Travelling with new eyes
By Mark Amery
French writer Marcel Proust wrote that, "the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." I’m travelling at present, and the art I find the most powerful changes people’s relationship to their surroundings through making them look at it differently.
I’ve just spent two weeks in San Francisco. The conversation I heard the most in the media was how this boom town is becoming too expensive to live for many who have contributed much to it’s identity. Much as Wellington struggles with keeping real its Creative Capital moniker, the worry is the city will become an aging theme park of itself. Recently, well-known Latino artist Yolanda Lopez was evicted from her home of 40 years. In reaction she made her eviction garage sale an artwork at gallery Galeria De La Raza, each of her belongings given a label.
Southern Exposure is the city’s longest running artist project space. Like similar spaces in New Zealand the programming increasingly includes projects that see artists engaging in activity outside the gallery in direct relationship to the city.
I visited Off Shore, five artists in the gallery and conducting offsite projects on the theme of local waterways. The work that struck me the most were group walks staged by Chris Sollars tracing the now invisible lines of the city’s creeks, from their Spring sources to the bay.
Sollars invited the public to join an alternative kind of walking tour, carrying together a rope the length of a block. Participants wore life jackets in emergency orange, the name of the creek stitched onto their backs. The length of rope saw all having to give way to the performance as an intervention, curling and cutting through the city as a stream might.
I’m reminded in Wellington of Ra Vincent’s recent work, to be found quietly in the Taranaki Street Z service station concourse, reassembling culvert bricks to tell the story of hidden stream Waimapihi, and Kedron Parker’s sound work on The Terrace during the Fringe festival highlighting the Kumutoto Stream.
I cribbed the Proust quote above from the Kadist Art Foundation, who stage projects in both Paris and San Francisco, and whose current project connects specific sites in California and China. I saw Brazilian artist Marcello Cidade’s Somewhere, Elsewhere, Anywhere, Nowhere which involved, incredibly, transplanting a section of a parking lot (the top layer of concrete and asphalt complete with yellow parking space barriers) into Kadist’s small gallery space. This graft of the city was moved in carefully sliced pieces like a jigsaw. Beautifully, the incision in the car park was made to match exactly the gallery floor plan, including an errant thin slice resulting from the need to make provision for a gallery window display wall.
Walking over the fat, crusty squares (a strangely powerful experience) you notice a wild crack running through – the legacy I mused of this car park’s previous history as freeway that suffered damage during the 1989 earthquake. In the wake of that quake numerous innovative uses of land have occurred on quake-affected land. Yet as Cidade highlights this parcel of land is soon to be apartments.
Cidade’s work parks the past, present and future use of this land in a framed moment. It creates a poignant drawing in the city’s surface itself, while raising questions about art’s effect. There’s an interesting tension: Kadist is part of the gentrification that is seeing many more apartments built in the Mission district.
Cidade‘s work reminded me of the power of a square of dry, clay riverbed by British artist Andy Goldsworthy I saw many years ago in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. Goldsworthy has three terrific pieces in the historic forest of San Francisco’s Presidio, commissioned by the For-Site Foundation, who create art about place in national park land.
In Wood Line a zig-zag of Eucalyptus logs, carefully cut and placed together creates an avenue through the woods. Gently altering the landscape in an unassuming, unmarked spot, it’s a work you stumble on. A kind of drawing, Goldsworthy encourages a balancing-act walk through the wood, leaving me musing whilst looking out to housing estates beyond on the choice to leave these trees standing or to employ them. While much public sculpture is vertical, and of steel and bronze, asserting power and permanence, this work is totally grounded, eventually to rot away.
Further up the hill a second work is, in opposition a spire comprised of Cypress logs balanced improbably together to reach 90 feet into the sky. It’s a giant pencil, one with the help of engineers fighting the force of gravity of trees to finally fall, and evoking the area’s military history.
The next For-Site project sees Ai Weiwei create a work for America’s most popular national park – Alcatraz. Entitled @Large, Ai Weiwei hasn’t yet been able to visit - he remains in a prison of sorts himself, unable to leave China since 2011, reliant on collaborators including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
- Prismism, Emil McAvoy, Enjoy Gallery, until 2 August
Any exhibition promising to touch on abstract painting’s covert operation supporting political agendas and the visual culture of NZ policing has to be worth a peek.