“Fabric of a Nation”. This piece will be included in “Local Legends” at @mirusgallery opening Friday March 4th.
So, we often use this metaphor “fabric of a nation” to describe an underlying social order in a given place. In this country, the United States, we have spent the past few decades in a perpetual state of unraveling, reconfiguring and wearing some swatches of that fabric threadbare. This fabric is the battlefield. A war between fundamentalists and progressives or more concisely between: what was, and what will be. More recently it’s become a battle between democracy and some quasi autocratic fist-pumping pro-freedom (for some) disinformation campaign. So we tear, mend and re-orientate the scraps of the fabric, in an effort to make that fabric either more inclusive and fair or more exclusive and entitled depending or your position in the political spectrum. There are some, somewhere in the middle still sipping lemonade on a long summer’s afternoon waxing sentimental for the old 13 horizontal stripes and 50 white stars and a return to a simpler time. As if they are waiting for a storm to pass, waiting for the climate to cool and waiting for some strange antiquated white protestant leaning agenda to settle back into a lull of contentment. On the further ends of the spectrum are the fascists we fought to defeat 80 years ago and the progressives we in large part assassinated 60 years ago.
In the balance, the 3rd largest population and 4th largest land mass sit in front of phones tossing impotent insults, in a fog of disinformation, echo chambers and blaming. It’s a patchwork of failure and dysfunction. Eventually, that scale will tip. Either toward democracy, inclusiveness and grand aspirations or toward some romantic notion of a past that propped up “some” at the expense of many. Tattered as it may seem, understand that this fabric is still being woven.
On, Saturday October 30th from 3-6pm, at 5733 San Leandro St. Oakland CA, The Oakland Cannery Collective will exhibit their work in honor of Arthur Monroe and the remaining Cannery artists in an exhibition space, once an artist home and workspace, that has been purposefully left vacant by the new building owners in an attempt to weaken the community. The remaining artists have chosen to occupy and transform this vacant space. The exhibit will provide the public a sense of the impact of the Cannery Collective and pay tribute to art and Arthur Monroe’s community building.
There’s no “Their”, there.
Oakland has a protracted history of being a place without a “there”, without an identity, an ethos, an epicenter. This was punctuated succinctly by Gertrude Stein when she reduced her hometown to a one liner: “Theres no there, there”.
Before parts of east Oakland were selected to become the “there” of Oakland’s cannabis green zone- the city’s latest attempt at economic redevelopment- the creative community was here . Over the past 40 years these empty warehouses became “their” studios and “their” homes. They were here when there was no there. As in many of America’s most suffering cities when manufacturing pulled out, the creative community filled those voids. Where investment turned tail, accepted losses and bet on a different horse, the creative community became the custodians of entire swaths of abandoned places.
Artists took the detritus of the failing post-industrial cities no longer making brake pads, soup cans, or coat hangers and they produced culture. Our identities, as Americans, are wrapped in that culture, both when it is comforting and proud and when it is hateful and scarring. That culture is a record of who we are, and in that, it is profound and invaluable. Beyond the arts that flourished here, something else happened. The arts community reimagined the possibility of what these vacant properties could become. This is perhaps the most valuable result of these endeavors, they created their own affordable housing.
Arthur Monroe founded these spaces at the Cannery following a similar model he helped start in New York. These repurposed buildings became communities that served both the arts community and the city well. However, while the arts community viewed itself as a vital component of the city, the city viewed that community as a stop gap measure; place holders in the absence of new investment. New investment arrived in 2018 in the form of legalized cannabis. Men and women in suits gathered around a conference table at city hall to discuss the placement of Oakland’s “Green Zone”. They looked to east and parts of west Oakland and said “How about there?” As if these spaces were still vacant and still up for grabs. In that discussion a big part of Oakland’s creative community was all but forgotten. After 45 years they had yet to earn a possessive pronoun. Overnight, the spaces artists built had accrued in value exponentially. Artists, like those here in the cannery suddenly found themselves as an impediment to cannabis investors and a new gold rush.
