There's No 'I' in 'RELAY,' Where the Emerging Art Scene is a Team Sport

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Maryam Yousif, 'CHebba Bent Bladi,' 2017. (Courtesy of the artist and CTRL+SHFT)

We don't have much in the way of regional surveys here in the Bay Area. There's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Bay Area Now (usually a triennial, though BAN8 isn't returning until 2018), and SFMOMA's SECA Award (usually a biennial, though this year's exhibition comes after a five-year gap), but to get a regular taste of what's happening in the local art scene, the onus falls on viewers to do the legwork of piecing together the bigger picture.

Thankfully, group exhibitions like RELAY at the West Oakland gallery and studio collective CTRL+SHFT happen often enough to fill in some of the gaps between the major institutional -ennials. Organized by artists Sophie Lourdes Knight and Hannah Perrine Mode, the show features work by 15 emerging woman-identified artists, all Bay Area residents, working in painting, sculpture, textiles and photography.

Laura Rokas, 'Once in Two Moons,' 2017.
Laura Rokas, 'Once in Two Moons,' 2017. (Courtesy of the artist and CTRL+SHFT)

Inspired by the SFAC's most recent Chain Reaction show, five initial artists, Knight and Mode included, selected an artist whose work inspires them -- that second artist then selected a third. A hand-drawn map of the show (with charming illustrations of each piece) identifies the work and the order in which it entered this web of connections. According to the organizers, many of the pieces were made specifically for the exhibition, carrying the conversation that started with the selection process into the final display.

Tosha Stimage, 'Disappearing Act,' 2016.
Tosha Stimage, 'Disappearing Act,' 2016. (Courtesy of the artist and CTRL+SHFT)

Little rewards for close viewing are scattered throughout. Behind Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo’s signboard painting the new story, for the future sits a blue step stool and a stack of takeaways with quotes credited to Grace Lee Boggs. “What time is it on the clock of the world?” repeats again and again between statements of purpose for a more equitable, human-centered society. Underneath one corner of Maria Guzmán Capron's marvelously textured pedestal for Pepa are the legs and tail of a small stuffed animal in yellow pants.

Rachel Cardenas Stallings, 'Somatic Awareness Coats and Curtain,' 2017.
Rachel Cardenas Stallings, 'Somatic Awareness Coats and Curtain,' 2017. (Courtesy of the artist and CTRL+SHFT)

If any conclusions can be drawn about the proclivities of Bay Area artists from a self-selected group of 15, RELAY makes an argument for a preoccupation with vivid colors (Megan Reed’s fuchsia, vermillion and ultramarine floor sculpture), tactile experimentation (Rachel Cardenas Stallings' satiny multi-hued coats) and faces (Maryam Yousif’s sphinx-like, cloud-wrapped columns).


Other visual connections between the works -- created both by coincidence and influence -- are part of the pleasure of viewing RELAY firsthand. Like the show's illustrated map, Knight and Mode give shape to often-invisible networks of mutual support in a region where being an artist is never an individual undertaking.

'RELAY' is on view at West Oakland's CTRL+SHFT (1430 34th St.) through June 4, 2017. Gallery hour are Saturdays and Sundays, 12-6pm and by appointment. For more information, click here.