Assembled under a programmatic directive, select works in Residency Projects II resonate surprisingly well with one another, suggesting sly curatorial vision or a fluke of consistency and coincidence. The show is the second of two exhibitions featuring projects by Kala's 2010-2011 Fellowship artists, who were awarded access to Kala's traditional and digital printmaking equipment. One of the appeals of Residency Projects II is the artists' diverse usage of this equipment to make sculpture, animation, and photography, as well as traditional prints. The show's cohesion might be due to the fact that the exhibiting artists are San Francisco locals and alumni of California College of the Arts (CCA). (Residency Projects I included local and international artists of various alma maters.) It is worth noting that the Kala directors selected the Fellows in conjunction with Jens Hoffman, director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts.1 Whether it's fair to allege institutional bias or merely assume kinship of taste, the works exude intelligence and confidence.
In a context where many artists employ digital print media, Elisheva Biernoff's screen prints are strikingly refreshing. Extending her ongoing investigation of landscape, Biernoff presents a staggeringly labor-intensive, twenty-two-color, thirteen-page screen-printed book entitled Long Short Story (2011). The cover depicts a suburban enclave nestled in a riverside alpine meadow. The graphic simplicity of the forms, combination of muted tones and chirpy house colors, and understated American architecture recall nostalgic, idealized print images. This tranquility is humorously upset with a series of natural disasters -- cut-out overlays -- that afflict the neighborhood in quick succession. The low-slung ranch houses and Cape Cod cottages fall victim to floods, mudslides, asteroids, and sinkholes. Set against majestic snowy peaks, Long Story Short speaks to our paradoxical relationship with nature and the undercurrent of vulnerability in this meteorologically extraordinary year.
Renée Gertler's bag sculptures attempt to boil down the wonder of sublime nature to a few elements. Gertler photographed and re-constructed found bags -- ranging from plastic shopping bags to Goldfish cracker packaging -- from laser prints. They are portals in which to view meticulously punched starry skies reflected in plexiglass sheets. Second surface reflective materials occasionally present an undesirable visual stutter, which is the case in a few works here. Wonky construction seems at odds with the ethereal galaxies; nonetheless, the bags compel viewers to duck down to peer at the tiny universes that await them.
Gertler is known primarily for large sculptural installations in basswood; four small black-and-white photographs mark a subtler and more formal direction. Basswood reappears, encrusted with glitter, in Milky Way Model (2011). Dramatic lighting underscores an elemental sensibility, recalling the origins of the medium and associations with the pursuit of knowledge and perceptual limits. LA at Night (2011) is a stunning photograph of a backlit, perforated page. Here, the handmade idiosyncrasies make the photo more endearing, as it offers the pleasure of simultaneous recognition alongside the discovery of seeing something for the first time.
Black Bag: M81-Galaxy, Renée Gertler, 2011; Courtesy of the Artist and Kala Gallery, Berkeley.
Like Gertler, Zachary Royer Scholz employs a photograph of crinkled paper, though Scholz's work is better viewed as an installation of interventions or material manipulations. Alone, individual works can seem like exercises. 43.543.523.511 (shelf displacement) (2011) is as it sounds: the top of a shelf is lined with a photograph of an adjacent strip of concrete floor, while said strip is layered with white material, as if a shelf laminate. The work presents ontological questions: What is art? When does an artwork end or begin? What happens when one conflates the infrastructure of art display with objecthood? Viewers can gain a bit more traction when they consider the shelf piece in relationship to 564228.511 (crumple, crumple) (2011), in which a masterful photograph of crumpled brown paper has itself been wrinkled and placed atop a steel frame that suggests the form of a table. Both shelf and ersatz table shed utilitarian function in the process of becoming platforms for, or materials in, artworks. Viewing the crumpled photo is a perceptual exercise in the push-and-pull of actual and photographic space. The theme of perception resurfaces in 9.522.55111 (15 damaged retinas) (2011), a series of mounted and stacked ophthalmological scans. They conjure questions about opticality and its limitations.
Jennie Ottinger contributes four paintings of fictional characters and a short digital stop-motion animation (all 2011) of the figures enacting the romantic arc of Voltaire's Candide. Ottinger's brushstroke is both loose and accurate, exceptionally demonstrated in the handling of the tiny eyes and mouths used to convey dialogue and express emotions. These appear in the video and framed works off to the side, carrying the painter's loose, improvisational process over into animation's notoriously painstaking procedures and back into the display of two-dimensional works. A sense of process is established, as in a freeze frame of the artist's desk. Painted on canvas paper, the cut-out figures are not unlike paper dolls -- if activity books rendered characters in borderline grotesque, fleshy pinks.
Jessica Ingram's series of eight photographs depict overgrown, neglected, and unintentionally chuckle-worthy corners of America. The residents are absent, yet their dreams and follies abound in signs, objects, and folk murals. Welcome to Utopia (2008) depicts how one missing letter can exemplify failure. This photo of a gap-toothed roadside sign welcoming visitors to "UTO_IA" is a modest testament to irony. Zap (2010) is a witticism about two abandoned, vacant spaces: a boarded-up house and a gutted arcade machine. Ingram's pictures were coolly photographed, with impossibly large depth of field, between 2008 and 2010. The presentation of extant images on photo paper seems like a very straightforward use of media and equipment -- particularly in comparison to the new techniques, directions, and forms embraced by Biernoff, Scholz, Gertler, and Ottinger.
Residency Projects II is on view through October 15, 2011 at Kala Art Institute and Gallery in Berkeley. For more information visit kala.org.
1. Full disclosure: The author is a CCA alumna, former Wattis employee, and former Kala intern (1998-1999).