Photographic documentation of each work was displayed in the back of a big white moving truck parked along Potrero Avenue. A video of musical actions performed in the site by Justin Hurty could be seen in the truck on a shelved laptop, and maps with the location of each work were also on hand. Nina Elder’s psychogeographic map, while either indecipherably esoteric or intended for subjective interpretation, went some distance towards positioning the site itself as a work.
Interim Infills is both an exhibition of public art and the use of public space for art. As such, it joins the rank of so many projects intended to “beautify” or “activate” less appealing, underutilized highway underpasses—from cliché murals or public sculptures commissioned by the local government to spontaneous graffiti by teenagers. However, Szwed and Phelan made it a point to cite the location’s history, referencing Bonnie Ora Sherk’s 1974 place-based project, “The Farm,” which turned seven acres of the very same location into an eco garden and art space. The project, which lasted until 1980, also featured educational activities for children, internships and performance art events, before it was transformed into a public park. Where is that public park now?
During the walking tour, somewhere between Elyse Mallouk’s incongruous sentimental postcards and Brandon Olsen’s missing sleeping bag, we passed by a wall of photos, flowers, decorated crosses, and colorful paintings displayed in memoriam to those residents of the site who died. One can only speculate whether their deaths were due to natural causes. With no mention on the map, perhaps this memoriam marks a perfect intervention within an intervention, a redeeming surprise for an exhibition that suffered from a lack of criticality in the work. Can art still be thought provoking and meaningful in this site without directly addressing the deleterious conditions present? Does public art, in particular, need to be socially responsible or at least socially conscious?
Interim Infills was never purported to be an art exhibition to instigate change or community action and heavy commentary by artists in an already loaded site would have seemed apologist and therefore ineffectual. On one hand, the art of Interim Infills fulfills exactly what the exhibition title implies; ephemeral responses by artists to an empty site to fill the empty site. However, this site is hardly empty, and what the exhibition actually accomplished was the foregrounding of the site itself to which the art played a supporting role.
- Michelle Y. Hyun
Images, from top to bottom:
Interim Infills, bird’s eye view of freeway interchange, intersection of Cesar Chavez Street and Potrero Avenue.
Weston Teruya, Scratched into the crumbling face (he carried it with a bit of swagger,), 2009, pen, spray paint and digital print on paper. (Photo: Dan Phelan)
Cameron Kelly, Vista Seating, 2009, hand-sewn custom cushions, mixed media. (Photo: Carrie Galles)
Torreya Cummings, Part and Parcel Media, 2009, digital print on paper and wheat paste on underpass. (Photo: Carrie Galles)
Jessica Tully, Pedestrian Dance Party, 2009, installation and performance. (Photo: Carrie Galles)
All images courtesy of the artists and Big White Truck Gallery.