to execute graphic design and illustration that inevitably becomes a part of a culture’s visual language makes for one powerful artist. I like to believe that graphic designers and illustrators have that fine arts artist in them. Like Murakami, Aaron Lawrence is well on his way to designing himself into the Bay Area’s visual landscape.

So, how did I found Aaron Lawrence? Well, I was sitting at The Summit cafe (which is a fantastic and unique cafe/gallery/tech space and oh so fitting for my discovery) in San Francisco’s Mission District. As always, I was thumbing through the books and zines displayed in their library. I found a piece of wood with a well designed print on it. It told me to find its creator – Aaron Lawrence.

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Now…if he can only create more of that fine art. Crossing my fingers. Enjoy his answers to my Art 10 questions.

* * * * * * * * * *

1. What is your favorite (art) word?

Collaboration

2. What is your least favorite (art) words?

Cannot

3. What keeps you going when you’re in the studio?

Everything. People, architecture, nature, other art – there is inspiration all around, if you look.

4. When do you know you’re done in the studio?

Time schedule or when I finish a piece.

5. What words do you love to hear at an art show (your show or any show)?

Inspiring, fun, and had a good time.

6. What words do you hate to hear at an art show (your show or any show)?

$10 cover

7. What is your favorite curse word?

Shit

8. What profession other than being an artist would you like to attempt?

Helping the poor.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

I saw this TV show where this guy’s job was to squeeze the shit out of baby chickens. I don’t want that job.

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Welcome.

You can learn more about Aaron’s work by visiting his website.

A special treat for you – image of  next month’s SF Guardian’s Christmas issue! Thanks, Aaron!