For close to 4 years, the artists at the Oakland cannery have been enduring constant harassment, code violations and threat of eviction. Arthur Monroe passed away in October of 2019 under these conditions, fighting for the right to remain in the place he had built. Of the 20 studios in the cannery, 9 are now vacant.That number will be 11 in a few months. These vacancies are a result of concerted efforts by cannabis developers, who now own the cannery, to make our tenancy so unpleasant that we simply leave voluntarily.
This exhibit of Arthur Monroe and the remaining cannery artists is an effort to pay tribute to both Monroe’s art and his community building achievements, and at the same time give the viewer some sense of the breadth of the cannery collective . Not long ago, this exhibition space was a home with tenants. It has been purposefully left vacant by the current owner in an attempt to weaken this community. The remaining artists here have chosen to occupy this vacant space, and transform it. What better way to demonstrate and celebrate the ethos of Arthur Monroe and this collective.
The past 18 months, for me, has been a process of constantly adjusting and responding to external forces in an attempt to remain in balance. The results have been mixed, the variables constantly moving and my endurance waxing and waning. This has been perhaps the most trying time in my life, not because of the events that we have all experienced, but more because of what I have been cut off from. The world seemingly and slowly began to recede. I am not my own best company. It made me realize how much I depend on the external for inspiration and the experiences that fuel that inspiration. Like the man said “ all things are contingent and also there is chaos” which is to say… “Shit happens”
Balance in these times is both difficult to maintain and the margin of error narrow. We live in a time of consequences. I suppose this is a collective test of wills. I wish you all balance, some solace and all the required endurance.
This is something I think almost everyday, primarily because in retrospect it has been one consistent truism throughout my life. Almost nothing about my life was predictable, at least not by me. It has always evolved and changed as often as circumstance and environment. It is both a comfort and a warning. Moreover, it is simply an acceptance that all things are uncertain and always have been. In my mind, to get too far ahead of myself is futile because my predictions will almost certainly be wrong. This idea simplifies things for me; it forces me to start everyday where I am and be open to experiences that may seem to be interruptions of whatever I may have planned. Those “interruptions” are often actually catalysts. I’ve found paying attention to interruptions often leads me to places that my limited imagination had never conjured. The idea also reassures me in shit times that all things are temporary, and in good times that nothing lasts forever, so be present and enjoy it.
The piece itself is made from unintentional things. The background consists of butcher paper used to mask overspray; it was utilitarian, never intended as a work itself. The image was an outtake from another project that had nothing to do with this concept, a discarded image. Both were basically refuse. Also, I had planned on writing the title across the bottom in French. I have been studying French for a few months now and I thought it would be apropos to look back on this piece years from now and laugh that either I was a fluent speaker or had given up on French shortly after making this.
I asked a few friends to help with a reasonable translation and even that evolved over a few days. With different opinions and different phrasing and a lot of disagreement about an accurate translation. In the end I just wrote all the various notes at the bottom to demonstrate that even the translation, like the piece itself, had become something other than what I imagined.
So whether I am absolutely at the end of my rope or feeling invincible, I generally pause and tell myself “Wait. We’ll see what happens…”
This is another piece I created with refuse from my studio. As it turns out what’s laying around my studio is a fairly good indication of what my preoccupations are. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic I was closely watching the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. There was evidence of this around the studio. Images, notes etc. I am not a Hong Konger, I am simply someone who has always found a certain joy in Hong Kong, mostly because of the sheer unlikelihood of the entire place and it’s ambition. It is a place of contradictions that functions at breakneck speed. Where the past and the future joust in close proximity often with no outcome or victor. It would seem that Hong Kong and what it is; it’s culture, traditions and it’s unique disposition, are on borrowed time. The autonomy promised to Hong Kong in 1997 has quickly eroded and it’s audacity muted. It would seem that it is destined to become South Shenzhen, an extension of the mainland’s greater bay area vision. China may have done what no one thought was possible in the past 40 years, economically and technologically, but it is not Hong Kong. It lacks the magical outcome that happens as a result of coincidence and confluence. Whereas, China is a linear climb towards a specific future, Hong Kong, it seems has wandered, meandered and stumbled upon some fairly unimaginable outcomes. It is still surprising to this day. It is like no other place I’ve ever been.
