Flood: Site-Specific Mixed Media Installation
Alex Clausen is an artist that lives and works in San Francisco. He uses temporary sculptures and altered photographs to investigate visual or personal relationships that exist within domestic spaces. Clausen earned a bachelors’ degree in Art and Physics from University of California, Davis, and a graduate degree from the California College of the Arts. He was awarded a Graduate Fellowship at the Headlands Center the Arts for the 2006-2007 year.
Clausen has exhibited work at Rena Bransten Gallery, the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art, the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston, Kala Art Institute, the Exploratorium and is part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco collection. Clausen is currently collaborating on Earthbound Moon, an international sculpture park whose focus is community engagement and the conversion of private land to public art space.
"I grew up a private eye. Observation was the family business: my father was the private investigator and surveillances involved everyone. I grew up learning that careful, patient observation leads to transformation. Through surveillance, the vastness of ambiguity and confusion loom, creating spaces that are almost unrecognizable. These liminal spaces reveal clues to how we construct ourselves and our environments, and finding them is the goal of my work."
ESSAY by Susan O'Malley
"What we call places are stable locations with unstable converging forces that cannot be determined either by fences on the ground or by boundaries in the imagination – or by the perimeter of the map. Something is always coming from elsewhere, whether it is wind, water, immigrants, trade goods or ideas."
- Rebecca Solnit, Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas
"Growing up in Martinez, California, artist Alex Clausen would sometimes accompany his Dad, a private investigator, on stakeouts. This wasn’t exactly a Veronica Marsversion of father/son investigating, he never liked the long stretches camped out in a van waiting for something to happen, “it was actually really boring” he tells me. But maybe it was during these slow days when he started to wonder about all the things that went unnoticed in a place, the hidden layers that were overlooked because no one bothered to pay attention. Even though Clausen may not have appreciated surveillance as a youngster, it is fascinating that his art practice is not a far stretch from those slow and methodical stakeouts that nudged him to look at the world around him a bit differently.
Like a private investigator, an artist carefully observes his surroundings to solve problems, ask questions and shift one’s perspective. At Ampersand, Clausen has closely examined and recorded the patterns and movement of sunlight in the space. The gallery windows face westward so that the bright San Francisco sunlight pours inside during the afternoon hours. Over the course of a day, Clausen carefully marked the moving sunlight of the southernmost window using string and blue tape. He then used his measurements to create a three-dimensional sculpture, giving volume to an otherwise ephemeral force of nature. Comprised of a wooden framework covered in a semi-transparent textile, the geometric abstract form glows gem-like as light passes through, casting a cool glow throughout the space. Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, the work physically describes the range of sunlight in the gallery for one day of the year. With each passing day of the exhibition, the sunlight slightly shifts in relationship to the work, one moment contained within the blue-tinted fabric, other times bleeding just outside of it.
With his careful measurements and labor-intensive process, the completed sculptural object dominates the gallery, creating an architectural barrier to fully navigate around. During “off” hours when Ampersand is a living space, the awkward structure interrupts the daily routines of its inhabitants. Clausen is interested in the aesthetic and conceptual limitations of what he calls his “obtuse methodology.” He admits that while there are certainly tools, equations and websites that can calculate the exact position of the sunlight in a particular place at a particular time, he is most interested in the first-hand experience of discovering the intricacies of this phenomenon. Not unlike the work of the California Light and Space artists of the 1960’s and 1970’s Insert Title Here shifts the viewer’s attention to his or her own perception and movement through space. The work disrupts the architecture of the gallery/living room while drawing attention to how the outside force of the sunlight moves through the space.
It is no surprise that, like many artists, Clausen started out as a scientist. As an undergraduate at University of California, Davis, he majored in both art and physics. At one point he thought of pursuing aeronautical engineering and spent a summer interning at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where the big abstract questions about the nature of the universe and how things work in the smallest level captured his imagination. It didn’t take long however, for his scientific inclinations and questions to shift towards artistic pursuits. While the laboratory presented an enticing environment, making art opened a looser and more open-ended way of engaging with the world around him.
On one hand, observing and methodically mapping the sunlight at Ampersand is an elegant constraint to build an architectural and site-specific installation. But the work also points to our relative scale in relation to a dynamic and powerful force – the sun. It is the center of our solar system, providing light and warmth during the daytime hours and is the key factor in photosynthesis. Everyday it rises and sets (by the way, it takes 8.3 minutes for sunlight to reach earth), and its light creates patterns in our homes, bodies and out in the world. Here on the West Coast, the fierce sunlight famously casts high-contrast shadows that are as sharp as black cutout silhouettes and powerfully illuminates the smallest details on leaves and shrubs. In paying close attention to a phenomenon we may easily take for granted, Clausen has built a space for introspection.
Part private investigator, part scientist and part architect with an eye for the strange and beautiful, Clausen’s work encourages the viewer to slow down, look, and consider the multiple converging forces that comprise a site."
-Susan O’Malley, March 2011
Artist, curator & Print Center Director
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art