CONFERENCE PANEL HIGHLIGHTSEdited by Anna Novakov from original texts by Terri Cohn, Constance Lewallen and Susan Pontious
During the San Francisco Art Commission session, Nayland Blake gave a tour of his work Constellation for San Francisco's new public library. The piece is a contemporary response to the beaux arts architectural tradition represented by San Francisco's old main library. The design of the Old Main was derived from the Sainte-Genevieve Library in Paris, designed by Gerard Labrouste. One of the key design elements in this building are the stone plaques on the exterior of the building inscribed with the names of famous authors. The outside of the building is the index of its contents, echoing in its form the idea of the book. Blake has taken this idea of the index of authors inscribed in stone, and converted it to light. "Looking at the building, those names become like tombstones, the metaphor I wanted to work with was a guiding light," recalls Blake. The artwork is located on the 53 ' x 9' wall that rises out of the central atrium and is encircled by a five-story grand staircase. A perforated metal wall system provides openings for fiber optic tubing which is used to illuminate 160 glass shades, each inscribed with the name of a 20th-century author whose works are contained within the library. The list, representing a culturally mixed group of heavy weights and popular writers, is both an homage and a critique of the earlier tradition. Blake says "libraries are not universities, they are spaces for democracy."
The next stop on the library tour was the collaborative work of Ann Hamilton and Ann Chamberlain. This piece is also a historical reference point to the libraries of the past. It is a tribute to the discarded library reference system -- the old library catalogue cards. When the public library moved into its new building, it made the transition to an on-line computerized catalogue system. Hamilton and Chamberlain took 50,000 manila cards, and with the help of over 150 "scribes" working in 12 languages, hand-notated each card with either quotes from the book itself or references to related books. They are, as Hamilton suggests, instant "artifacts . . . a memory of a whole way of doing something that is past or is passing." The notated cards are now imbedded in translucent layers of artisan plaster on 5000 square feet of the core diagonal wall that penetrates the new building on three levels. According to Hamilton, through this physical arrangements of the cards, they hoped to allow viewers the "happy accident of butting into something," as they browsed the walls.
Rigo 96, speaking on the Capp St. Project panel, is a muralist, whose highly graphic word paintings are in the style of traffic signs. The monumental red, white and blue Innercity Home, sponsored by the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, on the side of a new Knox SRO building for low-income residents located at 241 Sixth street can be seen from as far away as the busy Central Freeway. Rigo worked with the area's residents and merchants to find words that would express their hope and pride in the future. His One Tree at the freeway entrance at Tenth and Bryant streets is a large arrow pointing to a single tree that has managed to survive in a nature-hostile environment of cars and concrete. Extinct, painted in bold yellow and black stripes above a Shell station at Fifth and Folsom streets, warns of the depletion of natural resources and perhaps, all that is lost in the name of progress, but is ambiguous enough to invite many interpretations.
DIWA Arts, the Filipino-American artists collective, were speaking at the Headlands Center for the Arts session on the last day of the conference. They discussed Bayanihan Transition which was installed, in collaboration with the Capp St. Project, in the window of the Gran Oriente Filipino Hotel at 106 South Park street, a residential hotel primarily for elderly Filipino men. Building upon an earlier installation at Filipinas Restaurant in San Francisco, DIWA Arts used various electronic media to present excerpts from interviews they are conducting with the hotel's residents. The excerpts have insight into their cross-cultural experiences and unique lives.
Johanna Poethig, a member of DIWA Arts who also works independently, collaborates closely with the people and the places where she works in order to create murals on buildings and freeways, painted and stacked tire sculptures, and ceramic tile murals. Her mural To Cause to Remember, created for the South of Market Multi Service Center, a homeless shelter at Fifth and Bryant in San Francisco, is a quintessential example of her ability to subtly address and unmask the dualities inherent in publicly positioned work. Here, Poethig has employed the Statue of Liberty as an icon for the site, which she has manipulated in order to particularize her statement about freedom in America. Rendered familiarly erect but laterally recumbent, the statue's torch -- the flame of emancipation -- floats above her, just out of reach. Underscoring Poethig's historically contradictory interpretation of this universally understood symbol of freedom are its chained drapery, which keeps it earthbound, and the portion of the statue's text which refers to this country's historic beckoning to the "tired, poor, huddled masses."