Visions Into Infinite Archives at SOMArts

In the last several years, SOMArt‘s Curatorial Commons Residency Program has produced strong exhibitions like Hidden Cities (2014) and Glamorgeddon: The Spectacle (2015). The current show, Visions Into Infinite Archives, curated by Black Salt Collective, continues this trajectory and the upcoming exhibition Timeless Motion promises to be intriguing as well. Visions . . . energetically showcases a wide spectrum of artists of color engaging in equally varied disciplinary and conceptual approaches. Throughout the exhibition, artists produce cultural and temporal mash-ups that reference past historical events and cultural traditions while simultaneously invoking present-day personal experiences to consider the future.

Amongst the show’s stronger offerings are Natalie Ball‘s installation of two quilts, Incident at Fort Klamath and Coley the Giant (both 2009). As rectangular quilts, Ball’s work speaks to the  introduction of quilting to her Modoc tribe in the 1960s and the intimacy of domesticity, personal space, and beds. Stretched vertically between ten foot pine poles, her quilts become like flags or banners that claim territory and are symbolic of group identification, political statements, or social affirmations. Ball collages scraps of fabric, gestural drawings, and text to create a playfully ambiguous mix of references. For instance, Ball has stitched “incident Klamath Falls” with a pronounced black strip of fabric separating “incident” into “incide” and “nt.” While “incide” suggests genocide, patricide, infanticide, “incide” also phonetically conjures “inside.” In addition to Ball’s word play, the artist may be self-effacing by referring to any of the massacres or injustices that white settlers/the American military enacted on native tribes as an “incident.” Or, Ball could be simply referring to a minor personal event. Within Ball’s works, she suggests a balance between playfulness, politics, and personal experience.

Equally strong, but pursuing a more interactive sculptural approach, is Elisa Harkins‘s Minor Histories (2016). With a wooden canoe-like form, Harkins references indigenous water crafts. Rather than being a hollow vessel that a person could sit in, Harkins has enclosed it to become a bench or a closed container. The artist has painted “Minor Histories” on the vessel, as if to name the boat or label its contents. With tarot cards on the canoe’s bow and stern, the artist alludes to the directionality of boats and the mysteriousness of the future and travel. On one end of the boat is a number “21” card—in tarot a trump card representing the world—and on the other end is a number “6” card that foresees journey. The accompanying nine cassette tapes are labeled with the names of people and the dates of their tarot card readings. With only one headset, listening to Harkins’ tapes is an intimate experience where one hears sonic approximations of tarot readings that range from dissonant to soothing. While tarot cards are believed to come out of the late 14th or early 15th century Italy, they have entered popular culture for some as amusement and others as pensive inquiry. With a mixture of cultural references and symbology, Harkins’s analogies embrace the unknown adventures of the future and the complicated histories of the past.

Visions. . . commendably showcases 30 artists from a wide spectrum of cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. As with the excellently conceived and diversely attended events over the summer in conjunction with Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the full house on the rainy opening night for Visions. . . affirms that the San Francisco Bay Area supports programming that speaks to our multi-cultural communities. Additionally, Visions. . . indicates that audiences not only champion highly acclaimed artists like Carrie Mae Weems, Theaster Gates, and Coco Fusco (featured in Radical Presence), but also emerging artists of color. While Visions. . . demonstrates that there is strength in numbers and inclusivity, SOMArts—and other galleries and arts organizations—also need to compliment these massively inclusive exhibitions with tightly curated or solo exhibitions featuring artists of color. For these artists to flourish, they need more opportunities to showcase their range works and more frequent exhibitions. Moreover, the public has demonstrated that they are hungry for the opportunity to develop a more intimate understanding of these artists’ work.




Visions Into Infinite Archives is on view at SOMArts in San Francisco January 14–February 10, 2016.
Images courtesy of the artists unless otherwise noted.

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