Art & Development, Community

Problems and solutions

You could think of art as a series of problems and solutions. There are visual or formal problems, of course. But it’s a month away from the Galleon Trade exhibition at YBCA (opens September 4), and I need to solve technical problems.

Working in different media is challenging, but it’s great because I’m constantly dipping into new fields of knowledge. Right now, I’m learning about DC (direct current, as opposed to AC, alternating current), and solar power and batteries (both of which are 12 volt DC).

Mostly, I get by with some how-to books, videos and reading Wikipedia. But some problems are too complicated or unique. I wish I had a go-to tinkerer, a mad scientist who lives in a crappy Victorian surrounded by guard dogs in West Oakland, like in Ang Lee’s Hulk. But in real life, I turn to artist-friends like Erik Scollon and Chris Bell. In addition to their technical knowledge, they have experience and, critically, access to resources.

This is about as far away from the artist-genius myth as you can get, but it’s true: sometimes problem-solving hinges on procurement — sourcing the bits and pieces that add up to make installations. One of my biggest challenges is the extreme segmentation of our late capitalist markets. There’s only so much the average shopper needs from an art store, hobby shop, fabric store or hardware store. Then there are artists. I have to source materials in quantities large and small from random outlets. My installation will be comprised of materials from solar companies, battery distributors, Urban Ore (a recycled goods shop in Berkeley), a specialty industrial electrical connector manufacturer, a marine supplier. In my research, I’ve also purchased goods from a train hobby shop. Art takes you to some funny places!

I shared a moment about this with Jessica Tully. She is using a special aerosol chalk in her Syndicate spray stencils. When she called local hardware stores to get more chalk, staffers often suggested spray paint. Sometimes they’d say that spray chalk doesn’t exist. I get similar responses too, and they’re not helpful. Nobody likes to be told we’re making stuff up. We’re not yahoos, we’re just artists. Trust us!

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