San Francisco

Metahaven: The Sprawl at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Anton Stuebner’s review of Metahaven: The Sprawl at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The author notes, “[…] Metahaven poetically suggests that trauma’s real origins aren’t found in the images on screen—they’re located within ourselves and in our inherent capacity for perpetuating violence in the world around us.” This article was originally published on February 2, 2016.

Metahaven. The Sprawl (still), 2015. Co-produced by Lighthouse and commissioned by Lighthouse and the Space.

Metahaven. The Sprawl, 2015 (video still). Co-produced by Lighthouse and commissioned by Lighthouse and the Space.

A massive red moon appeared in the night sky on September 27, 2015. Scientists hailed the occurrence as an astronomical phenomenon, a rare optical effect resulting from the confluence of a lunar eclipse and a supermoon. Christian extremists, however, interpreted the event as an apocalyptic sign, with claims that the “blood moon” marked the beginning of the Earth’s imminent destruction. These fanatical fears became so widespread that CNN, the Guardian, and the Washington Post ran columns exploring possible end-of-world scenarios.

The world did not suddenly implode on September 27. But it’d be easy to think otherwise given the litany of violence that made headlines in 2015. The Syrian refugee crisis, the proliferation of ISIS, and mass shootings in France and the United States mark only a handful of horrors that should make us collectively wonder if a near-constant state of trauma is suddenly the new norm. The blood-hued moon in the sky may not be a divine harbinger of doom, but the cultural metaphors that it provokes—of a supernatural lunacy, of violence and blood—are too difficult to ignore.

It’s hard to take your eyes off of the colossal red moon that dominates The Sprawl, the video-based installation at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts by Metahaven, the Dutch-based design collaborative founded by Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden. Projected against the gallery’s rear wall, its ominous presence dwarfs the five mounted television monitors that function as the exhibit’s primary means of display. This juxtaposition between natural phenomena and technological devices raises questions about how screen-based media continually define (and redefine) our perceptual experience of surrounding environments. But in drawing on the symbolic associations around the “blood moon,” Metahaven’s installation evokes the anxiety and paranoia of living in a world marred by violence, while also critiquing how images reinforce violent narratives through visual association and metaphor.

Read the full article here.


Mexico City

Gilberto Esparza: Cultivos at Laboratorio Arte Alameda

Sheltered by darkness, a mysterious octopus-like artifact lies in the nave of the Laboratorio Arte Alameda, a contemporary art museum housed in what was once an ancient convent. Capable of creating light and life by itself, the machine artifact operates by complex mechanisms. Twelve cylinders containing microbial fuel cells are connected to a main Plexiglas tank that houses plants in its interior. Every cylinder carries wastewater from various rivers and sewers of Mexico City and its suburbs. The bacterial communities living in each cell establish a symbiotic relation with the apparatus core, producing electricity through their metabolic processes. The resulting light allows the plants inside the main tank to photosynthesize. Despite the sci-fi atmosphere, we are not in film set, but in Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza’s installation PLNT_S TFTSNTTC_S. Plantas Autofotosintéticas [Autophotosynthetic Plants] (2013–2014)—one of the three main projects in his exhibition Cultivos [Cultures].

Gilberto Esparza. Plantas autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014; polycarbonate, carbon fiber, stainless steel, silicone, acrylic, electronic circuits, waste water and aquatic ecosystem. Courtesy of Laboratorio Arte Alameda.

Gilberto Esparza. Plantas Autofotosintéticas [Autophotosynthetic Plants], 2013-2014; polycarbonate, carbon fiber, stainless steel, silicone, acrylic, electronic circuits, waste water, and aquatic ecosystem. Courtesy of Laboratorio Arte Alameda.

As stated by curator Tatiana Cuevas, Esparza mixes robotics, engineering, biology, and art, creating hybrid prototypes in order to imagine new solutions for environmental issues, such as our increasing amount of technological waste and water pollution. The zoomorphic robots and lab experiments in Cultivos [Cultures] emphasize parasite strategies, as well as sustainable devices that aim to reverse the destruction in many ecosystems.

In PLNT_S NMD_S. Plantas nómadas [Nomad Plants] (2008–2014), an autonomous, multi-legged robot plays a leading role in the utopic quest for the improvement of polluted water and the rescue of native flora. With a special hose, this crawling device has the ability to suck wastewater and transform it on many levels. The water is filtered by microbial communities in charge of biodegrading organic wastes and eliminating toxic substances. With the energy this process creates, the mechanical critter recharges its battery and can walk around to look for more polluted liquid sources. On its back, many autochthonous plants grow, and the required and essential nutrients for their growth are obtained through the filtered water stored in the robot’s structure. A series of drawings that resembles a codex, MMVIII Fitocresta Errantis (2014), illustrates the robot’s origins, functions, and future hopes. A video of the piece being tested by the Santiago riverbank in Jalisco is also on display.

