associate curator of visual arts
In the liminal spaces between menance and protection, survival and precarity, visibility and invisibility, public and private, the visual artists of Bay Area Now 8 look for ways to navigate the murky "now," using past and future to articulate the present. They emphasize their temporal moment as much as their physical location. Many are asking what survives after disaster – past, current, future. What is left amid the debris of various forms of institutional violence – slavery, colonialism, forced migration, detention camps, queer phobia – and what begins to take shape? What healing processes can be constructed, and through them, how might current systems of power being to be – if not dismantled, at least critically questioned? Many start from the most personal place, the body. The body is a shell, a form to be constructed, nurtured, and cared for, even when exploited and divested of its humanity. The body becomes a stand-in for labor, or for cultural or familial memory, a private entity often made deeply public. It also becomes a contested site of power. Who wields the body and in what ways?
What healing processes can be constructed, and through them, how might current systems of power being to be – if not dismantled, at least critically questioned?
The exhibition begins with three artists adeptly navigating interstitial territories, calling attention to the in-between. Jamil Hellu's ongoing photographic series Hues represents stories and people who are often un-represented. Each image features a friend, colleage, or acquaintance from the Bay Area LGBTQ community navigating their identity, which is cued in ways both obvious and subtle using clothing, props, personal attributes. Familial and social heritages abound, aided by Hellu, who inserts himself into the portraits, acting as a double in a dual portrait that unites rather than divides.
Sahar Khoury incorporates familiar themes (pennies) and familiar subjects (dogs and cats) into her sculptures made of found and industrial materials, yet the works convey a sense of the uncanny. Khoury uses the nontraditional spaces within and around the gallery – an interior courtyard, the height of the walls – to shift perspective and introduce a subtle threat. A slightly larger-than-normal cat keeps watch; a pyramid of fifteen tiny dogs floats in a pond; a bronze stool is just slightly too small to use.
Taravat Talepasand explores the seeming dichotomy of East and West, which becomes in her hands a site of similarity rather than difference. Two portraits, Andarooni Birooni (Insider, Outsider, 2015) and Westoxicated (2015 - 2018), paint a picture of modesty and taboo, respectively, that together invite conversation about the middle ground , and how seemingly dissimilar entities can share uncromfortable truths. These paintings and the other works on view brush up against the overtly political, forcing viewers to confront their own prejudices regarding the other.
Nicki Green uses the wild, generative space of the liminal, the in-between, as opposed to binaries, to understand and explore historically othered identities that include queer, trans and Jewish people. Two bodies of ceramic work come together in the exhibition, one drawing on the alchemy and transformative nature of fungi and the other on the tradition of fermentation crocks and tubs as ritual vessels, using both as stand-ins for queerness. Mushrooms in particular, with their mycelial networks that spread underground to nourish those around them, become and apt metaphor for how othered communities function.
Queer identity also finds form in Marcela Pardo Ariza's site-specific photographic installation. The artist draws on Bay Area queer histories uncovered from local archives and links them to people currently living here though fragmented yet intimate portraits of the body, creating a kind of kinship through the images. Pardo Ariza uses the portraits to think through the ways that photography invites performativity – of the body, of gender, of power, of ethics – while also thinking about alternatives to the norms for all of the above. Their cropped photographs invite use to think of the bodies they contain not as objects of desire but as visual manifestations of principles we hold for ourselves and others.
If Pardo Ariza is moving away from the body as merely a site of consumption, Andrew Wilson reminds us of the ongoing legacy of treating the body, particularly the black, male body as such. His research into the eighteenth-century slave vessel Brookes points to the black body as a commodity – an object of consumption and desire – and how the legacy of slavery in the United States still upholds these distorted views. In the Galleries, Wilson will be sewing craftans printed with cyanotype images of slavery and plans to complete a projected 454 textiles (one for every slave in the Brookes) to represent the invisible labor that still runs this country. As with Green, Wilson's work, a stand-in for the othered body, functions as a site of ritual, a symbolic memorial. These craftans, Pardo Ariza's photographs, and Green's sculptures force us to think about what the body leaves behind, and the kind of memorial we can construct in that space.
Josh Faught's work also speaks to the past, and those who have been othered and shamed, in order to confront the now. Using hand-dyed and crocheted hemp, lamé, nail polish, laminated advertisement, sequins, giant clothespins, mughs and other everyday ephemera, the astist creates textiles that explore the ways in which social, particularly queer, histories speak of urgent political matters through coded language and slow looking. Mixing high and low, pop culture and the deeply personal, craft and kitsch, Faught's work operates between politics and activism, menace and protection – a space that allows for urgent messages if you look closely enough.
Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik takes cues from both her family history and that of her Japense-Colombian heritage in an installation that explores how she came to be an artist. Through her own photographs and others taken by her mother from the late 1960s and this past summer in 2018, Bhaumix uses family experiences – in this case her mother's migration from Colombia to the Uited States, and her broader family narrative of being of Japanese heritage during World War II – to connect their story to larger, ongoing cultural and political narratives.
