Manifest 770, a group show curated by Scott Jennings, on view at the Incline Gallery through October 8 is a fairly straight forward, albeit congested, multi-disciplinary art exhibition. It deserves a look, not only for a few of the show's standout pieces, but mostly because it serves as a representation of what successful community-based support can accomplish in the San Francisco arts scene.
The real draw of Manifest 770 isn't necessarily the show itself, but how the show came to be. Active artist collectives and businesses making room for experimental re-use of space are just a couple of the elements that make Manifest 770 and the Incline Gallery worth a visit. It is all the more fitting that this display of creative support is happening in what used to be one of the city's mortuaries.
Scott Jennings curated Manifest 770 at Incline Gallery as a nod to the original mortuaries and other funeral-related businesses located on the 700 block of Valencia Street where the gallery, built around an unusual series of ramps and walkways, is located. The exhibition is the first at Incline to directly reference the building and location in the curatorial premise.
Jennings and his business partner Jesse Siegel, both longtime San Francisco residents, put a call out for work through their collaborative business, mosshouse. Created in August of 2010, mosshouse offers curatorial services, exhibition programming and art consulting, servicing mainly the Bay Area. After sifting through the submissions, 12 artists, both local and national, were selected for the exhibition with work ranging from photography to painting to video to large-scale installation (or as large-scale as you can get on a ramp viewing space).
Jennings' curatorial statement is nearly ambitious to a fault. Building on the concept of mortuaries and preparing for death, the opening sentence of Jennings' statement reads, "Manifest 770 is about examining human experience through the contexts of our life, relationships, time, memory, and absurdity, passing through into oblivion, temporality, catharsis, death, transformation and societal transgressions as expressed through various art media."
That's a lot to get into one show, which is perhaps why the exhibition feels too crowded, with 12 artists sharing the unconventional gallery space, but there are some effective pieces present.
"We Must Be Bigger Too," Claire Jackel.
Claire Jackel's installation, We Must Be Bigger Too is a cut-out paper cityscape that hangs on the wall and jets outward into the space. The formed buildings, made of delicate, cream colored paper are both intricate and simple, allowing for this imagined city to seemingly push through the wall and into the space. The installation, located on the middle landing of the ramp, dramatically references the past buildings and future business in this real gallery space. Jackel's piece conjures up images and thoughts of the gallery's past life as a mortuary as well as the businesses, buildings and people of the neighborhood who have come and gone.
Another standout piece is the video by Egyptian artist, Bassem Yousri, who was in Cairo during the most recent uprisings. He pointed his camera outside of his apartment window and simply hit record. Crowds of people stream past. Their pace quickens and slows, yells and screams increase and decrease in volume. Simply put, it is hypnotic and tense. There is no way to anticipate violence, chaos or joy, it is a raw take on a revolution that has already been packaged and consumed by our mainstream press and Yousri's work certainly points to Jenning's examination of the tenuous human experience.
The Incline Gallery, created and sustained in large part by the San Pancho Art Collective, is situated between Paxton Gate and The Summit, a cavernous cafe that looks a bit like the Apple Store without the retail displays. To enter the gallery, you walk down a long pathway between the two buildings. There is another hallway, you turn the corner and then you are in the space, or at least on the ramp to the landing above. The gallery offers a fair amount of wall space and some unusual sightlines, but it is also a small and tight hallway that can be challenging to curators and artists alike. The Incline Gallery asks the viewer to work a little bit. From the unorthodox entrance to the tight viewing spaces, it is up to the viewer to change position and learn to look in new ways. These challenges however, can often produce surprising and creative results, making Incline Gallery an apt setting for Manifest 770.
The exhibition sought to revision current Valencia Street through its history, to look at familiar settings in a new way, to place ourselves in the past without losing our tether to the present and then to consider the consequences of being in this kind of liminal space. Whether this was successfully accomplished is not as important as the experience, entering this kind of space for yourself and considering your place along the spectrum of history.
Manifest 770 runs through October 10, 2011 at Incline Gallery, 766 Valencia Street in San Francisco. For more information visit inclinegallerysf.com.