The idea of the artist’s studio still smolders with mystery and allure. In reality—and often the harsh lights of a fluorescent panel—most artists' studios splay out on kitchen tables or better resemble banged-up versions of the crisp white cubes that will later (maybe) showcase their labors. Owing in part to the long-standing mythology that surrounds the idea of “the artist,” and the re-orientation of the conceptual turn in post-War art that concentrated on the process of art and not its end product, our vision of the studio is part-laboratory and part-sanctum.
On Sunday, April 1, the opportunity arose to enter the mysterious space of the artist’s studio at the California College of the Arts’s annual Open Studios. I ducked in and out of dozens of studios occupied by graduate students displaying paintings, photographs, films, and sculptures in various states of being made. While my overall reactions center around the idea of the work-in-progress, there were several artists whose work was fraught with unanswered questions and tensions.
Elizabeth Moran, who works as both a photographer and designer, presented photographs from her series-in-progress The Armory. Taking a cue or two, it seems, from the late Larry Sultan, Moran turns her lens on the empty sets and murky corners of San Francisco’s Armory building, which since 2006 has housed Cybernet Entertainment, LLC—better known as kink.com. In Moran’s photographs, manufactured interiors mimic the look of a Victorian hallway, a hospital exam room, or a mid-century kitchen, and take on a hyperreal gleam. These depopulated views of The Armory are interesting and eerie—but are they critical, complicit, or merely enacting a voyeurism once removed?
Senalka McDonald, another artist working with photography, turns the camera toward herself in a series of truly unsettling self-portraits. Contained in a small binder that visitors could flip through in the studio, some of McDonald’s works include the artist and her double, speaking, perhaps, to two minds, two spirits? These photos have an obvious tension, though it’s unclear whether the antagonism felt through McDonald’s expressions are directed outward or back towards the artist herself. On the walls hung some calmer works—though the subject is the same. In many of these, the artist’s face is invisible; instead, we see limbs akimbo, the artist lying crumpled on the floor, tipped over in a chair, with legs sticking up out of a bathtub. Again, these images hold a tension, but this time the images gesture more towards the tenor of aftermath than that of confrontation.
In addition to these artists, I found interest in one artist using thin stretched plastic to create minimal color field paintings (Melissa Dickenson); another using fabric and thread to creating unsettling sculptures of rodents and other animals (Caroline Charuk); and another using woven tapestries to create stop-motion animations.
Rather than existing at the site of exhibition—when they often become solid, “finished” and staid—the works on view in these artists’s studios are in progress, offering a glimpse at the thought processes of making, the development of style, and the trials and errors of an artist.
[Image on top right: Elizabeth Moran, from her series The Armory (work in progress); Courtesy the artist]