Sadie Barnette's installation in the Glass Passageway, a liminal space that connects two larger galleries, plays with personal perspectives in a more literal sense. Thanks to a 1960s couch reupholstered with glitter vinyl and the Glass Passageway's wrapping in vibrant pink film, ,the space functions as a transportive, almost galactic realm. It projects from inside the building out onto the street, serving as a voyeuristicsite from which to view what Barnette calls ”the theater of Mission Street.“ The oversize glitter vinyl words ”FROM HERE“ forefront this focus on perspective, reminding those who take a seat to check in with their own viewpoints and how they may be an extension of privilege.
Cate White's paintings regularly probe visibility, invisivility, identiy, and power, straddling the line between public – the street, and by extension the city – and private – her own image and that of her muse, Rory, who is featured in the paintings on view. In Self-Portrait (2018), White evokes both Alice Neel's 1980 Self-Portrait, which features an honest look at the artist's aging body, and Diego Velázque's painting Las Meninas (1656), to call attention to and shift power through a different kind of gaze – one where she becomes the person looking and the person looked at.
Woody De Othello's anthropormophized ceramic sculptures of everyday items also work within the realms of the domestic, humanizing household objects as a way to observe and obliquely comment on the current moment. The materials themselves carry marks of the artist's hand, evoking the labor that goes into their making. The installation, consisting of an urn with hands and partially burned candles in ceramic holders on a tile floor, functions as a memorial both general – speaking to the world at large –and specific – thinking of those in the Bay Area who have recently and unjustly lost their lives.
Sofía Córdova's video and sculptural installation Mira esto que lo vas a extrañar (Look at This Because You're Going to Miss It, 2018) takes a melancholic look at Puerto Rico post Hurrican María through the lens of his family, the legacyof colonial violence, and alternative survival mechanisms. Featuring a nonlinear narrative that moves in and out of lush vegetation, aerial views of the island, dance, and music, Córdova imagines a future that goes beyond the binaries and violence of the present to one that holds space for those outside current structures of political, racial, geographical and institutional power.
Caleb Duarte's practice likewise interrogates the lasting residues of colonialism, and his twenty-by-ten-by-eighteen-foot structure made of packed earth, wood, and a drywall painting questions the institutions – governments, museums, and art spaces, so-called sanctuaries – that impact who is actually seen by society. Duarte's collborators include students from Fremont High School, all of whom are recent arrivals from Guatemala seeking asylum in the United States, and who represent bodies made vulnerable through forced migration. During a performance at the opening of the exhibition, Duarte and the students will evoke rituals of burial and labor, while also highlighting the effects of colonization through the architecture of the sanctuary spaces.
All of these projects point to the ways in which astists are searching for means to heal in a fraught time.
Visitors can experience a Reiki session via virtual reality in Rhonda Holberton's installation Again for the First Time (2018), which combines high tech and the alternative healing practice. Through this amalgamation, Holberton hopes to remediate the trauma that technology can create in the body, continuing a line of inquiry where she looks at the ways in which non-Western healing practices intersect with technology.
Charlie Leese also explore the way in which physicla and social architectures affect t he body and one's sense of place in the world. Here, he creates tension through a bare-bones structure that emphasize the absence of the body within, asking us to think about how our bodies are shaped, nurtured, or harmed by the surrounding environment.
If many of the astists thus far use the future as a form of survival in the now, Porpetine Charity Heartscape and David Bayus both push the limits of that thinking. Heartscape's work frequently intertwines the digital and the analog; the artist is particularly interested in messy transitions between the two, imagining a future that exists somewhere between purely digital and completely off the grid. to BAN8 Heartscape contributes a video game accompanied by an explanattory almanac, which relies on a gentle, soothing aesthetic that – like Rhonda Holberton's Reiki intervention – is meant to be therapeutic, in opposition to most violent, hypermasculine video games today. Bayu's installation includes the film Psyman's Acres (2018) and sculptures used in its making. The film looks to a very distant future – the end of the universe as we know it – where a single planet oribiting a red dwarf star is held together by a singularity and tended by a farmer whose purpose is to keep the singularity, and thus life, going. It alludes to how state management systems affet and shape our current lives, asks us to ponder the survival mechanisms we need moving forward and questions how far our traditions – religious or technological – may stretch as we become more advanced.
Shifting from the furthest future to the most immediate now, Constance Hockaday's social sculpture, to be performed off-site in the San Francisco Bay at a future date, uses President Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats as a jumping-off point to acknowledge the latent, ambient frief felt throughout society today, and leverage it toward healing. The performance uses FDR's presidential yatch, the USS Potomac (permanently docked near Jack London Square in Oakland), to ”acknowledge the power that is built through social circumstances and perform inclusivity on a political stage.“
Finally, Carrie Hott thinks of the city as a structure of various disparate points and moments, and her installations frequently focus on light as a way to understand labor and power, both seen and unseen. Sunset on the Polygon (2018) takes as its starting point the US-Japan internet cable that lands at Point Arena, California, and the ways in which infrastructure – for instance the internet – can be both visible and invisible. A grouping of models on a table that gets wider and more chaotic as it approaches the wall prompts us to rethink regulative technologies (like the internet) that both pull us closer and push us further apart.
All these projects point to the ways in which artists are search for means to heal in a fraught time. Their varied methods – from reiki to ritual, video games, music, memorials, or investigation into familial and cultural heritages, the calling out of entrenched structural violence or a relishing of the everyday – show that we can still shape our future in positive ways by being present in the now.