Now & When

What would you do if someone asked you to create a project based around the theme of time capsules and handed you a budget of $2000? In continuation of its 40th anniversary celebration, the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery asked a group of artists exactly this, and the resulting exhibit, Now & When, consisting of ten newly commissioned pieces, is both entertaining and suggestive. Documenting a moment is a tricky business, an exercise in subjectivity, and the show's strength is that it consists of projects that address this without being too serious.

In Long Shot: Dining, Labor & Ponies, for instance, Packard Jennings takes a group of friends -- other conceptual artists -- out for a very expensive dinner, wherein the idea of time capsules is discussed and proposals for projects are made, including investing in a group IRA. In true conceptual form, it's the documentation that ends up on display, including the bill for dinner. Viewers can choose to watch or read; the whole thing was video-taped, transcribed, and compiled into a document titled "The Invisible Labor of Contemporary Art." While sometimes I find this technique tedious, in the case of Long Shot, the tongue-in-cheek humor keeps the piece fresh.

While much of the work in the show involves a similar combination of photography, still objects, and video, Guillermo Gómez-Peña's The Mex Files is notable for its absence of images. To experience the piece, you must enter a small room, painted orange-red and separated from the rest of the exhibit by a black curtain. The room is big enough for two chairs, which face each other at a distance of only a few feet. Next to the chairs is a small table, on top of which sit an empty bottle of tequila and a shot glass, left over from the opening night. A sound recording of Gómez-Peña reading texts about some of the more important moments in his life plays continuously. Gómez-Peña's insightful humor and eroticism, in combination with the architecture of the space, create the feeling of an intimate ceremony, and leave me thinking that storytelling had to have been the original time capsule.

Perhaps the most poignant example of the subjectivity inherent in any form of documentation, however, is Gay Outlaw and Bob Schmitz's piece Do Not Enter (Angus's Room). For Do Not Enter, the artists obsessively engaged the parental impulse to arrest the speed of childhood by photographing every last object in their nine-year-old son's room, creating a catalog of the resulting images. Some of these images have been reprinted at their original scale, including the pattern of glow-in-the-dark stars on Angus's wall. The catalog is also available for perusal in book form, but the heart of Do Not Enter is a large mobile on which dangle replications of Angus's most precious objects at various scales, including Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, a baseball and a super-sized Lego-head.

The plan is to pack Do Not Enter away and show it again in 40 years, and it is this piece of information that most sums up Now & When: rather than saving the actual contents of Angus's room, it will be Outlaw and Schmitz's catalogue and mobile that stand in for time's detritus. No matter how much energy we put into accurately capturing a moment, ultimately all we are left with are our own interpretations.

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Now & When is on display at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery until September 4, 2010. Guillermo Gómez-Peña will be giving personal, one-on-one performances of his piece on July 15, 2010, from 6 - 8pm. For more information visit sfartscommission.org.

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