In early October, I wrote a Shotgun Review for Art Practical on the opening of the Ever After exhibition at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland. Over the weekend, I attended the closing exhibition, which included some wonderful performance pieces. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of performance art but when it’s done well, it’s quite the experience. Below, I’ve posted a few photos of my favorite pieces at the closing. Reflection to follow.
Please click on the images below to learn more about the artists.
Please let me know if you have any questions about the show.
* * * *
surveillance |sərˈvāləns| noun: close observation, esp. of a suspected spy or criminal: he found himself put under surveillance by military intelligence
ORIGIN early 19th cent.: from French, from sur- ‘over’ + veiller ‘watch’ (from Latin vigilare ‘keep watch’ ).
* * * *
Recently, I met someone whose relative works for the FBI. This relative belongs to the surveillance division. Obviously, fascination grew and I started imagining scenarios of espionage and intrigue. My friend continued, “Well, I’m told it’s actually very boring work until something happens, which is quite rare.” [Insert fail horn]. Really? Then again, if you think about it, isn’t that why anyone watches anything…to wait for something to happen? Rolling dice and calculating the probability of landing on even numbers (i.e., Gambler’s fallacy and yes, I actually had to do this in grade school for math class) seems so much more interesting until artists were asked to explore the idea of surveillance in this post 9/11 world. On the eve of September 11, 2011, at The Performance Art Institute, the Bay Area art community gathered together to view works in the group exhibition, Keeping an Eye on Surveillance, curated by Hanna Regev. Below are my reflections of artists that captivated my attention.
** For this post, I selected five artists from the show. For a full listing of artists, please click here.**
* * * *
Campbell’s beautifully executed piece, Church on 5th Avenue, illustrates transient actions of everyday life into arresting LED sculptures forcing the viewer to concentrate on the subject versus the act of surveillance. Squinting my eyes, I was able to see discernible articulations of the body. Almost magically, a city scape with people walking and cars whizzing by appeared. The multitude of technologies at work in Campbell’s art speaks to both his experience and interpretations of the post modern world. Elegance and precision are trademarks in his evolving art practice. One of the main reasons Campbell’s work remains emblematic of our time is his desire to show humanity as best described in his sentiment below,
“…the biggest challenge for working with technology and art is to transcend the medium. To not have the technology become what the work is. To go beyond that and have some sort of humanist side to the work”.
Title and materials: Church on 5th Avenue (2001), 29 x 22 x 7 inches. Custom electronics, 768 LEDs, treated Plexiglas. A matrix of 32 x 24 (768) pixels made out of red LEDs displays a pedestrian and auto traffic scene in NY from an off-street perspective. There is a sheet of diffusing plexiglas angled in front of the grid. As the pedestrians move from left to right the figures gradually go from a discrete representation to a continuous one (or metaphorically from a digital representation to an analog one). ~ Source of detailed description is from Artist’s website
Title and materials: The Spectacular Seat (2011), Multi-media installation
One of the more psychologically engaging pieces of the evening was Tim Roseborough’s The Spectacular Seat, which involved a real-time feed displaying the interior of a men’s restroom. Oddly enough, men (and some women) were told beforehand about the live feed but most didn’t seem to mind and proceeded to use the restroom. The knowledge of being watched affected the piece dramatically. The act of knowing changed the idea of surveillance to spectacle, hence the àpropos name of the Spectacular Seat. Since the pseudonym of Art Research Group was used to cast the original surveillance subject, Roseborough’s transparent approach at acquiring this initial data gave way to lively discussion during the opening. From the use of the internet and social networking to create this work, a strong sense of inquiry ensued at the opening.
Title and materials: Double Reflection (2008), Video Sculpture with Single-Channel Video
Artist, Scott Kildall, set up his piece, Double Reflection, in Dolores Park to capture footage of curious onlookers on a sunny afternoon in San Francisco for the show. With Double Reflection, the curiosity itself becomes the act. It took on a performative aspect because it was relatively conspicuous but a bit enigmatic. Many people didn’t know what to make of this large sculpture that appeared to be a mirror yet shaped similarly to a periscope. The question of whether it was an object of surveillance played more of role in the exhibition versus out in the public space. To learn more about the piece, please click here.
Title and materials: Giving You my Eyes (2011), Multi-media installation
Hoover’s, Giving You my Eyes, gave the surveyor (in this case, his assistant) his sense of sight. Since this puts a completely different spin on the idea of watching, it begs the question, is this surveillance? What does it say about the way we watch, observe, and act when the person that needs to see is unable to do so? What is the participant’s role in the act of surveillance if Hoover were to give his Eyes to you? I’m hoping to gain access to this performance piece at some point.
Title and materials:Minicam II (2006), Video
From a seemingly never-ending multitude of camera angles, Minicam II shows two (clothed) men wrestling (reminiscent of Oliver Reed and Alan Bates nude wrestling scene in the film adaptation of DH Lawrence’s Women in Love) with minicams taped to their chests. The multitude of angles makes the act intimate because the grunting, panting, and sweating were audible and visible. Circling back around to where we started, surveillance is about waiting for things to happen and more often than not, it’s a monotonous and wearisome task to vigilantly watch, well, nothing. Locke’s piece contrasts this view. We continue to stare and watch (closely) and waiting but is it surveillance? How does it redefine the act of observation? Yes, dear friend, I would like you to answer the question. Tell me what you think…wishing you were there (and, if you were, I invite you to engage with me).
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.
These days, it’s not enough for me to look at something on a canvas or a neatly stacked collection of combs (okay, so if it’s Sonya Clark, I know the combs are ridiculously magnificent looking and rife with cultural subtext and history. Yes, I love her work but I just digressed, big surprise).
In any case, I said it and I’ll say it again. It’s NOT enough to just look at something for sheer retinal pleasure. As much appreciation and adoration I have for traditional art, there is something incredibly valuable about contemporary art in the conceptual realm. In particular, art pieces that are fleeting and ephemeral involve this excitement and wonder. The temporality of the Garage performances and exhibitions asked only one thing of its patrons – to be present. For those that wonder, “What good would a book about events I never attended and/or will never happen again do for me?” The answer: It’s a part of history. The loss of the moment. The loss of the opportunity. The loss of the time spent watching. The loss of an experience.
“Being temporary is being human, but so is longing for permanence. However, impermanence is our nature, and once we embrace it we can forget about loss and failure. Decisions then come with clarity and alacrity. This is the beauty of temporality: you learn that, sometimes, through loss is the only way.” ~Justin Hoover
Being an avid supporter of alternative art spaces, Justin Hoover‘s book, Garage Biennale serves as a wonderful chronicle of a truly alternative and experimental art space in San Francisco. I remember first learning about the Garage and utterly fascinated how one went about creating a gallery space that was simultaneously public and private. The dichotomy alone intrigued me and I considered myself a patron when I viewed my first show, “I Walked Through Seven Sad Forests”. It was the first art show I ever wrote about, actually. I always wanted to write about art but I never thought that this Garage would have been the impetus for that aspiration.
I owe a lot to the Garage and Mr. Justin Hoover…thank you, my friend!