“On Being an Exhibition” presents a collection of humorous works that meditate on where the ‘being’ lies in an exhibition—in the ‘eyes’ and ‘experience’ of the beholder? Within the institutional structures that produce a work of art? Or in the dialog between objects, viewer, maker? Curator Joseph del Pesco, who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, chose pieces employing perceptual and contextual shifts that that induce reflection on what it means to be an exhibition.
Toronto-based Germaine Koh’s Fair-weather forces: (sun:light)(2005) is an installation that senses the amount of natural light outside the gallery space and calibrates the interior lighting to match the sunlight’s intensity. During the daytime, visitors can witness subtle variations in lighting; at night they find themselves in partial darkness—an inverse logic that obviates the very purpose of artificial lighting. In drawing the viewer’s attention towards light and space, Fair-weather forces makes for an interesting comparison to James Turrell’s Meeting (1986) at New York’s PS1/MoMA, in which visitors enter a square room with no ceiling one houroccur before dusk. Facing each other, waiting in silence, visitors experience the sublime as a pregnant moment before darkness. By contrast, viewers to Fair-weather forces find themselves either staring dumbly at the light fixtures, at the electrical switch box, or outside the windows, wondering if the installation is “working.” Koh’s piece, then, offers us an experience of the wry sublime—a two-for-one or double-your-money experience in which viewers not only get to experience the sublime but get to laugh at themselves doing so.
Bay Area-based Anne Walsh and Chris Kubick’s sound installation entitled Room Tone (2007) invites viewers to listen to a library of sound recordings of “silence” sampled from diverse types of spaces (cathedrals, bathrooms, waiting rooms, etc.) and locations around the world. Used in recording studios to smoothly segue between recordings, the sounds’ “off-whiteness” relativizes the notion of an absolute silence.
Mama and Temp are a broom and dust pan that the Turin-based art collaborative Isola & Norzi (Hilaro Isola and Matteo Norzi) are using to sweep the dust accumulated throughout the duration of the exhibition. The broom and dust pan each separately function as elegant and quiet sculptures. In the base of the aluminum dustpan, the word “temp.” is water-jet cut from the base of the pan. By transforming the dust pan into a stencil, attempts to sweep up debris become an incomplete gesture that renders more than it removes. Equally existential, the brooms present a darker reflection on the metaphysical nature of exhibitions to rarify the ordinary. The brooms are presented as a set, held to the wall by a white minimalist shelf with holes that contain the broom handles. Below the shelf we recognize a set of partially-lit brooms and mops, suggestive of housekeeping and janitorial work. The handles rising above the shelf are whittled into figures resembling traditional African totems. In conflating symbols of domestic labor and traditional African iconography, Mama reflects on the role of colonial museological institutions in portraying and containing the Other—a capture that reveals both the captor’s fascination and humility.
Untitled (2007) is a short animation by Chadwick Rantanen made from hand-drawn and painted chiaroscuro vignettes that depict what Artist’s Space looks like when the gallery closes. Slow pans and zooms into these after-hours landscapes—the gallery director’s desk lit by moonlight, the rooms behind the gallery walls, the empty exhibition halls, etc.—cinematographically build the anticipation of a film noir and recall various fantastical children’s tales about what happens when you turn out the light/close the door/go to bed (e.g., the Nutcracker, the Night Before Christmas, Indian in the Cupboard, Where the Wild Things Are, etc.). By choosing as its subject the theatrics and armatures of an exhibition, Rantanen’s animation poetically pokes at the facture of Art.
Matching the exhibition’s lighthearted tone, the exhibition catalog hints towards a deeper, self-subversive investigation of a contemporary institutional critique. In place of a description of the works, the catalog consists of 250-word excerpts from personages (Bruce Lee, John Dewey, Woody Allen, William Burroughs, the Pet Shop Boys, Harry Houdini, the Bay Area artist Scott Oliver, etc.) that the artists and arts practitioners involved in the exhibition cited as influential to their practice. Read as a set of aphorisms that raise questions rather than explicate, the catalog presents the non-expert as art commentator, an epistemological shift emblematic of del Pesco’s strive towards openness, inclusion, and play.