By Ashley Stull
The 1960s and 70s were the championing era for initiatives that localized artist efforts outside of the institution. Conceptual Art publications, Land Art, Fluxus and other practices alternative to white cube aesthetics and fundamentals ran rampant with the collaboration of artists, for artists. The Bay Area was certainly not immune to this ideological fervor, and perhaps more than most places became a notable fostering ground for these certain attitudes. Oakland artist Chris Duncan carries the torch of the legacy of the 1970s with his innumerable collaborative projects that bear striking comparisons to an elaborate history of artist magazines, performance and object making that extend far beyond the tactile bits that litter his studio.
Although well known for his evolving series of spiral paintings and cut and sewn collages, Duncan is more discreetly responsible for two of the Bay Area’s most well received artist magazine projects of the past decade: “Hot and Cold”, and “Land and Sea”. Both projects, though spanning several years in origin and form, exist as earnestly constructed publications made by Duncan and a variable roster of collaborators. Each has the expressed purpose of alternatively exhibiting the work of fellow artists in an experimentally democratic and neutral space. “Hot and Cold” has successfully wound down its tenure of “hodge-podge” features, intentionally produced starting with edition 10 and winding down to 0. But “Land and Sea” is still active in its output, featuring the work of a single artist at a time. Having worked with Colter Jacobsen, Sean McFarland, Reuben Lorch-Miller, Kelly Ording and Eddie Martinez—to name a few— Duncan constructs the instantly recognizable photo-copied magazines with as much or little intervention as requested.
Mentioning “Hot and Cold” and “Land and Sea” in succession makes it difficult to ignore Duncan’s penchant for exploring opposite yet complimentary forces found in nature. This is evident in his explorations of pattern and light in his painting and installation work. But more abstractly, the artist has shown a strong affinity toward one natural element we all share in temporal rotation: the sun. Inspired by a 2008 performance of the Japanese band Boredoms’ “88 BoaDrum”—an 88 drum ensemble playing simultaneously for 88 minutes— at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, Duncan utilized his residency at the Kala Art Institute (and later Liminal Space) to facilitate a performative gathering of community through improvisational drumming. The gatherings, occurring in several iterations, became known as “The Sun.” A community of collaborators (adults and children, musically inclined or otherwise) came together in an experiential happening that in Duncan’s words, “is at moments chaotic and brutal, but always ultimately aligns and provides.” Repetition, accumulation and an “everything all at once” sensibility are foundational to the making of his current body of work, manifesting in a multitude of media—increasingly including performance and sound.
The sun appears again in Duncan’s most recent project, a compilation of 365 photos of the sky, taken every day of the year between May 2011 and 2012. Reflective of a watchful eye for the previously prophesized apocalypse, the images captured reveal an array of weather patterns and flares, but never once the complete absence of the sun. The end of the world, of course, did not come to fruition—but the realized project (part documentary, part overtly skeptical gesture with metaphor at its heart) is one the artist hopes will soon manifest as a monumental installation of printed and shared images.
Only time will tell what will next evolve from Duncan’s explorations of natural phenomena, conceptual performance tactics, and artist magazine projects; but one can say with certainty that his multifaceted approach to contemporizing some of the most iconic practices of the past 50 years is much merited and appreciated in Northern California’s transitioning artistic landscape.
This article is from Issue 13 of SFAQ.