The text on this piece roughly translates as “When a rat eats a bird the rat doesn’t fly, the bird just dies” My point is that a culture overpowered by another doesn’t result in the conquering force inheriting the virtues and character of that place; those virtues and that character are erased. Lost.
In that, there is something that is worthy of mourning. For me, the loss of some kind of magic that happens quite infrequently in history. Something unpredictable and fascinating, and without it, the world becomes a rather linear prosaic existence.
There is a balance to symmetry in human forms that is curious. Too little and things seems awkward, deformed, perhaps even ugly. Too much and things seems synthetic, cold, artificial even. We have a very strange relationship with perfection. There is almost certainly a sweet spot of the “right” amount of variation from our left to right sides. This piece is an examination of that embedded sense we have. Our sensitivity to that balance should not be underestimated. It can be the difference between repulsion, attraction or alienation. It is a core part of how we see the world and respond to things.
The odd price, $68.79, for anyone who is curious is simply a numerical analogy. 6:8 :: 7:9. In keeping with idea of things being symmetrical and/or analogous
Each can comes with a numbered, embossed steel dog tag and is also signed and numbered by hand on the bottom of the can.
On June 5, 2018, Rachel Riot and I embarked on a journey with the goal of photographing the carpets of every casino on the Las Vegas strip. We trekked the 8.6 mile round trip, bouncing from freezing air conditioned casinos to the 100º+ heat on the strip, stopping only occasionally to rehydrate with White Castle burgers and vodka tonics. Normally I avoid projects this demanding, but this was different. What lie ahead was the opportunity to catalog an array of poor design choices unlike any other. Like John Steinbeck in “The Log from the Sea of Cortez”, we hardly understood the gravity of what we were about to see. By the end of the evening as we sat waiting for the roller coaster at New York New York, our revelations had only begun to sink in.
Most people spend there time in Las Vegas looking at the lights and attractions, distracted by the bells and whistles of slot machines, the barking of croupiers, and the incessant soundtrack of Rihanna’s “We Found Love”. It’s a dizzying cacophony that engages hyper-arousal, or the “fight or flight” response, as it is more commonly known. In that frenzied state, most spectators miss a truly horrifying piece of the Las Vegas experience: Looking down.
There on the floor of every casino lay hundreds of thousands of yards of some of the most aesthetically offensive, and at times vertigo inducing, motifs ever woven. Paisley and Fleur-de-lis mashed against faux graffiti and jungle foliage in unimaginable ways. Nautical instruments and aerial views, post modern geometry, architectural and textile embellishments are all arranged in a manner that reduces thousands of years of science and art to a mélange of nothingness. You get lightheaded and feel somewhat nauseous, maybe from the heat or from the pairing of colors, or perhaps because you realize others see these horrible floor coverings as “opulence”.
The haunting question that refrains in your head is not how this was done, but why. With each photograph in this book, we have hypothesized on what may have inspired the art direction. What exactly were they going for? What were they inspired by? It’s as if you force fed someone flowers, and skittles, and tropical fish until they vomited all over the floor. It’s mind boggling. It is the ethos of excess. The same ethos that has led to other great American abominations, like the Meat Lovers Pizza, the Chevy Avalanche, Hummer limousines and Nicki Minaj. Attention grabbing spectacles satisfying the appetite for more. Las Vegas mirrors the worst outcome of the American dream; a constant wanting of more followed by a quick dismissal, endlessly repeating.
After an entire day spent surveying hundreds of these catastrophes of interior design, bloated and befuddled from the heat, you feel as if you’ve fallen down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole. By the end, you are staggering about the strip with Grace Slick’s voice singing “White Rabbit” in your head. Except…you are completely sober.
As the sun set over the strip and the sky turned that deep blue of The Palazzo’s carpet, I am reminded of what a wise man once said about ambition; “You’ll never be taken seriously if you let people walk all over you.”
