written by Eddie Arroyo
Unexplored territory or what gamers affectionately refer to as a “Sandbox” was the thought which crossed my mind walking along the streets of San Francisco. The objective was to visit the city’s art community and so having arrived to Geary Street, I spoke with gallery director Johnny Sampson of The McLoughlin Gallery about Guillermo Bert’s Incubator exhibition. The California based artist has presented a series of Encoded Textiles based on the Acoma culture in Mexico. Bert utilized contemporary technology in the form of QR codes to educate the viewer about the history of the Acoma. For many generations they produced textiles which was engrained within religious motifs such as Luqutuwe, a fertility god. However over time they had lost the ability to create textiles dedicating the practice toward ceramic work. It was then an unusual thing occurred. Bert sought to commission the Zapotecas in Oacaca to produce the work based on Acoma culture. Currently, the Acoma have a revised interest in returning to textiles, however, since they had lost the ability to do so they find themselves learning the craft anew. Bert’s textiles are unassuming and it wasn’t until Sampson informed me of the archival nature of the pieces was there a greater understanding regarding the intent. Further elaborating that in a long enough timeline how obsolete the QR codes will be. The social practice component was intriguing for it was not enough for the series to document, archive, educate but bring about cultural change.
This approach continued with Jeanne C. Finley and John Muse’s Temporary Structure at the Patricia Sweetow Gallery. The exhibition consists of three works which document and archive memorial sites. I was gravitating toward the Falsework piece, (Falsework is an architectural term used to define temporary structures used to support and protect), gradually and continued to be pulled into it. There were images and renderings of this underpass along with a large time-lapse video displaying its construction. Along with this were images of small graves nestled under it. Visually it was all very intimate which was odd with the juxtaposing of images with city officials and planing. Finley and Muse’s project was to, “explore the visual disparity between the San Francisco Presidio Pet Cemetery’s small, fragile graves and the massive falsework structure that protects them to examine the dynamic relationship between humans, pets, and the site.” Stemming from an initiative to preserve this memorial site the artists collaborated with San Francisco meet up group SF Sketchers organized by Laurie Wigham and produced the series of images I saw before me. There is a nostalgic and official tone in addition the notion that is it exists in a contemporary gallery was a bit disorienting. Normally, such a presentation would other wise be in some public institution.
Occupying this space redefines what a gallery’s purpose is. Not simply for aesthetic commodification, archival documentation or to educate but as an object to promote change within a community and region.
A thought crossed my mind within this spirit of change – in reference to San Francisco’s recent phenomenon concerning the tech industry. A number of start ups and established companies have leased spaces previously occupied by artist residency and organizations effectively pricing them out of the market. A number of major publications and blogs have extensively written about the issue presented by these business practices and speculation as to how the city evolves. Micheal Kimmelman of the New York Times wrote that tech firms are, “like hermit crabs living off whatever’s around, have colonized auto-body shops, Victorian mansions and vacant and formerly unloved 1970s office buildings.” Reposing these old authentic buildings with their character as an alternative to constructing giant new workspaces, Norman Foster’s doughnut-shaped headquarters for Apple as an example. Dorothy Santos further elaborated its effects on Hyperallergic in reference to the private transportation created by these companies and wrote, “protesters blocked one such Google bus in an effort to draw attention to the widening gap between the technology industry and the communities it affects; a union organizer impersonated a tech worker to incite dialogue through performative gesture.”
These issues were further presented to me in casual conversation along my survey where the notion of Code and Canvas was presented. Located at 151 Potrero Avenue warehouse where it was known for 30 years as Live Art Gallery but recently was faced with financial issues. John Yi, an entrepreneur and Facebook veteran subsequently acquired the entire space and with the assistance of civic minded leaders and rebuilt the space as a sustainable business model to maintain affordable spaces for artists by licensing maker spaces to socially minded startups. They currently expect to facilitate vigorous ideation, debate, and education, cultivates art appreciation and merges art and technology. Time will tell what results will come about but at least it would seem that there is an actual effort in place to move the conversation forward. Particularly in a city known for its heritage of diversity, activism, and social justice.