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Help Desk

Help Desk: Conceptual Conundrum

Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

I just finished the first semester of my MFA at [a well-regarded East Coast school]. At the end of last term, I had a disappointing review and my professors said that I wasn’t working hard enough to produce an integrated body of work (I showed them a series of things that were conceptually connected but materially diverse). I get the feeling that what they want me to do is work like most of the other artists in the department, who essentially just make the same painting over and over again. I don’t know what direction to take. Do I stand my ground, or give in?

Andy Warhol. Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963; silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, 82 x 69 in.

Andy Warhol. Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963; silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen; 82 x 69 in.

I’m sorry you’re in a glump about your review, and I sympathize. The hothouse environment of MFA programs tends to produce a myopia that can make a discouraging review feel truly crushing. But now it’s time to dust yourself off and get moving again, and—if you let it—your position could be more nuanced than either a fight to the death or complete capitulation.

Without knowing the specifics of your situation (such as your current oeuvre, the stated goals of the program, or the methods for assessing first-semester work), I’m going to throw out a few very general statements: In many MFA programs, the expectation for the first year is that students will push their work in new directions. If you came to the program with materially diverse work, it might have been assumed that you’d use your initial months to explore a different kind of production. Additionally, your professors may be hoping to see your ideas brought to conclusions that are thoroughly considered and explored in high definition; cohesion in a body of work can teach you to self-analyze and develop your intentions. Finally, it could be that the conceptual connection between the works is not at clear as you think. But in any case, don’t just make inferences or “get the feeling”—find out! Inquire directly, and talk to more than just a couple of people. Over the next few weeks, schedule a handful of studio visits from different faculty members, fellow students, and curators outside your institution. Prepare questions for them and listen to what they say as they observe your work.

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Shotgun Reviews

Lewd at JOY Gallery

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Ariel Zaccheo reviews Lewd at JOY Gallery in San Francisco.

Alaina Varrone. Untitled, 2010; embroidery; 9 x 5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and JOY Gallery, San Francisco.

Alaina Varrone. Untitled, 2010; embroidery; 9 x 5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and JOY Gallery, San Francisco.

Like the best hedonistic pleasure palaces, JOY Gallery is a bit off the beaten path. Located in San Francisco’s Bayview District, the space is inconspicuous except for glowing red lights and a small hand-painted sign in the window that reads “LEWD! an Art Show.” Comprising sixteen artists, half of them women, Lewd celebrates the illicit and lascivious. The exhibition’s success owes to the varied interpretations of its theme; some pieces are overtly sexual, with big visual puns packing shock value, while others elicit a more modest eroticism. Many works in the exhibition have a vintage aesthetic, as if nostalgic for a bygone era of pinups and burlesque.

Jenee Larson uses a pinup-esque poodle as both analogue and parody of human sexuality, dominance, and desire. Something between a Barbie and a porcelain knickknack, Nude Pood (2016) is a toylike ceramic sculpture of a pink poodle replete with accessories, coifed hair, and a come-hither stare. Larson’s work wrestles with domesticated eroticism—a mix of teenage naivety and the self-aware, assertive midcentury pinup ideal.

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Michael Barron Interviews Camille Henrot

From our friends at BOMB Magazine, today we bring you a conversation between Michael Barron and artist Camille Henrot. Discussing her recent solo show at Metro Pictures, Henrot says, “Bad Dad & Beyond is an investigation into a figure who uses his authority in violent ways. I was also interested in assembling the rules and values of various authority figures, not just for fathers.” This article was originally published on January 15, 2016.

Camille Henrot. Bad Dad & Beyond, 2015; three dimensional resin print with video and telephone components; 44 x 20 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

Camille Henrot. Bad Dad & Beyond, 2015; three-dimensional resin print with video and telephone components; 44 x 20 x 9 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

At the recent opening of Camille Henrot’s solo show at Metro Pictures, I stood in a line, waiting to use a telephone. There were eight of them, all occupied by people with receivers cupped to their ears. But one in particular, stylized and colored like a Nickelodeon TV show prop, had caught my attention. Its occupant, a young woman whose bunned hair threatened to topple from her head, widened her eyes and furled her brow as she listened to the voice on the other end. Finally, she hung up and shot me a nonplussed look. “So weird…” she said. Then, as if proffering advice, she suggested, “I just pressed ‘0’ for every question. Maybe you can keep hitting ‘1’ then come find me to compare answers.” I picked up and heard a male voice who, friendly enough and definitely assertive, had me run a gamut of bizarre questions, such as, “If your dad has fathered more than nine children, press ‘0’/If your father has eaten any of his children, press ‘1’.” For a non-native English speaker like Henrot, who expatriated from Paris to New York in 2011, hotlines are a demonstration of how easily language can bewilder and command.

