Across the San Francisco Bay, Oakland can often seem like entirely different world compared to “The City.” There is a general air of anything goes, as you wander down the streets filled with people from all walks of life. Punks, hipsters, young, cool professionals who used to be vegan anarchists before they had kids and got a real job, all contribute to the truly unique nature of the deceptively vast city of Oakland. Because of its particularly diverse inhabitants, our diamond in the rough promotes a kind of raw creativity that can result in artistic voices that ring true.
The current exhibit at Johansson Projects is how Oakland often seems; vibrant, mysterious and disorienting, with an underlying hum of recognition. The title of the show, BISCHOFF SOREN BLACK, when said aloud sounds like it could be part of a chant or spell, or the name of some mythical creature, when it is simply the last names of the three featured artists, Brice Bischoff, Tabitha Soren and Ellen Black. The works of all three artists combine to create a narrative of time, space, humanity and chaos.
Upon first entering the gallery, you’re confronted with the contrast of Ellen Black’s stark, abstract geometric sculptures housing small video screens, and the dreamy cave interiors created by Brice Bischoff, that look like he was somehow able to get a whole rainbow to sit (relatively) still long enough to release the shutter of his camera. The caves filled with the unintelligible blurs use the magical capabilities of photography to illuminate and emphasize the mystical, contrasting qualities of caves and the light that fills them. The depth of each location anthropomorphizes the earth’s occupants before living creatures evolved – giving life to the elements.
This quiet, pre-human interaction between earth, fire, water and air crashes into the violent un-worldliness of Tabitha Soren’s photographs. By inverting the images, Soren presents us with a tumultuous world that brings to mind the primordial soup from which we all came. With water crashing everywhere, it is sometimes hard to firmly orient oneself on the ground, causing the same kind of uneasiness one feels when stepping off a boat after being on the water for hours.
As soon as you feel like you’re finally getting a grasp of what is going on, Ellen Black’s video installations throw you back into the abstract. The white containers that hold her tiny video screens are more like quantum cubes than “boxes,” with edges and corners jutting out as if an unexpecting polygon was frozen while in transformation from one shape to another. The video pieces reflect their containers’ fluctuating desolation, with bleak beach scenes layered on top of other geographic scenes that break through the video’s digital deterioration, while miniature silhouetted figures wander with no apparent purpose across the landscape, some may be playing or drowning in the surf.
The experience of viewing the exhibition is one of quiet turmoil in contrast with the inherent beauty of the natural world. Like watching a video of a forest fire with the sound off, you know that something destructive is happening, but you know it will lead to regeneration. And of course there’s no denying how beautifully mesmerizing it is.
BISCHOFF SOREN BLACK will be on view at Johansson Projects until October 15, 2011.