Tragic Carpet: A photographic study of every carpet on the Las Vegas strip
James Swinson and I made this piece at the end of December 2019. Shortly thereafter, the Pandemic hit and we never posted it. The title refers to the Hong Kong protestor’s 5 demands and “not one less”. Unfortunately, the pandemic put the struggle of Hong Kongers on the back burner internationally. But In December of 2019, that fight was still weighing on me. Hong Kong is like, well… Hong Kong is Hong Kong and it isn’t “like” anything else. In a world where cities increasingly become a homogeneous blur, Hong Kong remains a unique hybrid that stands alone, for good and for bad. It is neither Britain nor China but rather the unlikely result of an unlikely series of events. I can’t say exactly what it is to me; it’s draw, it’s seductive nature, the almost unimaginable quality of it’s existence, but somehow it always makes it’s way back into my consciousness. For my girlfriend Rachel, Hong Kong is some magical place of origin that existed before America perverted that reality. For me and my best friend Moy, it is our happy place (if there is such a thing). I was suppose to move there for a while in 2020. Those plans were obviously interrupted. So it becomes that “what if” scenario that haunts me. What if the pandemic hadn’t come? What if the Chinese security law hadn’t been passed? What if this last bastion of originality simply fades and becomes another engineered product of China, like Shenzhen, like Dongguan? What if? I suppose the world will keep spinning, but be a bit less sweet, with a bit less joy and a lingering sense of loss.
As for the piece… I tried to convey this beautiful cacophony of a city being bound by ropes. Additionally James and I placed a petrol bomb in a cage, as the security law essentially outlaws dissidents. Finally the piece is covered with keys to represent the displacement that will inevitably occur in Hong Kong. The loss of home. Keys are of no use when you are never going home. My faith and hope remains in Hong Kong. I am not a Hong Konger, I am an outsider. One day I hope to be back there and I hope “there” is the same. Hong Kong, in my mind, is too precious to lose, but China is too big to stop and the United States has been resigned to being an impotent participant in these affairs. I am reminded of a quote by Hong Kong Filmmaker Wong Kar Wai. “We love what we can’t have, and we can’t have what we love.”
“Not one less” Mixed media on found door. 31 x 81 inches (79cm x 206cm)
These works are from a group of collaborations I did during quarantine with painter James Swinson. I was in Oakland and James was in Southern California. We would send the pieces back and forth by mail adding or changing them. Generally when James and I collaborate we are together in the same physical space, working simultaneously, so this process was completely different. The surprising thing, for both of us, was the palette. We both regularly tend toward muted colors and somehow this time both of us did the opposite. With each iteration the pieces kept getting brighter. I think we used color to compensate for all that was lacking during quarantine, the world outside seemed muted enough. Subconsciously we both went in this direction literally replacing some of the vibrancy that was gone from out lives with color. This was our optimism, literally looking on the bright side. As for the effectiveness of that remedy, I can say it worked. the world did not flip back to normal but my mental state definitely improved while making these. I was a bit catatonic for much of this past year, as many of us were. I felt I was biding my time. Making these pieces, changed one specific thing in me: It made me want things again. At some point during the past year I just shut down, I wanted nothing, I was doing very little. Making art has always been the magical elixir for whatever ails me and as much as I know that, it is a lesson I have to relearn quite often.
Archival pigment print on 300 gr Moab Entrada Rag Matte Fine Art Paper
edition size 50
Signed and numbered
“Sign 1” HPM Edition of 5
11×14 inches (28x36cm)
Archival pigment print on 300 gr Moab Entrada Rag Matte Fine Art Paper
Hand worked with iridescence acrylic, pencil and prisma color
edition size 5
Signed and numbered
Sometimes I make an image that I am always referring back to. This is one of those images. For as many times as I have tried to describe what it is that haunts me about this one, I have never been able to adequately describe why. These are the ones I never let go of because for me personally I can’t really ever unravel the draw. In my opinion, on a very basic level that is what art is for. To communicate something or evoke something that you couldn’t otherwise express with words or by some other means. I’ve never been able to translate this piece into a coherent explanation. It is solitary experience . Which is what makes it meaningful to me.