2.14 / Review

Isn’t It Obvious

By Mary Anne Kluth March 21, 2011

Isn’t It Obvious, on view at the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) Gallery through April 2, comprises a variety of works based in banal materials and subjects whose formal and metaphorical scope is expanded through simple, playful manipulation.

Jumping (2010), by Matt Kennedy, is a video playing on an analog monitor, perched on an eighty-four-inch-tall pedestal. The video shows a white wall and, occasionally, a man’s bespectacled face popping up from the bottom of the shot with the unmistakable cadence and movement of a person jumping. If the monitor were slightly larger, the face would be life-size and the effect would be as if a person were trapped in the pedestal, jumping up to peek out the window of the screen—which is, of course, impossible. The uncanny effect is elegant and enjoyable for its own sake, but also points out how familiar technologies can become intuitively invisible, in this case impelling viewers to suspend their own understanding of physics.

Kristina Lewis’ installation contains three interconnected sculptural elements titled Rigging the Weather, Sentry, and Apprentice (all 2009), which all use found umbrellas, piano wire, and metal hardware. The materials have been reconfigured and, through repetition, their once simple functional forms have taken on larger, mechanistic implications. The main body of the piece is dark and ominous, looming, suspended in the space, appearing to float above severely angled anchors, as if preparing for some weather event by going above and beyond the capabilities of our current technology.

Jasmin Lim’s photographs use translucent plastic sheeting and water to suggest, without revealing, some potential landscape or imagery. Occasionally a droplet will refract the pattern of a television screen, but there are few other clues to the source of her images’ gentle coloration, creating photos that oscillate between figuration and abstraction.

Lindsey White’s Rock (2010) is a digital video of a natural stone surface displayed on an analog monitor viewable through

Matt Kennedy. Jumping, 2010; video (duration 6 min 32 sec), pedestal; 84 x 23.5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery.

Kristina Lewis. Rigging the Weather, 2009; found umbrellas, cord, cable, piano wire, metal hardware, thread, adhesive; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery.

a hole cut into a decorative plastic rock. The time-based footage is ostensibly playing, though the subject is inert. The video refers to a specific rock and imposes a deadpan expectation of closed-circuit simultaneity; while the plastic, fake-rock housing points to a categorical idea of rock-ness, its unconvincing surface texture and flimsy materiality are highlighted by the immediate comparison. Ultimately, the arrangement presents a dialog about presence and technology, because the fake rock, itself a technology to simulate a general rock, is present in the space and thus more physically real than the actual rock in the video. In both counts, technology stands in completely for the absent and obscure subject.

Arthur/Allan’s videos and found object installations examine the humdrum of city government. Desk on Desk on Desk (2011) is a set of three heavy wood office desks stacked directly on top of one another. Their patina of age and the similar design of the drawer pulls suggest an entrenched aesthetic tradition; and the stacking, which creates a furniture monolith, parodies administrative redundancy. Three utilitarian objects are made useless in this arrangement. Listed as "found in Veterans Building storage," the piece questions whether just the obsolete objects or the entire arrangement functions as a readymade.

City Hall (2011), a collection of short video pieces running in succession on three channels, shows the two characters of Arthur and Allan, played by artists Chris Sollars and Brion Nuda Rosch, dressed in matching slacks, dress shirts, and ties, climbing on public sculptures, impersonating statuary in city hall, playing with public hand sanitizer, and good-naturedly trespassing in unused civic spaces. Documenting simple, harmless, and amusing actions, together the shorts question the intended function of public space and poke fun at the expectation of propriety in places supposedly belonging to all of the city’s constituents.

Two segments in particular point to a critical aspect of Arthur/Allan’s reflexive process. Books by Allan on Arthur and Books by Arthur on Allan show the duo in a library, stacking books and fitting the namesake criteria on one another’s bodies. While the activity is schoolboy unruliness, as a metaphor, it enacts the reciprocal attention and validation that bolsters good ol’ boy networks and gray area ethics possible in any system of power.

Like City Hall, each work in Isn’t It Obvious creates multiple registers of meaning, retaining the simple legibility of its subject matter but pointing at larger questions. Each is, in its own way, a hack, a repurposing of an existent system. Arthur/Allan’s activities constitute a low-key building hack, and Lewis’ reconfiguration of umbrellas shares the same method of recycling with much humbler DIYs in ReadyMade magazine. White, Lim, and Kennedy refocus the inquiry of their work, departing from simple subjects to involve viewers’ expectations about media, physics, and technology.


Isn’t It Obvious is on view at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery through April 2, 2011.

Comments ShowHide