On a recent Saturday, I had the rare experience of overbooking my evening plans. It was the opening of Kerri Conlon’s exhibition at Cloaca Projects and the opening of The Last Waltz, a jam-packed group show at Delaplane. It was also each venue’s last show.
The Newest Art Space in Santa Rosa is a Rolling Wall in a Suburban Garage
To lose two artist-run spaces in one year, let alone one month, is a tough blow to the Bay Area art scene, especially when those venues championed emerging artists and ambitious projects, and created with every event a much-needed sense of critical mass. So it was with a mixture of relief and excitement that I drove up to Santa Rosa a week later to visit a suburban garage.
Labor is a Medium, run by Daniel Glendening out of the home he shares with his wife, Emily, is an exhibition space of six-by-six feet. It’s a freestanding wall on wheels, turned to face the neighborhood during open hours, that will host three artists over its first season of programming.
The project space, Daniel writes on LiaM’s website, comes from “a desire to create a space to connect in community... To do that, we offer up what we have: a little bit of space, a little bit of time, and food. The pizza is always free.”
On Feb. 19, LiaM opened its inaugural show: Spacing Out by Breanne Trammell, who recently returned to her hometown of Fairfield from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Trammell’s work is a greatly enlarged and gridded-together image of the Daily Republic newspaper, centered on an ad she ran in its Jan. 12 issue. “The void is an endless source of love,” the classified reads, under an image of two heart-shaped links.
At first glance, the artwork of Spacing Out is a combination of ink and marbled paper, but it is also so much more. It extends in both time and space—into those past issues of the Fairfield daily newspaper, but also into the Glendenings’ present garage. Behind the freestanding wall, a table bears takeaway postcards, stickers, a broadsheet with Daniel’s eloquent writing about Trammell’s work and a black-and-white zine. (The original, taped-and-pasted-together copy of the zine is also on display.)
But the table is also home to Daniel’s ongoing painting practice. On the other side of the garage, there’s Emily’s sewing station and a rack of her quilted jackets. If the labor of Trammell’s artwork is fully transparent, so too is the labor of turning one’s personal space into a semi-public gallery. The garage isn’t always a gallery, just as an artist isn’t always actively making their art.
The whole display makes clear: Being an artist is an active and passive process of absorbing information from the surrounding world. Trammell’s work, in particular, draws from an omnivorous set of interests, which include (according to her CV): bird watching and identification, “unskillfully playing the drums,” the Post Office, road trips, oddities, crossword puzzles, jokes and regional snacks.
The ads Trammell placed in the Daily Republic are a charming balance of earnest pep talks and hippy dippy platitudes. Under a smiley face: “LEAP INTO A CLOSE ENCOUNTER (if you want it).” Another reads, “Infinite possibilities exist here, there, everywhere, nowhere, now!” And a personal favorite: “Seeking co-pilot for co(s)mic adventures.”
These unattributed snippets of text call to mind another enigmatic jokester of Northern California—Sacramento’s Stephen Kaltenbach, who beginning in 1969, placed 12 imperative ads in Artforum that were almost invisible as artworks. They’re less mellow than Trammell’s, perhaps a sign of his expected audience (and their general emotional state) versus hers. Kaltenbach’s exhortations include “Start a rumor,” “Tell a lie,” “Smoke,” “Trip.”
And while Kaltenbach’s ads were meant for the art world, existing alongside ads for gallery shows, Trammell’s lived among estate notices, apartment listings and—most often—ads for the classified section itself. They are, as Daniel describes, “a glitch or interruption in the expected information flow,” designed to spark curiosity or mild confusion and leave it at that.
At LiaM, the gentle ambiance of Spacing Out is completed by a soundtrack of space-themed songs (the nine-hour playlist by artist Jesse Malmed is titled “I have nowhere to go and I am going there”). A TV mounted above the bar Daniel built for Emily during the height of the pandemic plays Earth Girls Are Easy, a glorious 1988 sci-fi comedy starring Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum.
For a little bit of time, in a little bit of space, the project of LiaM is a reminder that art can—and should—exist anywhere. It can meet people where they are and momentarily transport them into world that’s just a little more open and joyful than the status quo. Driving south, I thought, Yes please, more of this.
‘Spacing Out’ is on view at Labor is a Medium through March 26, Saturdays 10am–6pm and by appointment. Details here. Future shows in the summer and fall will feature artists Connie Zheng and Jodie Cavalier.