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San Francisco
Group Exhibition
Big White Truck Gallery
Potrero Ave @ Cesar Chavez, San Francisco, CA
June 21, 2009 - December 31, 2009

Temporarily Full
by Michelle Y. Hyun

Interim Infills—a 3.5 hour public intervention featuring site-specific work by thirteen artists—took place in what co-curators Sally Szwed and Dan Phelan described as an “underused and underappreciated urban matrix.” Taking the form of a walking tour, the exhibition spanned a complex tangle of roads, ramps, pedestrian walkways, bridges, and meridians above and below the freeway interchange at Cesar Chavez Street and Potrero Avenue in San Francisco. Each work had a fairly ephemeral and portable nature, as the artists were all commissioned knowing their work would most likely be integrated into the makeshift habitats of the underpass residents.  
During the event, the curators took turns leading tours, pointing out a nearly invisible web of bungee cords, pulleys and clamps straining a grove of trees by Chris Fitzpatrick, a subtle and secluded trompe l’oeil painting by Alicia Escott, and Julia Goodman’s giant sailboat silhouette made of handmade paper the same color of the concrete wall to which it was affixed. Artists Weston Teruya, Cameron Kelly, Torreya Cummings and Imin Yeh, directly addressed socio-cultural issues such as sustainability and homelessness concerning underpass itself, respectively creating a prescient mini-model of the overpass, Christo-pink vinyl seat cushions that offer vista viewing of the surrounding area, and wheat pasted wallpapers in the pattern of Western bourgeois luxury and another in an often-overlooked mixture of Orientalism and consumerism. Visitors walking across the pedestrian bridge over Cesar Chavez were required to first dance across a linoleum dance floor installed by Jessica Tully, then listen through headphones to an ominous field recording of the nearby steel support beams digitally manipulated by Fitzpatrick. A rather Beuysian performance by Raphael Noz charged a littered space underneath an onramp into a place of wistful craving and conjuring. Noz spent the evening waiting with an ex-voto he painted of a transcendent experience for a mysterious man that may or may not have come. 

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.  

Posted by Michelle Y. Hyun on 7/11/09 | tags: landscape performance installation mixed-media sculpture

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