As Wafaa Yasin unfurls the cover of a glossy teal waterbed, Nathaniel Parsons discovers a shirtsleeve pocket to hold his whittling knife. Charlene Tan installs a doorknob.
Two days before the opening of Working Conditions at Southern Exposure, these artists are preparing for two months of public art making. Until January 7, nine local artists will have 24-hour access to Southern Exposure's gallery space, which they've transformed into a shared open studio.
The artists will investigate diverse concepts of work and process in a personal space delineated by grey tape just a shade lighter than the gallery floor. While each project is distinct, the open environment encourages outside influence, and anyone is welcome to participate. None of the artists know quite what to expect other than work changed by the unpredictability of a more public, people-dense process.
Donning a lab coat -- you can wear one, too -- Charlene Tan receives visitors in a small corner room she built to serve as a site for gathering and fostering ideas, a process she calls "info-mining." Tan refers to brainstorming conversation as casual research and development, and her hut gives this experience a place to live while putting it on uncommon display.
You're invited to use any of Tan's research tools to investigate anything at all. The walls in her space, made of pegboard, are ready to receive notes on developing concepts. Deftly navigating her iPad, Tan showed me one detail of the conversation she'd just had with a shoe designer -- the various outrageous shoes worn by Daphne Guinness, heir to the Guinness fortune.
A stack of papers in Jennie Ottinger's space reads: "Work hard! Have fun! (Kind of) Be an assistanteer! Sign up below for free evaluation." Ottinger's temporary assistanteers will arrange her paints, prepare her canvases and construct collages from photocopies of her sketches. Before you commit to the role, make sure to consult the endorsements from Oprah and Beyoncé. The position of assistanteer is to be taken extremely fake-seriously. Clarifying a list of potential tasks, Ottinger explains that you will work "under my watchful eye. Please no self-expression. This is not kindergarten. It is a job."
In a moment of seriousness while looking through the collages made by participants at the show's opening, Ottinger said that she thinks the ongoing public input will change her work. Even though visitors were given clear instructions not to deviate from the artist's vision, each collage was unique, presenting Ottinger with potential new formats for her narrative.
Built to mimic a campsite, Nathaniel Parsons' woodcarving studio is furnished with trail guides perched above vintage toys, a Coleman cooler, a first aid kit, and a red-and-white checkered blanket. A picnic table -- with camping chairs on the bench for more sensitive sitters -- serves as the space's centerpiece. You're free to carve into the table, or take a walk with Parsons as he carves. An element of your conversation will be integrated into the piece, and you'll be able to keep the finished work after the show closes.
Every Wednesday night, when Southern Exposure stays open late for happy hour during the show's run, Carlos Ramirez will hold high score competitions on the vintage Donkey Kong video game machine in his space. Winners will take home oversized gold, silver and bronze video game-esque tiles made from clay. Visitors can also help Ramirez press clay into pixel-shaped molds while watching the tournament (or anytime).
In a space adjacent to Tan's information hut, Wafaa Yasin's teal waterbed will soon be integrated into a performance featuring a sail-suit Yasin is constructing in her area. Across the room, Zachary Royer Scholz is erecting temporary structures from wood and foam.
Off-site, Elysa Lozano is researching sustainable economy, opening her space for Southern Exposure employees and volunteers to make their own work. Steven Barich is continuously drawing one meticulous pattern, and Ethan Worden is building and rebuilding amorphous wooden architecture that threatens to cross studio lines.
The projects are still young, and if all goes as planned, the space will look very different a month from now. Each artist's approach to labor in their process may change from the input of studio mates, friends, and strangers. We'll be checking in periodically with the artists, so look back here for updates. And if you visit the show and need a rest from all the work, you can always sit down and check out the mugs in the temporary break room.
Working Conditions runs through January 7, 2012 at Southern Exposure in San Francisco. For more information visit soex.org.