Shotgun Review

Let’s Talk of a System

By Shotgun Reviews June 30, 2010

Ten feet of water, four thousand factories, five bowls of rice, ten years of war, and time for change… “Let’s Talk of a System,” an exhibition inspired by the work of Joseph Beuys, is currently on view at Intersection 5M, Intersection for the Art’s new gallery space. It is a smart mixture of multimedia installations by eight artists. The most classically Beuysian piece is Agents of Change (2007–ongoing), a social sculpture by South African artist James Reed. With the ocean projected to rise ten feet by the year 2017, this piece, exhibited for the first time in the United States, invites viewers to stand with others near a body of water holding a measurement stick marked at ten feet, serving as sentinels while reflecting on the stick’s meaning and recording thoughts and interactions with the public. Considering that San Francisco is nearly surrounded by water, surprisingly few had signed up in the gallery to participate in this piece. In the spirit of Beuys, everyone is invited, making no distinction between artists and non-artists, while maintaining a strong faith in people’s potential for change.

Also included in the show is an innovative documentary by Sergio De La Torre and Vicky Funari, called Maquilapolis (city of factories) (2006). It is the story of women workers in the multi-national factories of Tijuana. The film is a revelation, graphically representing the conditions in post-NAFTA Mexico, where 4,000 factories exist on its border. Again breaking the barrier between artists and non-artists, the factory workers participated in all aspects of the filmmaking, depicting the factories’ violations of Mexican labor laws and contracts, environmental degradation, and destruction of the community. We see labor arbitration, court proceedings, U.S. and Mexican officials and politicians in the face of citizen grievances as processes in which triumphs are hard-won. 

“Let’s Talk of a System,” 2010, installation view, Intersection 5M. Courtesy of Intersection 5M, San Francisco. Photo: Scott Chernis.

Another work of interest is April Banks’ the price of rice: tomorrow I wake up hungry (2010). It is an elegant installation, but lacks the personal involvement, human presence, and potential for change that her earlier work Free Chocolate (2006) possessed. Focused on world rice riots and Haitian food shortages, the installation creates a sense of distance from the rice markets, which limits the impact of the work. It is as if we (including the artist) have no personal involvement or benefit from the status quo. Fair trade rice, anyone? It is also ironic that Banks’ installation is not twenty feet from Laura Parker’s Faces of Farming (2004–2010), which includes photographs of mainly California farmers and a soil pairing and food-tasting bar, a unique presentation with no critical edge.

Other artists in the show include Suzanne Husky, Banker White, and Favianna Rodriguez.


“Let’s Talk of a System” is on view at Intersection 5M in San Francisco through July 3, 2010.


Allegra Fortunati holds graduate degrees in Political Science and Art History.  She lives and works in San Francisco as a freelance writer for several publications, both local and national.

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