Art & Development

another entry in the “art takes you to some funny places” diary

Maybe it’s too soon to say, but based on my initial experience, being a curator seems like one part Director, one part Gopher. I expected to fetch odds and ends for the exhibition, but I was bit surprised how much artists entrusted me with creative decisions regarding their art. Guess I’ll just have to get used to it.

Two items I found myself chasing down recently:

78-rpm records. N. Sean Glover’s cardboard record player works better with fatter grooves. A Jackson Five 33 had to do for the opening. (It seemed fitting because “I Want You Back” was on heavy rotation in the shops while I was in Manchester.) But today, at the East Bay Depot for Creative Re-Use, I scored two 78s — Sarah Vaughn and the Benny Goodman Sextet.

Butane. David Moises’ Egoshooter is a modified barbecue lighter. Lighters can go in the mail completely emptied of fuel, so it was my job to re-fuel it for the exhibition. The gallery (understandably) didn’t want visitors to get hurt, but I just couldn’t show the Egoshooter disarmed — I was plagued with memories of grad school critiques of art “with no teeth.” Not having ever owned a refillable lighter, I wandered the aisles of CVS before I realized that, of course, butane is probably kept behind a counter, next to cartons of cigarettes. The CVS in North Oakland, formerly Long’s, was sort of an ideal place to find such a slightly obscure, anachronistic item. (It was also the source for my new white painter’s pants. Maybe I’m projecting, but I get a lot more respect at Home Depot when I’m wearing proper Dickies.)

This & That Mail Art Swap

Welcome to This & That


I’m pleased to announce a new curatorial project, This & That, an invitational mail art swap among international artists. Initiated in July 2009, This & That is a grassroots exchange by artists for artists.

32 artists/collaboratives are from 7 countries are participating:

Poklong Anading (Manila)
Chris Bell (Austrailia/San Francisco)
Simon Blackmore (Manchester)
Simon & Tom Bloor (Birmingham/London)
Jon Brumit (Chicago)
Michelle Carollo (NYC)
Mike Chavez-Dawson (Manchester)
Susan Chen (San Francisco)
Joshua Churchill (San Francisco)
Nick Crowe & Ian Rawlinson (Berlin/Manchester)
N. Sean Glover (Pittsburg, Penn., USA)
Mary Griffiths (Manchester)
Antony Hall (Manchester)
Taro Hattori (Oakland, Calif., USA)
Eric Hongisto (San Francisco)
Sarah Kabot (Ohio, USA)
Scot Kaplan (Ohio, USA)
Verity-Jane Keefe (London)
Yuen Fong Ling (Manchester)
Ivy Ma (Hong Kong)
David Moises (Vienna)
Ali Naschke-Messing (San Francisco)
Scott Oliver (Oakland, Calif., USA)
Susan O’Malley (San Francisco)
Laurence Payot (Liverpool)
Pest (Rebecca Chesney, Robina Llewellyn & Elaine Speight) (Preston, Lancs, UK)
Anthony Ryan (San Francisco)
David Sherry (Glasgow)
Daniel Staincliffe (Manchester)
Tattfoo Tan (NYC)
Jenifer K. Wofford (Oakland/Prague)
MM Yu (Manila)

Submissions will be exhibited in “Socially, Involved,” an exhibition at curated by Michelle Blade, at Triple Base Gallery, San Francisco, California, USA from August 7–September 6, 2009.

See the entries at exhibition, or at the opening reception — Friday, August 7, 7-10 pm — or check

Community, Values


I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the installation-in-progress by resident artist Daniel Nevers at Southern Exposure. His project involves accumulating and configuring ready-made materials purchased from Home Depot.

Before I saw the work, I suspected that I’d miss a sense of intervention or critique, as Nevers’ Home Depot transactions do not disrupt manufacturing or retail business-as-usual. But then again, artists still get their paper and plaster from somewhere — Home Depot may be a more notorious multi-national big box, but it doesn’t mean that Dick Blick or other chains are any better.

Nevers is interested in “DIY as the new self-help.” I didn’t see the introspective, psychological layers to the work in my quick walk-through; perhaps I was too dazzled by so much new and shiny merchandise, which is reminiscent of the work of Jessica Stockholder.

Nevers’ installation inhabits nearly every cubic foot of the storefront gallery. Liminal spaces are framed by 2x4s and sealed behind plastic sheeting. Mounds of orange extension cords on the floor are visually attractive — sensuous, even. A screen seamed with blue-green cable ties makes a 3-D fringe, and plunger heads outfitted with tiny light bulbs form beacons on the windows. Expanding foam overflows its container, lending an oozing, vegetative quality. Visitors have to find their own narrow paths through this crammed-to-the-gills installation, and every corner reveals more unexpected colors and patterns. The effect is like walking inside an overgrown window display. Through Nevers’ comically exaggerated accumulations and arrangements, the recognizable household items — push-brooms, sawhorses — outshine their mundane identities.

Recent Headlands Center for the Arts resident David Moises also uses consumer-grade appliances and tools as foundational materials in his work. Moises, though, intervenes in the objects’ functions to create viewer-interactive kinetic works, such as gasoline-powered hobby horses. He spoke about his interest in examining a tool’s potential, like liberating a bumper car from its electric floor.

Lisa Anne Auerbach‘s manifesto, “DDIY: Don’t Do It Yourself” (Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, #6), directly critiques DIY as co-opted by corporations and lifestyle magazines. In keeping with the manifesto style, the premise is indicting, the tone hyperbolic. Auerbach proposes “Don’t Do It Yourself,” which sounds a lot like the original spirit of DIY, with the revisions of hiring professionals when appropriate and trading services whenever possible. DDIY “is un-commiditized, barter-based, community-crazed and liberating.”

I have shared Auerbach’s disgust at the ridiculous extent of DIY ubiquity (e.g., God’s Eyes, the pre-school age appropriate art activity, on the cover of Readymade Magazine), and the marketing of rudimentary creative trends like scrapbooking.

As an artist and freelance graphic designer, I also agree that expertise should be valued accordingly. But though bartering can be fruitful, I think it’s an alternative to monetary compensation that should be carefully negotiated and never presumed. (Until the day landlords and HMOs accept payments in home-baked bread or knit hats, independent contractors should be spared the indignity of defending the value of their services.)

At the same time, I see nothing wrong with DIY. My parents rototilled their own land, sewed their childrens’ clothes and repaired their own home. But they didn’t call it DIY; it wasn’t a fashion or political statement, or a way of demonstrating indie community values. Their way of life has been largely abandoned because of marketing and consumer culture, true, but also due to affluence and de-skilling. Auerbach hopes to reclaim creativity and skill-building, but she disdains DIY-marketed products. But rejecting consumer culture — including DIY-marketed products — is as easy as it’s always been: shop less and do it yourself more often.