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At dusk, a radiating neon green herbal leaf welcomes visitors to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It serves as one of the first installations a visitor sees when entering the Bay Area Now 6 (aka BAN6) visual arts exhibition. The signage was created by, Bay Area artist and San Francisco Art Institute faculty member, Tony Labat. As a play on the words Yerba Buena and the rich history San Francisco brings to the ongoing political and social debate of medicinal marijuana. Historically, Labat’s work examines social and cultural issues within such a milieu of diverging and opposing opinions.

Dualing Pianos: Agape Agape in D Minor by Mauricio Ancalmo was one of the noteworthy pieces in BAN6. Ancalmo fastidiously creates the perfect amount of tension, both figuratively and literally. Various technologies coalesce to re-contextualize and re-imagine concepts such as time, placement, and discord. The large kinetic sculpture pushes the viewer’s understanding of new media and technology based work. In many ways, Ancalmo calls upon his viewer to actually listen as well as experience the cyclical nature of synthesis and antithesis.

Chris Fraser’s light installation, Developing a mutable horizon, plays with the viewer’s sense of space and perception through light refraction and offers an provocative participatory aspect to the spectator. Fraser’s experience as a photographer lends itself well in that the body dictates the light versus the light dictating placement of the body. Another photographer, Sean McFarland, explores the unorthodox nature of darkness within landscape photography and calls into question how the senses grow accustomed to what is not the commonplace. Light plays an incredibly and necessary role in capturing the perfect image. Yet, what happens when that paradigm of photography shifts to capturing that which is shrouded in darkness. How do the eyes see? Do the eyes and the sense of sight truly discern lines and shapes? McFarland challenges our retinal sense by having darkness within the photograph to be what guides the eye and our cognition to comprehending the forms as if there is something more revealing captured in the dark versus in the light.

Another standout piece was Suzanne Husky’s, Sleeper Cell Hotel. The oval pods constructed from raw lumber accompanied by quilted comforters adorning the interior is a trenchant approach at creating the antithesis of what is commonly known as a sleeper cell – clandestine and secret. Husky’s combination of performance art, functionality, and sculptural fabrications take what is private into the public sphere.

The show incorporated artists using traditional methods of art making such as Robert Minervini paintings of cityscapes under construction as well as Ben Venom’s quilts but based within a more conceptual framework. Both artists provide anomalous ways in which old technologies are being used to create advancements in the way art is created and experienced. Yet, even with all of the optimism one can muster about the Bay Area art community, the disappointing aspect of the show was the lack of artists working with newer and cutting edge technologies. Granted, there are many organizations showcasing the new wave of technologically based artists and makers but it’s a bit surprising to not see them as well represented in the BAN6 show. The diversity and range ought to make visible and obvious the ways in which the Bay Area differs from other regions versus exhibiting how we are alike. There is a specific voice here that wasn’t particularly shown. Although the selected BAN6 artists embody the broad range of art within the Bay Area, the diversity in technique and method was a bit lacking.

For more information about BAN6 click here

Originally posted to zer01 blog, please click here to view.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about art, it’s that anything goes. Gesture and the body are integral components that make Tony Labat and Guy Overfelt’s work so difficult to deny. The physicality involved in the making of their pieces is part of the creative process as well as the end result. After attending the artist panel discussion on April 14th, 2011, Labat was there with his selected artist, Guy Overfelt, and he mentioned the body serving as material for the art work.

For the Spread exhibition, Overfelt’s piece, Taser (by Proxy) (1998), shows Overfelt being tased by Labat. The off white color of the room and Overfelt’s dark clothing provide a sterile backdrop for the action. As Overfelt’s body tenses, a shot from the taser gun is released. He falls to the floor and the viewer is left to reconcile the happening between student and teacher and the response of shooter and recipient. Quite frankly, I can’t help but think of Americana and masculinity when viewing the work. Collectively, it involves the body and how the body is used to get what it wants, what it needs, and how much the body can withstand. The body is defined in a particular space, which requires the viewer to identify their role and engagement in the act of looking and watching.

“Labat (along with Chris Burden and Dan Graham, Lucille Ball and Ann Magnuson, Richard Pryor and Johnny Knoxville) should be a key figure in any history of artists using action to negotiate the role of media in constructing the various, often ephemeral, aesthetic, sexual, and political narratives producing and produced by bodies or their absence.” ~Bruce Hainley, Artforum, January 2006

With Labat’s synthesis of ideas as reflections on culture, identity, and politics, it’s only natural these notions permeate in his students’ work, in particular, Guy Overfelt. With the body as a means of showing a concept and breaking down the old taxonomy of American identity, Overfelt creates installations and sculptures where the viewer physically exists with form and matter in close proximity. Up in Smoke is a large-scale piece created from inflatable nylon and powered by an electric blower. Although one of the largest pieces in the entire Spread exhibition, it’s message strikes me as quite a simple one: all things eventually dissipate. Yet, with such an undeniable fixture as Up in Smoke, I couldn’t help but think back to my days in undergrad studying Karl Marx and how fitting a line from the Communist Manifesto,

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. ~ Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

NOW…by no means am I associating Guy Overfelt’s work with any political and/or social movement. Yet, the Marx quote fit and it’s probably the second time in my entire life that I’ve actually had the opportunity to use it! Truthfully, there’s something about the way we exist and participate in consumption and creation that is not entirely apparent to us, at first. Yet, with a fair bit of scrutiny and an artist that presents simple ideas complexly or complex ideas simply. Overfelt’s past work culminates into a smokey haze that one has to physically take part in and understand from the inside out.

Guy Overfelt, Taser (by proxy), single channel video, 1998

If you think all artists are quiet and sensitive, then you’ve probably never been a witness to Tony Labat and Guy Overfelt’s work. For Part III, I will be covering the pieces they selected for the Spread exhibition. For now, click here to view Guy Overfelt’s site. You can learn a bit more about Tony Labat here.

Artists Panel April 14, 5-7pm

Closing Happy Hour April 27th 5-7pm
Show dates April 6-27th

SOMArts Gallery
934 Brannan Street
San Francisco, CA 94103