I knew it was going to be a good trip back on the West Coast when I saw a bird shit on the face and neck of a San Francisco police officer. He and his goon were ticketing a woman for sleeping on the sidewalk on 16 Street & Mission (made possible by SF voters who continue to criminalize the poor, i.e. voting for Proposition L) when a bird sent by the grace of luck let out a creamy load all over this cop in pure bukkake glory. Flabbergasted, his partner escorted the glazed doughnut across the street to McDonalds, where he was either going to get a side of fries with his vanilla facial or wash up. Hysteria spread as people buckled over laughing, holding their stomach as tears squeezed from their eyes. Others comedically reenacted the scene to those who missed it, trying to keep a straight face as they restaged something they’ll likely never see again.
I regret being so preoccupied with stuffing burritos down my throat rather than visiting some of my favorite SF galleries, but I was lucky enough to see “City Surfaces” at Rena Bransten Gallery (through September 15), an installation of fabricated urban exteriors by Lead Pencil Studio, a collaborative team comprised of Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo. Constructed almost entirely from plywood and paper, Han and Mihalyo replicate the objects and infrastructure one would find alongside buildings, alleyways or rears of buildings. Trash cans, PO boxes, pipes, air shafts, traffic cones. The work objectifies the objects they portray, and in a sense perverses and revitalizes relief sculpture. There is also an air of silence to the work, and in a Thomas Demand style the work feels muted and elementary. I’m a bit of a sucker for intense installations that push and pull a viewers perspective of reality and fiction, and Lead Pencil Studio’s emphasis of the exterior locks us outdoors to exist in secondary space that shows function but not purpose. “City Surfaces” effectively makes us look – to notice the everyday objects we never see ourselves seeing. It engages an audience in thinking about how we experience social space.
After a week of amazing Mexican food, scotch, bourbon, gin, vodka, rum, tequila, pabst, 40oz’s in Dolores Park ($2.25 OUT THE DOOR), chain smoking (I just can’t get hooked!), thrifting, stealing, falling asleep on MUNI, living at the Phone Booth (damn I love that bar), saying hi to old friends and making new ones whose names I now can’t remember – I hitched down to Los Angeles. The purpose of this trip was to not only be a juvenile delinquent but to do a little footwork in finding a suitable West Coast dealer to couple with my gallery in New York. In doing so I’ve been trying to hone in on just what is the West Coast aesthetic. Not sure if I figured that out yet, and San Francisco art is so different than LA, so maybe I should leave that answer to you.
I got picked up by a guy named Eddy, which is coincidently the name of my uncle who killed a guy in a bar fight and has been on the run since I was 10. The driver had piles of black trash bags in the back seat, weighted down by an axe and a folded foot ladder. “Just doing some work on a friend’s house”, he said. “You might want to move that axe, it’s bound to slice you if I stop suddenly”. Shit, now my fingerprints are on it, I thought.
Once we were on the road, I cooled down a little. I snuck a swig of Ancient Age and lit a cigarette, wanting to read or fall asleep but couldn’t. I felt the car swerving a little, the sound of those safety bumps hitting the tires on the edge of the road. I looked at Eddy, he had full gray hair and a scar that ran up his chin and across his bottom lip. He was steering with his elbows as he lit the charred bottom of his glass meth pipe, offering me the last drag. “No? Well have it your way” he said, asking me to put the small bag of white and yellowed crystals in his glove department. Shit, more fingerprints. And here I was trying wet my lips on a bottle – how amateur. But in that 6 hour drive down the coast Eddy was starting to grow on me, calling every driver a rat bastard and singing along to “Hotel California” and “Jessie’s Girl”, drumming gently on his steering wheel as we both starred out at the road ahead.
Because I dicked around so much in San Francisco I only had a couple days in Los Angeles, so I wasn’t able to see a lot of the galleries I planned for. I hardly made it past Culver City (I know I know, that’s pretty sad), and the galleries I went to see in Chinatown were mostly closed. From what I saw, there was a very well curated group show at the Kopeikin Gallery (through August 25). I’m somewhat partial to them because they let my use their can after SEDS struck (Sudden Explosive Diarrhea Syndrome – yeah, I invented it) thanks to some suspicious enchiladas. The show, “Looking at Mexico” was curated by one of their gallery artists, Alejandro Cartagena. It’s 30 something photographs by a handful of artists. Among them, I’m drawn to Roberto Tondopo’s photography for its playful and sneaky undertones, the way the subjects are caught in the act by a silent audience, the way some are masked in a hide-and-go-seek sort of way. My favorite of his photos on view is “Frozen”, a glimpse into a kitchen as a barefoot and shirtless kid stretches to reach into a freezer. The image gives no explanation but so easily floods the eye with possibility. It feels like summer, and the plastic watermelons to the left of the frame accentuate that feeling. He’s been outside, he’s reaching for a popsicle. His mother is home because the keys are on the table beside a plastic cup that I imagine Kool-Aid was once in. The cherry kind. And something about the image feels sneaky, he’s barefoot and quiet yet the audience gets to slip a peak into the private interiors of this house. It’s somehow less voyeuristic as it is invisible peering – we’re seeing without looking. And is it shallow to say I like the colors?
I caught a ride to San Diego with a friend. I’ve never been to SD, and I heard they put French fries in their burritos and had to try it. He drove a white Oldsmobile 88 with a functioning cassette tape player and two tapes, Kiss and Metallica. He told me how he once drove from Santa Cruz to Portland without realizing the neighbor’s cat had crawled up inside the car’s engine. “A bit burnt” he said, “but not dead!” I’m not sure if I believed him. We stopped for a dip in the Pacific Ocean. The sand was white and the ocean a Windex blue. I have a special relationship with the ocean, a sort of “fuck you” then “ok, you’re right, I’m sorry” kind of dynamic. I enter its mouth throwing punches, clinching and cursing, yet always exit slowly and defeated. Nothing can make one feel more insignificant and powerless than the ocean.
I lay on the sand to dry off, staring at the sun with my eyes closed as little red and orange webs spread across my eye lids. I have this really strange and reoccurring dream about a mermaid named Lola that visits me whenever I fall asleep on the beach. She lives in the Bermuda triangle but swims thousands of miles to see me. I first had the dream on Coney Island after a midnight swim. In the dream, I cut my leg on coral reefs and sharks begin to swarm around me. A dolphin rescues me in a sort of Free Willy moment and brings me to shore as it turns into the mermaid, Lola. We began to make out and she oscillated between a cartoony Little Ms. Mermaid and the dolphin-safe logo on the label of tuna cans. Lola visited my dreams for the third time on that Orange County beach. When I awoke, I noticed how dark all the white people were. Strangely tan, even the kids. It’s interesting how in some cultures being tan denotes poverty, that you work in fields and live your life as a peasant. Yet in Western cultures, it’s just the opposite. Being tan suggests leisure; you’ve earned that color from holidays on boats, beaches and resorts.
I thought about art, the sun and the water. I thought about Lola, where she was now and where I was going next. Mostly, I just thought about all the rat bastards with spray on tans, and that magical bird with remarkable aim.
Dean Dempsey is an artist and filmmaker based in New York City.