At what point do we begin categorizing a group of events, places, and people within a geographical area as a “scene”?
I have no idea. I knew, however, when I moved to the Bay Area to pursue a fabulous and almost assuredly penniless career in the arts, that I would be stepping into such a vague, tantalizing concept as the “metropolitan art scene”. Four years later, only recently returning to the idea of engaging in the arts beyond eating crackers in galleries every other weekend and after securing a non-arts related/actual paycheck-generating job, I still can’t define what a scene really is or means.
But I can tell you what a drop of it looks like right now.
Granted, in the scope of a city with millions of people cheek-to-cheek, I am acquainted with a relatively small number of artists and thinkers. Those to whom I do owe any invitations are, as a group, pretty interesting people with a wide scope of creative pursuits and dietary restrictions.
I’ll work backwards so that you might still be able to catch some of these events before they close, just in case you get too bored to finish reading everything.
On Saturday, I took a trip to the San Francisco Art Institute Graduate Studios in the Dogpatch for a studio visit with Li Ma, who more frequently goes by Mary Ma. It was an occasion to introduce her and her work to Scott Jennings of Mosshouse fame. You may have heard of it. Mary is a prolific artist, having worked in both 2D and 3D mediums over the last few years since leaving her former pursuits as a chemical engineer, maintaining her uniquely colorful, whimsical aesthetic and systematic thought-process. We agreed it would be exciting to watch her practice expand and evolve as she balances the delicate and the fantastical of her works. I can guarantee she will produce a fantastic show at the SFAI MFA/MA exhibition at the Old Mint this May as part of her graduation. This is important, because she has been newly invited into the Mosshouse family as its newest, most adorable, and most Chinese addition.
Image courtesy of the artist, Li Ma
On Thursday, I had the chance to take a sneak peak at Root Division’s 2014 MFA Now show while visiting the space to discuss an upcoming project with current resident Jon Gourley, mentioned by me in other rantier articles. He was late (and just got called out on it) so I passed the time looking at works both great and boring. I also helped set up the still life for a drawing class taught by Brooke Westfall, an accomplished draftswoman in her own right who is still blowing my mind with her watercolor skills.
Image courtesy of artist, Brooke Westfall
The reason for my visit with Jon Gourley was his current project, a digital residency at Manifesto-ish.com. Planning a video conversation via webchat, we discussed the future of digitized simulacrum and art based on current iterations, specifically the Google Art Project. Having written my thesis on the site, I hold a great many opinions on the debate of real versus simulated experiences. As his residency focuses on the mimicry of art objects online and in video games, Jon Gourley is keen on exploring the idea of substitutions and representations. At his residency project tumblr, Video Game Art Archive, you can scroll through the vastly entertaining social media baby born of his obsessive collecting as he prepares to unveil the Video Game Art Museum.
Image courtesy of the creators of Samurai Showdown 2 and the Video Game Art Archive
On Wednesday, Jenny Odell’s solo show at Intersection for the Arts, Infrastructure, opened in SoMa. Around the holiday season, I had previously attempted to write an article about Jenny in which we discussed the class she teaches at Stanford, marking the end of her first semester as a visiting lecturer. Suffice to say, it was an incredibly interesting conversation fueled by her thoughts on the role the Internet and digital forms are playing in regards to documentary art processes, particularly photographs. Jenny, possibly as a result from her former life as an English major, is deftly analytical of the nuances that memory, time, and an anxiety to leave behind small legacies coalesce in the aftermath of our Instagram selfies. There was more to it (about 3 hours of recording actually) but as my life got more hectic and Jenny bunkered down to prepare for her Intersection show, that article didn’t happen. Is this article a soft concession to the writing gods in apology for not having the mental wherewithal to type up that conversation rather than the interesting snippet of current Bay Area arts commentary that I hope against hope this is? I will not dignify that with an answer. Instead, I can tell you that the latest exhibition of her work was successful in both its scope and as a visual story of her artistic progression. Jenny creates collage-like collections of systematic structures such as waste treatment plants from Google satellite images, cut and arranged painstakingly. I use that word because she showed me the intense carpal tunnel bandage device she wears when at her computer. In preparation for the show, she also had to jimmy-rig another out of an apple-print sock that she tied to her other hand. The pain was worth it, because the works were comprehensive and striking in the space, the first of Intersection’s new season of exhibitions themed on systems. Also, they have generous bartenders.
Image courtesy of the artist, Jenny Odell
The week prior, I took a short walk from work to the Spare Change Artist Space located in the Financial District for Jennie Lennick’s show, Come and Get It!. The artworks were arranged within an office: an illustrative exploration of one vintage photo displaying various gourmet French cheeses juxtaposed with the mahogany desks and marled carpet of personal wealth managers. Many local businesses are opening their doors to artists who circulate their artworks on their walls, breaking away from traditional gallery spaces. It’s interesting to see commercial and corporate worlds collide with the artistic, and Jennie’s use of kitsch through repetitive cycles of mediums such as paint, ink, and fabric add an element of fun she always invests in her artworks.
Photo courtesy of the artist, Jennie Lennick
What can I say about what is or isn’t happening in the Bay Area? I know that there are a great deal of artists and makers who just seem to try a little harder than in other, more easily praised artistic capitals. There is a freedom in low expectations, perhaps, and an attitude that invites quickly changing trends driven by the creative who are willing to break them for new ones. There’s a certain trend now towards repetitive practices, possibly a holdover in emerging artists from graduate works; as well as a focus on the simulated object contrasted to its original iteration. I am gratified to know that there are other shows opening soon at small/new spaces operated by friends who are quickly growing them into consistently interesting places to see local art, like Et Al. near SF’s Chinatown and City Limits in Oakland. Others are providing necessary cultural outlets like the Aggregate Space Photography Lab now being built after a successful crowd-funding campaign or the ceramics classes being taught at the Crucible. Additionally, there are countless thinkers writing about artwork and its meanings, bloggers exposing the studios of artists and their processes, and bookmakers churning out the analog blogs of our hearts. I can’t, and no one should, tell you how a scene or a city or its people are defined. I can only tell you that there are places to go, people to know, and that they are all worth knowing. Don’t just go for the free wine.
Candace Cui rambled about in the fields of the Dirty South before receiving her BA in Art History at the University of Central Florida and a following MA in Exhibition and Museum Studies from the San Francisco Art Institute. Presently, she is an independent curator, writer, reviewer, and excels at holding her chin on folded arms while squinting at art.
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