Thursday, June 19, 2008
Many things have changed and many things have stayed the same since
the chaos that was 1968. In "We Remember the Sun," San Francisco Art
Institute curator Mary Ellyn Johnson has assembled a group of
top-notch contemporary artists, including Michael Zheng, Shaun
O'Dell, Andrea Bowers, Deer Fang, David Gurman and Taraneh Hemami, to
consider the hangover from the youth revolution.
"There have been a lot of exhibitions and film screenings around the
globe that relate to this history," Johnson says. "I wanted to do
something that was more specific about the legacies that have been
left, and the question of how these legacies have manifested
themselves in artistic practice in California."
As the collection of work shows, today's artists employ different
techniques than their brash historic counterparts, and use a variety
of media to reflect on and take action in the world. Video artist
Fang references the Olympic torch protests in her "Don't Talk About
Politics" piece. Amy Balkin takes on the companies that are quietly
profiting from the Iraq war in "Sell Us Your Liberty or We'll
Subcontract Your Death," a collection of rubbings taken from the
signage of the San Francisco companies involved. David Maisel, in the
same "watch-the-watchers" spirit, contributes his large photographs
of secret military sites. Other pieces, such as Julia Page's video
that uses a historic Angela Davis speech, incorporate past works in
Johnson says that, as a whole, she sees today's artists taking on
many of the same issues as their activist forebears, but with a more
nuanced perspective. "What I found is there is a lot of work that is
still responding to these utopian ideals," she says. "I was looking
at how a lot of artists seem to be looking at these failures and
successes - and it's no longer black and white. It's a much more
subtle time in some ways."
It seems that artists are less interested in speaking through a
bullhorn about contemporary culture, and more apt to tend their own
gardens. But the collection as a whole doesn't feel dour. "There are
some pieces that are quite dark," Johnson says, pointing to Balkin's
rubbings. "But there's also projects such as Andrea Bowers' 'Weight
of Resistance,' which is a piece about the legacy of San Francisco's
activism. It asks, where do we go from here?" The point is that
resistance movements are alive and kicking, but not uncritically.
"There are both kinds of messages in the works at the same time,"
Johnson says. "It's not over. We haven't completely given up on the
idea of change."
Through Sept. 13. See Web site for related events. San Francisco Art
Institute's Walter and McBean Galleries, 800 Chestnut St., S.F. (415)
Reyhan Harmanci, firstname.lastname@example.org