Book cover for Garage Biennale
The first show I attended at the Garage - "I Walked Through Seven Sad Forests"

Art is supposed to be an experience.

Don’t you think? Well, I do.

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!

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!

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!


Although I haven’t seen Kathrine Worel’s piece, Rocking Horse Winner (2005) in some time, it’s unforgettable. In Fall 2008, I had the good fortune of spending one of the most lovely and enchanting evenings with the artist.

Rocking Horse Winner (taxidermy horse, tack, wood and rug 6ft high, 14ft long and 3ft wide), 2005

Worel’s assertion that the horse serves as a ‘simulacrum of memory’ is a perfect description of my experience with the work.  She provides the observer with a fondness for something they may have never experienced.  The piece itself is grand and majestic.  As you get closer, there is a growing sense of tension, an unnerving and unfolding of the past and all its imperfection.  This is captured in her deliberate attempt to keep the mottled spots of hair and apparent aged look of an already decrepid horse.  The saddle was once used by Worel when she was young. It is placed neatly on the horse as if it were waiting for a lucky rider.

Of course, upon meeting any talented artist, it’s inevitable to ask what piqued their interest in creating a particular art work. She mentioned the short story, Rocking Horse Winner by D.H. Lawrence and I immediately went home, pulled up the story and read it. I read it twice. From my recollection, it sparked an interest in what people hold dear and how one can believe that their actions can determine an outcome. All this from a taxidermied horse? Yes, folks. Although an MFA piece, it gives me goosebumps and in the best way. One may see it as a bit abject yet a paradox of statements ensues with the viewer (like/don’t like, ugly/beautiful, strange/familiar, etc.). A mere picture won’t do it justice, this is certain. I would love to write something more extensively about Rocking Horse Winner since it is both intriguing and captures the essence of juvenile fascination with the imagination in an adult world.

Original posting: 24 Aug 2010 / Revised: 11 March 2011

As I stood in the middle of the gallery floor watching the real-time projection of a performance in the ‘hole’, I heard someone say, “Only in San Francisco”.   I thought to myself, “Really”?  There must be other places with similar takes on conceptual and performative art in all parts of the world but I did find the observation rather interesting in that San Francisco does seems to nurture all types of conceptual art as evidenced by the 100 Performances.

The way in which people react to art, especially, conceptual art is a mixed bag.  It’s not the run-of-the-mill eye candy art you see when you go to a museum or a gallery.  It’s also created with various media people may be unfamiliar with or never really known.  Seriously, I thought to myself, as I stood there watching and listening, “You can use a speaker to produce sound and that’s art?”.  The quick after thought of, “Yes, folks.  That’s art”.  The sheer beauty of experimental art is that it doesn’t care if it’s disliked, liked, or loved.  It’s a way of combining all the senses to challenge the viewer.  You are not only seeing but experiencing as well.  There is a strong sense of engagement and that’s one of the rare gifts this exhibition gave its viewers.

The fundamental commonality seems to be the reaction of the viewer.  The reaction itself is art.  An artist is an artist if there’s someone around to view the art.  Right?  I guess that’s a slippery slope because art is art is art.  Yet, conceptual art seems to rely on a viewer and, in some cases, a participant.  In any case, I found myself hankering for some experimental art and glad I got my fill at 100 Performances.  Sure hope this becomes an annual gig.  We shall see.

Being a native San Franciscan, I’ve seen the cityscape change drastically over the years.  From the addition of the UCSF campus at China Basin to the 3rd Street Rail Line project, I’ve always been quite curious of the urban planning involved in such large-scale projects.  Although fanciful and whimsical ideas of making one’s commute more comfortable and accommodating (i.e., a sauna and gym conveniently located in a neighboring train car) are left up to dreamy planners and imaginative artists and designers, these innovative ideas were discussed during the Urban Visions panel discussion held at the California College of the Arts (CCA) on Monday, February 4, 2008.

Talented and humorously prophetic artists, Packard Jennings and Steve Lambert, collaborated with a multi-faceted group of panelists from transportation to urban development consulting and architecture.  The dialogue was specifically geared towards the city’s current concerns involving urban planning and transportation.  Based on existing conversations and research, Jennings and Lambert, created posters depicting a San Francisco urban plan where the possibilities were not bound by bureaucracy, public opinion, pecuniary hindrances, and physics.  The amusing takes on the San Francisco urban landscape were shown via Jennings and Lambert’s Market Street posters.  The surreal yet inventive depictions of human convenience aim to entertain the onlooker but present citizens with ideas for endless travel possibilities as potential reality.

The overall panel discussion was lively and rife with discussion that crossed over a broad range of issues within any cosmopolitan place.  Transportation consultant, Seleta Reynolds with Fehr & Peers Associates presented current projects that gave the audience a glimpse into what is entailed in her day-to-day job.  Basically, Fehr & Peers Associates look at a large number of transportation solutions that are both feasible and not so feasible (i.e., aerial tram way that would transport travelers from Alameda to Oakland).  Granted, much of what goes on the drawing and planning board may be deemed as virtually impossible, yet it is a way for people to engage in discourse of what is actually possible prior to disregarding rather realistic ideas that may other wise not make it to an urban planning meeting.

Peter Albert, Deputy Director of Planning with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) provided an overview of how creative thinking is implemented into practical solutions to improve and address the overall transportation issues and concerns.  Oddly enough, driving alongside the J line, I’ve always wondered why the train lets the passengers exit right out into open traffic and learned that the SFMTA addresses where these issues are occurring and how they can be remedied.  I also learned of ongoing projects for “Traffic Calming”.  Calming the streets of bustling and densely populated city incorporates tools that include but not limited to road narrowing, speed bumps, raised intersections, concrete islands, closures, and, yes, trees.

Principal, founder, and chair of Public Architecture, John Peterson of Peterson Architects, presented two polar opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to urban living.  Peterson showed the layout for a recently purchased home in one of the more affluent San Francisco neighborhoods that was once rented for $20,000 a month until escrow closed for an undisclosed amount to a wealthy dot com co-founder.  Well, undisclosed at the panel discussion.  The other example addressed the utilization of public space for a more egalitarian benefit – a day laborer station.  This station included multi-level benches for convenient seating and a kitchen to stimulate that particular community and bring in a shared revenue.

As mentioned by Tom Radulovich, Executive Director for Livable City and member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Board of Directors, there are three primary factors that play an integral part in understanding and creating a livable space – the 3 Ms – Movement, Marketplace, and Meeting.  Radulovich drew comparisons of cities to San Francisco, which included Brussels, Granada, and London.  Although similar in density, there is still a disparity in the advancements and overall innovations in urban design.  Unfortunately, San Francisco falling a bit behind but catching up with the emergence of many sustainable living efforts.  He also emphasized the desire many people have for a walk-able urban environment integrated with natural elements (i.e., foliage, more trees, and all things natural).

Although I left the lecture with a tremendous amount of information and resources, it reminded me of how I define my space and what exactly comprises it.  There were tons of questions and comments after the discussion which dealt with the frustrations and the need to expand the conversation beyond a college theater.  Considering much of what San Franciscans see is already in the construction phase, the discussion reminded me of the importance around discourse and how community arts lends itself extremely well to communicating what citizens can do to create space as opposed to just living in it.

For more information on Packard Jennings, click here
To learn more about Steve Lambert, click here

Originally Posted: February 5, 2008