The winners of this year’s SFMOMA SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) Award are Josh Faught, Jonn Herschend, Zarouhie Abdalian and David Wilson. Each artist took the opportunity to do site-specific work wherein space, place and time are all called into question.
Each day, hundreds of people come to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza to work, to conduct business, to eat lunch. Of course, the plaza was also home to hundreds of people during the Occupy Movement, and that footprint is forever burned here informing every step thereafter. During this time a tension and energy was created that warranted notice, as a means to draw attention to the greater issues at hand – economy, class, and education for instance – issues that are at the hub of government’s responsibility. The plaza continues to function as a casual meeting ground for workers, a place of protest and sometimes remains as quiet as it has been for decades before Occupy. Although people may return to the space over and over, as work or activism calls them there out of routine and ritual – each day differs.
These differences are echoed in the audio transmitted from bells affixed on the top of surrounding buildings in Zarouhie Abdalian’s installation, “Occasional Music.” Traditionally, the term occasional music is used to mark a particular choral arrangement created to announce a special moment or celebration of the state. So, in this case, Abdalian’s installation begins to take on the political ramifications in the conceptual title of the work. Abdalian is interested in the way that “bells regulate the activities of social spaces – announcing the passing hours…and become powerful mechanisms that situate people in space.” At first notice, the sounds seem incidental. Curiously, the gongs resonate, creating an odd accompaniment to the hustle and bustle around the plaza. Neither music, nor a recognizable tune, the sounds come and go just like the people crossing through the plaza.
Abdalian used ship’s bells because of their original utilitarian purpose, adding to the surreal quality of what is being heard in tandem with the utility of the surrounding architecture. Hovering above the near-by voices of passer-by or the grumbling of a bus, the bells insert themselves into the space, albeit fleeting and strange. The chimes are like an alert signal, but what they are alerting people to is unclear, and they create a sense of dislocation. The bells begin to chime and the body is shifted to look toward where that sound comes from, stopping, turning toward another. Suddenly everyone is standing, looking up and wondering what they are hearing. One does not know if they are a beacon to another movement that the body should perform. The bell tones drift in and out, causing the listener to go on an imaginary path searching for it, in a kind of map-less Psychogeography. This disruption of space and time adds to the intangible mystery that is being heard. One can only succumb to its peculiarity in the way that it subconsciously leaves footprints on the memory.
You can visit the plaza to listen to “Occasional Music” on these days and hear a different arrangement each time.
Josh Faught’s installations at the Columbarium seem as if they were meant to be there forever. The installation nestled in different parts of the building is a series of three site-specific works collectively titled “Be BOLD For What You Stand For, BE CAREFUL For What You Fall For.” Like refrigerator philosophy, or an embroidered pillow at a distant aunt’s house, the phrase lingers in the mind like a societal adage. Each piece includes an image of a clock, called out in crochet– a practice in and of itself that is a quiet, gesture that renders long, linear threads (traditionally of yarn) into something more concrete, such as a doily, trivet or a blanket—the act of crochet a decided rendering of time, both symbolically and literally in all three of the pieces. As visitors wander the rooms, they happen upon these sculptures in various places and can take a moment of pause to engage with these directly, unlike the many memorials that are under glass in the Columbarium itself. Each segment of Faught’s quilts reiterates the patterns of niches along the walls nearby, which are in a sense a patchwork of lives embedded in the walls.
Each niche has been decorated with mementos, toys, jewelry, flasks, miniature furniture, dolls, music CDs, photographs and other countless arrays of tokens, offerings and reminders of the deceased. Faught’s quilts too, include similar relics, such as political buttons, VCR movie tapes and plastic replica food snacks, such as cookies and onion rings. These elements of humor mirror the playfulness and care of the relics that are left by family-members. All of these personal effects are very human elements that are emblematic of life’s experiences and become symbolic markers and reminders of what is held dear –what has been done. These sculptures simultaneously tie up and undo the complexities of life that are fraught with time. The building is guilt with elaborate decorations at every turn – all part of the decadent Neo-Classical architecture that pays homage to history while at the same time forces an awareness of one’s own mortality in the present moment of paying respect to those whose lives are interned here.
Faught explained that the colors chosen in all of the works are directly inspired by the location, which he visited on a few occasions during the fruition of the work. The arresting quilt at the entrance of the Columbarium “Untitled”, is comprised of hand-woven, hand-dyed and crocheted hemp, soaring 19 feet in the air, anchored by a complex armature that is attached to a third floor archway. Soft rose, mauve and indigo blue shades directly compliment the color schemes in neighboring cream, pink and warm wood trim throughout the building. Faught’s piece seems so intentional, so “at home” here, it is hard to imagine it anywhere else. So much larger than life, the big tapestry towers over every observer when standing next to it, making humans seem so small and incidental. References to the body are in all three pieces. Nestled in an easement between staircases in the Zubanan Room, a six foot tall piece literally “sits” on the elaborate Persian rug, a pair of Wicked Witch shoes peaking from under its draped edges.
The trellis armature inside the quilt pulls at the crocheted yarns creating a tension like a body stretching from a long slumber. The yarns are golden wheat, shimmering mustard and coppery red metallic, accented by a glossy chocolate brown cassette tape. Messy tendrils hang like snags on a favorite sweater. Nearby a small table displays a (plastic) cookies ‘n milk treat, set out for spirit nourishment, a common practice in many Asian cultures. Although here in the US, it is hard not to be reminded of it as the refreshment put out for Santa Claus. Continuing up to the Dome Room, a large regal, deep indigo blue embellished with sequins and lamé, is lit by natural light spilling from the glass ceiling.
This sculpture is impressive – its size and scale almost shrouds the entire room like a political banner-meets-room divider where one would stand behind to change clothes. A jacquard afghan, which includes the text that is the title of the series drapes alongside the quilt. A fake spilt-coffee is placed on it, like a clumsy accident. The hard liquid pouring out of it is so realistic it is startling. This piece has a cremation urn of its own, apparently including the ashes of telephone solicitors. Clearly, it is a joke, not unlike the refrigerator philosophy of the title, reminiscent of those quaint objects that act as political statements within a home, perhaps displayed near the land-line telephone. Younger generations may not even be aware of the joke, rarely experiencing solicitation phone calls now that solicitors are banned from calling cell phones and so few land-lines remain. This is just another example of the past that is enmeshed with the present in these works, perfectly mirroring the purpose of the Columbarium.
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-Contributed by Leora Lutz