Shotgun Review Archive

Bay Area Now 5: Inside/Outside

By September 1, 2008 YBmoss1.jpg Misako Inaoka,Urban Habitat Re-Creation, 2008. Bay Area Now, the triennial group exhibition at Yerba Buena was designed as a sort of stock-taking or triennial report, if you will, on the state of visual art in the Bay Area. Its localized emphasis is not restricted to emerging artists but those operating at various levels of their career, in a range of media and approaches. This year's incarnation, however, sets itself an additional theme that in effect broadens the show even beyond its original boundaries; i.e. Bay Area Now 5 is neither restricted to Bay Area artists nor is it exclusively "now." In promotional materials, the exhibit is described to explore "the many ways artists are influenced by their experiences both inside and outside of the Bay Area . . . and connect Bay Area artists with artists from around the globe." Such a statement effectively serves as a loophole to allow the curators off the hook with the whole focusing on the Bay Area thing. The show also wants to "re-imagine a regional survey in the midst of globalization." All of these premises muddled together means that the resulting exhibition is really four shows in one: local artists exhibited in the main galleries, "Estacion Odesia," "Theory of Survival" and "Ground Scores." It's like they're not even trying to hide how fractured and indecisive this exhibit is. First of all, lets talk about the main ground floor galleries that come closest to the original intent of BAN. I was thoroughly underwhelmed - not only by some of the work but also by the lack thereof - the galleries had a pronounced emptiness to them, especially compared to the blockbusters of past years. I will start with a brief rant about the inclusion of John Roloff's documentation of his sculpture Deep Gradient/Suspect Terrain, a sinking glass ship filled with ocean sediments, installed in Yerba Buena Gardens. Now this is not to discount Roloff as an artist or the work as an interesting piece of public art, however, this work was installed in 1993. Although it is interesting to see all the thinking and planning that went into the piece, I cannot see how the curators can justify this as falling under the category of "now." Canan_Tolon.jpg Canan Tolon, Colony II, 2008. As for stand out works, there was Canan Tolon, whose Colony II consists of a folded up mattress, stuffed between walls and sprouting weeds. The narrow space is illuminated by a bare bulb and made infinite with walls of mirror. Her work draws inspiration from a view held by some that immigrants grow like mold in hidden places. Her work comes as a pleasant point of discovery, obscured from view until you are staring right at it. Another piece that holds similar properties of discovery and wonder is by Misako Inaoka, who takes up the somewhat awkward window space. Her Urban Habitat Re-Creation transforms the corridor with an artificial turf-lined floor and a sloping moss-covered ceiling, as well as a soundtrack of bird calls. The visitor is invited to crouch along the increasingly small space and peer up at various peepholes. Each is a different and simple gesture--in one floats plants, another has a mirror that reflects back one's own expression of curiosity and surprise. By the end of the experience you find yourself basically crawling on the ground--drawn much further into the installation space than originally intended. A third, very different work of note is Lauren Woods's (S)port of San Francisco video, showing the Oakland Breakers breakdancing troupe performing on Fisherman's Wharf, an area exclusively visited by tourists. The video focuses on the expressions and reactions of the mostly white and presumably all non-local crowd. It shows the dichotomy of the Bay Area, between the city as a destination spot and the local hiphop community. It truly seems to be an appropriate piece for this show as it explores contrasts between inside and outside with a local specificity. Estacion Odesia straddles the Yerba Buena gallery and Queens Nails Annex Gallery, where visual art by local musicians is located. At Yerba Buena, however, there are a number of ipods set up to listen to the bands who made the art. This, to me, comes across as a misplaced gesture. I understand the importance of the links between art and music in this city, but very few people are going to bother to stand and listen to indie rock music in the gallery. It seems to take up space that could be much better used. Pazooki.jpg Leila Pazooki, What Happens to Ideologies When They Cross Borders? 2008. Theory of Survival, curated separately by Taraneh Hemami is a shining show within a show that should really be considered separately from BAN 5. The exhibit focuses on three artists of the Iranian Diaspora and their reactions to the culture of resistance and ideology of Iran from 1964-84. Leila Pazooki, with her piece What Happens to Ideologies When They Cross Borders? makes the excellent point that cultures and ideologies shift as they are exported. The works here are very personal and cannot be entirely understood or rationalized by us as outsiders. The sense of alienation the Western non-Arabic speaker experiences in this exhibit is calculated and well executed. There is a feeling of knowing one's limits of interpretation. Gita Hashemi presents a video of herself writing all the resistance slogans from that time that she remembers--the words (in Arabic) overlap, crowd, and erase one another. She also includes a blackboard that visitors are invited to write on. By the time I visited, this too was a jumbled mess of gesture and sentiment, looking very beautifully like Cy Twombly. The "Theory of Survival" show, which also displays collections of the materials belonging to the Iranian Students Association of Northern California, is quite possibly the best part of the whole, although it is not really related to the Bay Area or Now. Hashemi.jpg Gita Hashemi, Ephemeral Monument, 2008. Lastly, there is Ground Scores, a series of guided tours around the city focusing on hidden histories and networks. Although these are interesting approaches and a good take on the regional geography theme, so much placing of emphasis outside of the museum seems to accentuate the empty feeling of the galleries. This four-in-one-plus-satellite-elements approach is ambitious, yes, but it feels overly ambitious. If nothing else, the length of this review shows you the need for simplification. Bay Area Now does not need a theme--it already has a theme--one which the curators weren't even able to stick with. I couldn't help but feel disappointed by the lack of focus--there are so many serious artists in this city making interesting work that could have been included instead of, say, a bunch of ipods or documentation put on view 15 years too late. Yerba Buena has really missed the mark on this one. Artists in the Exhibition: Maria Antelman, Reza Aramesh, Elaine Buckholtz, Joshua Churchill, Brian Conley, Ala Ebtekar, Ana Teresa Fernandez, Donald Fortescue, Gita Hashemi, Lawrence Labianca, Misako Inaoka, Jonathon Keats, Edmundo de Marchena, Ian McDonald, Leila Pazooki, Praba Pilar, John Roloff, Paul Schiek, Erik Scollon, Leslie Shows, Primitivo Suarez-Wolfe, Ginger Suarez-Wolfe, Canan Tolon, Lauren Woods. Bay Area Now 5 will be on view at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and off-site locations through November 16th. Related websites: Queens Nails Annex Theory of Survival Canan Tolon Misako Inaoka Side note: It is interesting to note that the title of this exhibition is almost identical to a recent show at Root Division, "Insider/Outsider," the much more coherent exhibit curated by (hrm) Rene de Guzman, former director at YBCA and curator of Bay Area Now 4. This review was first published at Percolator Magazine.

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