The original San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery location is a charming little building on Grove Street, adjacent to the Department of Public Health and around the corner from City Hall. The 1914 structure was severely damaged during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the gallery was relocated to nearby 401 Van Ness. The San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, which presents the exhibitions program of the arts agency of the City and County of San Francisco, has continued to use the Grove Street storefront like a public display case. Though it no longer hosts public gatherings inside, its interiors remain publically visible and provide an unusual venue for new work, viewable day or night beyond the plate glass window. Artists are invited to present large scale, site-specific projects that respond to the architecture and larger politics of placement. Tahiti Pehrson's Sea of Love (2012) earlier this summer presented a phantasmagorical wonderland of hand cut paper installed to great effect, with spent razorblades and mirrors scattered on the floor. Terry Berlier's Open Secret (2011) incorporated neon and light projections and was perhaps most spectacular at night.
Presently, Randy Colosky's The Air & Space Museum (2012) is a living installation that functions as both horticultural experiment and clean room for experimental exploitation of bureaucratic and logistical limitations. A small raised garden bed in the center of the gallery puts growth on display among the battery of equipment required to foster life indoors. Lights hang within an elaborate tract of ventilation tubing, surrounded by dehumidifiers, fans and a watering system. At the center of this activity, a plot sprouts fragile green shoots. Given the vaguely dubious nature of this grow lab set up -- isn't it most often a signifier that someone is trying to grow pot? -- there is something amusing in the discovery that Colosky's labor-intensive display is incubating wheatgrass, Nasturtiums, Zinnias and poppies, among other plants. A receipt for supplies from Sloat Garden Center #3 on 3rd Avenue is subtly taped to the window for clarity.
Courtesy: SFAC Galleries
As his title suggests, with this work Colosky is challenging traditional notions of sculpture and installation. The Oakland-based artist's larger practice draws on his family's personal history in building trades to explore alternative uses for the materials and processes of commonplace industrial goods. Over the three months of the exhibition, the artist will also create a stop-animation film of the plant growth; following the show, the video will be presented on the gallery's website. This last gesture, of placing a digital iteration of the project online, cycles back to challenging conventional notions of space. Digital images can't supplant the experience of seeing the project evolve in person, of course. Viewed early on the seedlings were modest, but a lot can happen in three months, as anyone who successfully grew tomatoes this summer can tell you. Plants can demonstrate astonishing tenacity -- volunteer corn, for example, can grow in cracks in the pavement. Observing the force of life in nature can be heartening on some level. Colosky's installation unexpectedly provides a vantage point for this experience in an urban city center art gallery.
Coincidentally, Colosky's installation at 155 Grove Street is next door to Please Touch Community Garden, a community project occupying reclaimed urban space initiated by artist Gk Callahan in partnership with Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired and funded by the San Francisco Arts Commission. Previously an abandoned lot filled with trash and discarded hypodermic needles, over the last several years it has been rehabilitated from the ground up by an invested group of Blind Leaders and volunteers. An installation of old sign letters leans against the brick wall shared by the gallery and spells out "to see a world you otherwise could not see," amidst a flowing garden and casual seating. The coincidental juxtaposition of Colosky's The Air & Space Museum and Please Touch Community Garden highlights the ways artists are able to envision new paradigms and navigate the governmental red tape that can stymie progress. Both projects demonstrate that growth can be cultivated with limited resources, in unexpected places. In doing so they also re-imagine the landscape, from within and without.
Randy Colosky's The Air & Space Museum is on view 24/7 at 155 Grove Street through October 7, 2012. Colosky will be in conversation with SFAC Gallery Manager Aimee Leduc on September 28, with a reception to follow. For more information visit sfartscommission.org.