Shotgun Review Archive
December 16, 2006
From the curatorial statement: "Social interaction has become an integral part of contemporary art practice. ... In this show we hope to raise questions concerning the social dynamics in artwork and call new attention to the antisocial as both a defining feature of modern life, and a locus for social change."
When I read this statement in the prospectus for Mission 17's juried exhibition, "Anti/Social," I was exceptionally curious to see the resulting show - especially after having taken note of several recent exhibitions of "relational aesthetics" art - current exhibitions at the Wattis Institute and the multifold "Offsite" series at Southern Exposure, which includes the private public space interventions of ReBar and the Radio Cartography project of Neighborhood Public Radio, which wins the prize for deftly combining the art trends of relational aesthetics and mapping. After seeing the Phil Collins compendium of Turkish youth performing karaoke to songs by the Smiths, Dünya Dinlemiyor (Turkish for "the world won't listen," the British version of the album released in America as "Louder Than Bombs") at SF MoMA, then attending The Lab's presentation of "You Don't Love Me Yet," Swedish artist Johanna Billings' screening and performance event of local musicians covering the titular Roky Erickson song, I was betting with myself whether the Mission 17 show would have a musical component.
I have never been one to deny the art status of work displayed as such, and the social practices genre has promises of interestingness, though often these promises are broken by poor presentation and a significant chasm between the stated intent and goals and the results of the executed project.
I was really impressed by the Mission 17 show in the overall strength of the works on display and the breadth of solid approaches to the theme. Several works addressed the curators' unease with the common tropes of relational aesthetics directly through work in that genre.
Paul Zografakis' "Waiting for a Sign" was an example of a well thought out idea that succeeded in execution and was presented well in the gallery. The photo documentation depicting the artist holding several of the signs written for him by passersby in Union Square first catch the eye. The video - documenting Zografakis shouting through a megaphone and holding signs with the accompanying slogans also show the series of sign makers approaching the table the artist had set up, and the artist switching from being a one man rally to "Free Palestine!" to declaiming "I love you I love you I love you I love you." The signs, themselves, are also on display - one taped over another - which was a good choice as the lighting of the video makes them illegible at times.
I appreciated Zografakis' project in that it confronts the limited ability art has to effect political change in America with a sense of humor and self-awareness, rather than a fey earnestness about the radical potential of "random acts of kindness" and quirky beautification initiatives.
Kathrine Worel's "Exchanging Room" had me clenching my teeth and steeling myself in anticipation of some variant of touchy-feely take-your-shoes-off-and-hang-out-in-a-tent art. Instead, I found myself in a neutral office waiting room environment filling out a survey about why I attend art openings, what I thought of relational art, and what I thought was the role of the artist in society. A dialog between Worel and another artist in the show played at conversational volume on speakers placed on the floor. As I got to the role of the artist question on the survey, writing about how I distrust universal pronouncements about the role of the artist in society, I noticed that the discussion was exploring that exact sentiment. I listened further to artist, Jesse Houlding discussing his prints of plastic shopping bags and the complex relationship we have to them and critiquing their portrayal as "Gee whiz isn't life beautiful" symbols in the film "American Beauty," which returned my thoughts to how that aestheticization of the banal seems so prevalent in relational art. I found the recorded conversation consistently interesting and intelligent and appreciated the fact that it was edited. Another thing that keeps some social practices art from succeeding in my eyes is a lack of editing - whether visual (in terms of displaying a project in a compelling manner) or temporal (how long does one expect a visitor or participant to engage with this).
Joy, Eileen Starr Moderbacher, 2006
There were also a number of strong works that engaged the "anti/social" theme in traditional media, including Houlding's prints of the omnipresent shopping bags, a subject the artist eloquently describes in his statement as "dancing trash that we ignore or aestheticize." Moshe Quinn's silver gel prints of the angles formed by corporate office buildings illustrate the theme quite well - the sense of aggressive interiority of these towers is depicted in their sheer facades, reflecting glass, and high modern grids. Also of note is Eileen Starr Moderbacher's painting of an unpopulated residential street with a tidy home with a topiary "Joy" on the front lawn juxtaposed with a pile of litter on the opposite corner, a sight I've seen quite often in neighborhoods developers and city planners call "transitional." Alan Bamberger documented the show's opening on his site artbusiness.com, effusively praising Edmund Wyss' hyper-realistic paintings of a bullet and camera lens. These oil paintings are indeed gorgeous, though didactic. In an exhibition with so many other works that are both immediately engaging and nuanced, I would disagree with Bamberger's assessment Wyss' paintings are the best things in the show.
"Anti/Social" will be on view at Mission17 through January 6th. The gallery will be closed from December 23rd through January 1st. For more information visit: http://www.mission17.org/
Image on home page: 30mm/50mm, Edmund Wyss, 2006.