We Remember the Sun

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© courtesy of the Artist and Walter and McBean Gallery
We Remember the Sun
Curated by: Mary Ellyn Johnson

800 Chestnut St.
San Francisco, CA 94133
June 19th, 2008 - September 19th, 2008
Opening: June 18th, 2008 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Financial District/Wharf
Tue 11-7; Wed-Sat 11-6


Looking back, forty years in retrospect, on the single cultural moment that May of 1968 marks, We Remember the Sun will examine the myths and legends emanating from a period of time punctuated by activist protests around the globe—protests against, among other things, capitalism, racism, sexism, class divisions, rampant unemployment, and the US government. There were student uprisings in Brazil, France, Mexico, Senegal, and Spain; the cultural revolution in China; the Naxalite movement in India; the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia; and, eventually, such phenomena as the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany. In the US, the civil rights and antiwar movements were in full swing, as were, importantly for We Remember the Sun, the movements of nonviolence and passive resistance (“Flower Power”) that flourished in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, in Berkeley, and throughout California. Just as quickly, however, a still-continuing backlash began to unfold. Along with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy, the endless-seeming war that took place in Vietnam represented a sad articulation of the American hegemonic status quo, which resisted social and political ideals of change and culminated in the election of Richard Nixon.

The question the works in this exhibition together seek to pose is this: How, if at all, has the utopian vision, the countercultural zeitgeist, that suffused both local and global realms of progressive thought and action in the late 60s carried over and across to 2008? Is there—beyond the various nostalgias and disappointments, the fabrications and deconstructions—a genuine legacy of potential political optimism and action still to be devised and articulated?

Without wanting to foreclose competing logics of response, We Remember the Sun comprises a series of interconnected but individualized comebacks to the question it poses. If Paris was and remains the locus classicus of the unrest of May of 1968, California was and remains the mythical space of utopian possibilities, the goal of a wild and westering impulse promising total freedom, the land of endless seasons of growth in ideal weather. As the exhibition’s title (taken from a work by Shaun O’Dell) implies, however, the “California” that the utopian visionaries conceived of and sought not only no longer exists, but, in a certain sense, never did. Thus, the longing built in to O’Dell’s quest after the setting sun—a sun that metaphorically represents both California and 60s utopianism—is, ironically, a longing strangely already prevalent in 1968. Rather than indicating another “god that failed,” then, the remembered sun in question can be seen, especially in the artworld context, as the ongoing unpossessed promise of the social, cultural, and political ideals the transformations of 1968 first taught us to imagine.













We Remember the Sun offers a view of contemporary art practice in California that, though acknowledging its deep roots in the utopian (and dystopian) ideals of the 60s, contends that it is only through the acceptance of mediated rather than absolutist ideas and practices that the political progressivism of the 60s can remanifest itself under today’s extraordinarily different political conditions—conditions that contrast globalization with antiglobalization (or, otherwise conceptualized, altermondialisation); multiculturalism with zenophobia; terrorism, initiatory or retaliatory, with negotiation and peace; and environmentalism with corporatism run amok. Put more specifically in terms of We Remember the Sun (an exhibition of the work of California artists), it is only through the process and labor of yielding to the demands of (artistic) mediums, mixed or singular—it is only through production—that revolutionary ideas and practices can effectually take shape.