Being misunderstood has given Henrot an appreciation for the exotic. In her first work completed in New York, Is It Possible to Be a Revolutionary and Still Like Flowers (2012), Henrot created a series of installations inspired by Ikebana—the Japanese art of floral arrangement notorious for its opaque techniques—to explore a grand metaphor for translation and the limits of cultural understanding. Henrot’s most famous work to date,Grosse Fatigue, is a thirteen-minute multimedia narration of Google images, YouTube videos, and a spoken word voice-over that explores the diversity of creation myths and underlines one of humanity’s greatest gifts: its ability to tell stories.

Read the full article here.



UNEARTHED: Found + Made at Oakland Museum of California

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Vivian Sming’s review of UNEARTHED: Found + Made at Oakland Museum of California. The author notes, “[The] democratic approach of placing contemporary art and local clubs side by side compresses and erases hierarchies, providing a slice of history, place, and time.” This article was originally published on January 26, 2016.

Installation view, UNEARTHED: Found + Made, 2015-2016. Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: Johnna Arnold.

Installation view, UNEARTHED: Found + Made, 2015-2016. Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California. Photo: Johnna Arnold.

In the late 19th century, anthropologist Franz Boas rejected the methods of museological display that grouped objects by their typology. Boas dismissed the practice of creating an evolutionary progression between disparate cultural artifacts—an approach susceptible to scientific racism—and instead favored a contextual approach that placed objects together by their location, history, and culture. The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is a rare instance of a museum that takes such an approach toward art. The works in the museum’s collection are not displayed through a linear understanding of art history, but rather are arranged by their cultural concepts. Here, contemporary works are treated as a sliver of Californian history, positioned next to landscape paintings from the days of the Gold Rush. By using this methodology, OMCA reveals the timeless fixations that continue to preoccupy the region’s inhabitants and artists, highlighting the Californian landscape in particular, which has ceaselessly captured the public’s imagination.

Currently on view at OMCA, UNEARTHED: Found + Made looks toward the ground as a source of meditation. It’s the first in a series of future exhibitions that pair contemporary artists with niche cultural organizations around the Bay Area, furthering the museum’s anthropological approach. Curated by Christina Linden, UNEARTHED features works by Oakland-born, Los Angeles-based artist Jedediah Caesar as well as artists from two local clubs, the California Suiseki Society and the San Francisco Suiseki Kai. Largely comprising found materials from the Californian landscape, the exhibited works transport viewers to far and distant lands that simultaneously lie on the earth’s surface and exist within the imagination.

Read the full article here.



Chen Qiulin: One Hundred Names at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney

What’s in a name? In ancient China, surnames represented clans and ancestral lineage, a highly significant aspect of identity and filial obligation. In contemporary parlance, the Chinese phrase “Lao Bai Xing” (literally, “the old hundred names”) translates as “the ordinary people” or “the common folk.” It often refers to the voiceless, those who are most powerless in the face of social forces. For many years, Chen Qiulin has been documenting how the dramatic transformations of China’s physical, cultural, and social landscapes have impacted the lives of these ordinary people. Her hometown of Wanzhou was affected by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, in which whole villages and towns along the Yangtze River were submerged, and more than a million people were relocated. In recent years, her One Hundred Names project has been representing that concern in an unexpected medium, as she carves the most common Chinese surnames into blocks of firm tofu and then documents their decay and disintegration over time. For her first solo exhibition in Australia, at Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, these earlier works, together with a commissioned project, explore themes of ancestry, diaspora, and displacement in a broader historical and geographic context.

Chen Qiulin, A Hundred Surnames in Tofu, still, 2010, video installation. Courtesy the artist and A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, Chengdu (1)

Chen Qiulin. A Hundred Surnames in Tofu, 2010; still from video installation. Courtesy of the Artist and A Thousand Plateaus Art Space, Chengdu.

One Hundred Names for Kwong Wah Chong continues Chen Qiulin’s use of tofu as an artistic medium. She examined the history of early Chinese migration to the Haymarket/Chinatown precinct of Sydney, where the gallery is situated in a historic building. Research revealed the names and stories of the earliest diasporic Chinese presence in the city—mostly Cantonese-speaking migrants who arrived in Australia between 1840 and 1920 from southern China, becoming market gardeners, restaurateurs, and business owners. The titular Kwong Wah Chong was, in fact, Sydney’s first Chinese-owned and operated business, a center of support and information for recent arrivals. The artist, together with curator Toby Chapman and the 4A team, found and interviewed current Sydney residents with those same surnames, whose stories revealed that how people remember “home,” often tinged with loss and nostalgia, is a common experience across diverse cultures and languages. Each of these surnames was carved from tofu and their consequent disintegration documented. Back in Chengdu, Chen Qiulin sought out families who shared those same surnames. She asked them for their favorite tofu recipes and videotaped the encounters, which took place in their kitchens while they cooked the recipes and recounted the stories behind them. Thus a connection was forged across continents and divergent histories. Chen Qiulin’s practice poetically captures the beauty of these unlikely connections, as well as the tragedy of displacement.

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