If you've boarded a train at the Castro Muni station since mid-July, or spent time near the intersection of Market and 16th Streets, you may have noticed the large text panels and billboard installations currently on view and wondered what you were looking at. Well, wonder no more. San Francisco-based artists Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan have temporarily intervened in our daily comings and goings with Moment to Moment, the latest installment in the ongoing project THE THING Quarterly, on view first in San Francisco and later in New York City, London, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. (Though the San Francisco exhibition was scheduled to be up July 22 - August 18, as of this writing it was still on view in the Castro Muni station, though how long it will remain is anyone's guess. Companies that own public ad space will often wait until the next campaign is ready before swapping out the old one.)
What is THE THING Quarterly? Broadly described, it is a publication... with a twist. Each iteration of THE THING is conceived of and executed by different collaborators. Since its inception in 2009, an impressive roster of artists and writers have contributed, including Miranda July, Allora & Calzadilla, Dave Eggers, Tauba Auerbach, and the annoyingly ubiquitous James Franco. Each project produces a useful object, such as Eggers' readable shower curtain, July's forlornly notated window shade, and a switchblade Franco commissioned to honor the memory of friend and fellow actor Brad Renfro. Through subscriptions and sales of these unique items, Herschend and Rogan have established both a sustainable business model for small arts institutions, and thrown a wrench into our thinking about the form and lifespan of a "publication." For Moment to Moment, Herschend and Rogan drew from the work of conceptual artist Dan Graham, who was inspired by the musings of the 19th-century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who considered the book as a performative, collective experience. Between 1966 and 1968, Graham co-opted commercial advertising space in publications as wildly different as Harper's Bazaar and The New York Review of Sex. In each instance, he drew attention to text-based work and proposed that publications, conservative or radical, were ideal locations for intervention.
Billboard by Leslie Shows (16th & Market, SF)
Castro Muni Train Station, Starlee Kine
Susan O'Malley, Right Now
Moment to Moment brings the "art as media" model up to date, utilizing multiple platforms including print, billboards, animation, film, painting, and photography. For these impermanent interventions, Herschend and Rogan selected artists with whom they've worked and whose practice supports the idea of an interactive, transitory publication. In the Castro Street station, Starlee Kine and Dave Muller's playful, vaguely angst-infused musings are presented as two large floor pieces sited on both inbound and outbound platforms. Opposite the text pieces, on billboards usually occupied by advertisements, is the work of Susan O'Malley and Harrell Fletcher. Taken individually and as a group installation, the pieces offer relief from our otherwise frantic daily agendas. O'Malley's colorful, graphically oriented pieces reroute my speeding thought train back to the moment at hand. Editions that will soon roll out in Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo and online feature the work of John Rubin, Anthony Discenza, and Kota Ezawa and offer the same momentary respite, encouraging us to slow down, finish a thought, take time to talk with a friend.
Harrell Fletcher, Hello There Friend
Anthony Discenza, Advisory #1: Feasibility Studies
Over the course of several emails, Jonn Herschend graciously fielded numerous questions about the origin of the project, and the decision to join forces with a corporate sponsor, Levi's Made & Crafted. It is obvious that all parties involved want to see the varied visual components of this project well represented and their creators acknowledged for their contributions, and that goal was achieved. It's also apparent that the promotion of Levi's brand name was important, and that's frustrating. We -- art consumers -- are accustomed to large institutions partnering with corporate entities to present exhibitions. Without Charles Schwab, Wells Fargo, and others on board, most museums could not afford the near-staggering costs associated with mounting major shows. It stands to reason, then, that another corporate-sponsored art installations would not raise any eyebrows.
In this instance, however, the THING/Levi's Made & Crafted union is troublesome, if only because the partnership defies the critique posited by Dan Graham and others including Joseph Kosuth, Adrian Piper, and Robert Heinecken whose work interrogated pervasive consumer culture. As historian Gwen Allen states in her contribution to Moment to Moment, which is accessible both online and in print, Graham and others had solidly anti-establishment motives in mind when the means and execution of placing their work in the public realm was undertaken. By comparison, the latest offering by THE THING reads more as promotion than subtle provocation to thought.
Moment to Moment is on view in various cities and online. For more information, visit goodthingstaketime.com