My 2014 CAM Case Study: City Beneath the City at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art; Artist Looks at History, History Looks at Itself

“Chinatown is dead. It is dead forever”

These were the words The San Jose Daily Herald declared the day after arson fire annihilated the city’s Market Street Chinatown on May 4, 1887.  Other newspapers elaborated on the Daily Herald’s headline, describing the fire as “a blessing” and reporting “general rejoicing” among some of San Jose’s non-Chinese residents.  What remained in the ashes – shards of pottery, fragmented glass, discarded shoes – were mostly thrown in community trash pits, slowly inhumed by layers of dirt and time.  One hundred and twenty five years later, a mere ten minutes away from where the legacy of a Chinese community was once lost, City Beneath the City at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) presents salvaged artifacts from the Market Street Chinatown as a subtle epitaph to the past.


Jonathan McCabe Turns Morphogenesis into Art

Australian generative artist and designer Jonathan McCabe transformed Turing’s Morphogenesis Theory into trippy, biological artwork.  According to Turing’s  theory, patterns like zebra stripes occur because of interactions between individual cells, which he termed the reaction-diffusion process; essentially, the state of a cell influences that of its neighbors,  which then influence its neighbors – and so on.  Reactive molecules, or “morphogens,” drive the diffusion between cells by activating a change, like color, and patterns emerge as morphogens interact and spread through otherwise identical cells.  McCabe interprets Turing’s idea digitally by using pixels instead of cells, producing  random patterns aimed at mimicking molecular signals.

A Subtlety

Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby” at the Domino Sugar Factory

As an installation title, “A Subtlety” (the full title continues: “or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant”) is anything but.  A “Subtlety” was previously a term used for decorative sugar sculptures in medieval times, but in this case summons an imagistic paradox particular to the bitter history of American slavery.  This spring, you can visit Walker’s  35 ft tall sugar-sphinx, surrounded  by several sculptures of young buys carrying baskets of unrefined sugar, at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, which is soon scheduled to be demolished in lieu of condos.  Since 1997, after receiving her MacArthur Foundation grant, Kara Walker has been offering provocative takes on the past by depicting the horrors of slavery through seemingly innocuous mediums — most famously, cut-out silhouettes of the physical, sexual and psychological violence endured on plantations — and her latest work is no exception.  Read more…


Q&A with Micah Elizabeth Scott, CODAME Featured Artist

Last month I spoke with CODAME Featured Artist Micah Elizabeth Scott to learn more about her upcoming light installation, “Ecstatic Epiphany,” and in the process discussed her thoughts on the direction of San Francisco’s art/tech movement, her encyclopedic knowledge of electronics, and her infamous tutorial, “How to Hack Your Vagina.”  Read the interview here.


A Line of Bags Made from Heads, Snouts, and Ears by Victoria Ledig

No item emblematizes feminine status as powerfully as a big designer purse, with its demonstration of what many admiringly describe as both a functional item, and a visualization of one’s wealth.  But fancy leather items cannot be reduced to materialism alone.  Your average purse is completely innocuous, and to the brand-knowledgeable, commonplace.  In Precious Skin, designer Victoria Ledig cleverly highlights and inverts this divorce from leather’s grotesque origins by using the seldom-seen, and often discarded, parts of cows in her collection of bags.  Ledig explains, “Most leather is processed to the point of becoming unrecognizable as what it is and this contributes to a general attitude, which I chose to question in this project.”  A nipple peeks out of a make-up brush pouch; a clutch retains the holes from a pair of ears; a tail becomes a handle – which, when seen together, promise to contextualize nature and utility anew.   See more images from the project after the jump.


Preview: “Off Shore” Group Show at Southern Exposure


With a directive to explore new projects considering the nautical communities on the edge of San Francisco, Southern Exposure‘s “Off Shore” will feature five artists and a month of off-site and in-gallery installations.  The group show promises a heady mix of performances, lectures, and excursions, incorporating everything from a floating peep-show by veteran maritime artist, Constance Hockaday, to the world’s first amphibious bicycle-powered Ferris wheel from kinetic sculptor, Paul Cesewski.  However, it is not a show about the Bay Area’s waterways per se, but of the Bay Area waterways through art.  Paul Cesewki, Constance Hockaday, Marie Lorenz, Chris Sollars, and A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting have organized a large-scale mass of content around historical and cultural themes (tracing creeks which once provided water to the city, queer liberation with iconic businesses, Lusty Ladies and Esta Noche, and the relationship of water with our daily lives for instance) that articulate a fresh, nuanced discussion of the region, avoiding watered-down cliches.  The series considers the Bay Area from what surrounds it: the sea- an area shaped by coastal changes, multicultural dynamics, and a shared historical background.  “Off Shore” will run from  May 28, 2014 – July 3, 2014.  See a preview of some of the work after the jump.


On View: Art tribute to Stephen King in “King for a Day”

Coulrophobia, telepathy, and the enduring battle between innocence and evil – these are some of the things that author Stephen King made canonical through his celebrated work spanning novels, short stories, and scripts.  Accompanied by the interpretations of countless filmmakers, artists payed tribute to King’s full body of work in the group show, “King For a Day” at Hero Complex Gallery in Los Angeles.  The artwork builds from many plots and styles (illustrations, paintings, sculptures), but all seem to be powered by King’s subtly interrelated thematics, mainly that of ephemerality and the macabre.  Among the contributions from the dozens of participating artists, Martine Johanna’s I Lie Awake and Listen (pictured above) reaches the King oeuvre-saturation point by incorporating the main characters from Salem’s Lot, Pet Cemetery, The Shining, IT, Carrie, Cat’s Eye, Silver Bullet, and The Monkey in a limited edition graphite print.  The exhibit ran March 21 – April 6, 2014; the work is still available to browse online.

Jordan Wolfson’s Gyrating Android

The scantily-clad, blonde android dances erotically, with intermittent meth-spider jazz-hands, lip-syncing to slowed down top 40 songs by Lady Gaga, Robin Thicke, and Beyonce.  Granted, this sounds like it could be another tired iteration of Austin Power’s ammunition-nipped Fembots, but SURPRISE  IT’S A SEXY NIGHTMARE from the twisted mind of artist Jordan Wolfson in collaboration with the special effects studio Spectral Motion in California.  (Female figure) 2014, is an animatronic sculpture masked by a green witch face, smeared with dirt, and punctured by a pole in the middle of her chest – a presentation that evokes more cyber horror than it does superficial sexuality.  As she pumps and writhes seductively, her motion-sensored eyes  lock on any person within proximity of her gaze, while she repeats the phrase “My mother is dead. My father is dead. I’m gay.”  with the same detached manner and cadence of Siri (but is in fact, Wolfson’s voice).  Read more after the jump.

I love LASER

Above is video of Jennifer Parker describing her art/tech interdisciplinary program, OpenLab at the last LASER series I attended at UC Berkeley a few months ago.  She brings to the table some crazy, inspiring projects and insightful advice for any nerd considering a large-scale collaborative project.

Never heard of LASER?  Allow me to introduce you to my favorite local lecture series: