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Bay Area Artists Have Taken Over Yerba Buena

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Photo by Jason Boyce

It’s opening night for the latest exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  Under-, over-, and well-dressed people of every age and persuasion are chatting in drink lines and dancing in the pink-tinged darkness of the Center’s theater. In short order the DJ will blast a snarky, sugary house number that sarcastically proclaims: “Google! Google! Apps! Apps! Google! Google! Gentrify me!” Before that a rotund clown will shove no less that seven frozen Drumsticks brand chocolate-coated ice creams snacks between her bulging cleavage. But first, drag-show host Honey Mahogany gives a shout out to the YBCA for prioritizing local artists with its latest exhibit.

Every three years, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts opens its galleries to local artists. This is the eighth incarnation, aptly titled Bay Area Now 8, or BAN8. The program explains there is “no overarching thematic agenda other than the quality and persistence of their work.” From fine-painted portraiture, to conceptual sculpture, the installation is a sweeping hodgepodge as distinct, enriching and disjunct as the Bay Area is eclectic, diverse and expensive.

Carrie Hott’s “Sunset on the Polygon” takes inspiration from the US-Japan internet cable, which has a landing in Point Arena, CA. Photo by Jason Boyce

The works span medium, culture, gender and sexual orientation — truly offering something for every taste. While Taravat Talepasand‘s painting Westoxicated hints at conflicts inherent in her Iranian-American heritage, David Bayus’s digitally animated video, Psyman’s Acres foretells of a grim and confusing future near the collapse of the universe.

Taravat Talepasand’s painting “Westoxicated” – note how the background color is integrated into the colors of the scarf. Does a part of the artist vanish beneath her culture? Photo by Jason Boyce

The quality of work is impressive. Take, for example, the ultra high-quality digital pigment prints of Jamil Hellu‘s photographic portraiture. The edges, colors, grains and exposures are flawless. Paired with various members of the LGBT community, Hellu poses scenes that are at once absurd and serious, beautiful and shocking. Hellu’s concept also packs a punch in that, by including himself in the pictures, he’s trying to tie the work to the community and vice versa.

Jamil Hellu discusses one of his Hues project prints.
Photo by Jason Boyce

“My inclusion…” Says Hellu. “Had to do with the idea of so much separation and what’s happening right now politically. And I tried to think of how to create a body of work that is not about the author, but is about us.”

“I hope to underscore with this image the absurdity of fitting a round peg (queers) into a square hole (the heteronormative paradigm), while highlighting the personal tension between what society expects/demands of me and my actual dreams and desires,” Jader told me. (photo and caption via Jamil Hellu)

In the next gallery, Josh Faught‘s large, hand-woven tapestries are at once soothing and confusing. While the pieces are chaotic, there are recognizable patterns and there’s also a comforting aspect to objects that are ostensibly blankets.

“I’m always interested in making an urgent expression through the slowest means possible,” he says. “And to think about what happens in that space between the time that it takes to actually have that sentiment, to express something and what actually happens when you’ve finished making that thing.”

Josh Faught’s “Attachments.” Photo by Jason Boyce

In addition to fine and conceptual art, this year, for the first time, the YBCA incorporated architects and design firms into the BAN8 curation. The Oakland design firm, Hyphae, brought one of the most remarkable installations, titled the Piss Prophet (but we’re nicknaming it “The Wizzer of Oz”).

Stepping inside a circular curtain in the museum’s back courtyard (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!), one is presented with a large, yellow funnel into which one is urged to answer the call of nature (the first call – not the second, thanks).

After the release, the substances are channeled down into a sort of automated laboratory-meets-ant-farm. The end result is pure, drinkable, water (like the opening scene of Waterworld) and phosphorus and calcium. It also gives you a print-out with a few numbers about your number one.

“A funnel?” says a woman who prefers to pee namelessly. “That’s very…uhm…interesting.”

Don’t you find it interesting that the word ‘interesting’ is rarely used to mean interesting? In this instance, ‘interesting’ is a place-holder for: ‘disturbing,’ ‘odd,’ and ‘of a questionable sanitary nature.’

Hyphae Design’s Brent Bucknum (right) explains how the “Piss Prophet” refines urine. Photo by Jason Boyce

“We got really interested in how we use urine basically as a receipt of our day,” says Brent Bucknum, using the word interesting as nature intended. “There are over three thousand variables we can understand in your urine. Whether they’re proteins that are in there, bacteria… If we do a really detailed analysis we can say, ‘Oh, you probably have flame retardants in the couch that is in your house.”

This is apparently interesting enough that the  ‘interested’ woman does wait in line to try the urine-distilling ant-farm. And thankfully there are a few enthusiastic attendees willing to go on the record about going in the funnel.

“I think it’s fun,” says Castro resident Taylor Cuffaro. “I think it demonstrates what art should be. This is actually doing something. I love the idea that our waste is not waste.”

“Today, for the first time in many months, I thought of drinking water,” says Cuffaro’s housemate Christie Seyfert. The two housemate’s compared their urine data and it’s ability to replenish crops: Christie took a 484-milliliter pee from which 3.07 delicious oranges could be fertilized. Taylor had a 238 milliliter of pee that could yield 2.89 oranges. Seyfert wants to bring students from Nomad Middle School to the exhibit.

“I can’t think of anything a middle schooler would rather do,” she says. “Than pee into a funnel in a courtyard and then get a printout of their own pee’s analysis.”

It’s worth noting that this is the second recent installation at the YBCA in which micturition plays a role (check out the article on Tom Sach’s Space Mission: Europa).

Meanwhile, inside, Rhonda Holberton’s virtual reality piece, Again For the First Time, offers people a chance to have a digital reiki session done on their energy by putting on an Oculus headset. Ah, the Bay Area, always using technology to form really neat solutions to things that weren’t really problems. Once inside the VR, one is treated to a disembodied set of hands floating in virtual space above you as you lay on the mat. It leaves one wanting more but admittedly feeling more relaxed. Heck, maybe it does work!

Museum goers check out Rhonda Holberton’s “Again for the First Time.” Photo by Jason Boyce

In a related event, the Frist Museum in Nashville currently has a VR piece in its Chaos and Awe exhibit. The wearer is toured around an abstract sculptural landscape as though riding on an invisible tram. The tour of odd shapes and the hollow back-side of a 3D-rendered telephone delights the senses but doesn’t offer a strong statement. Meanwhile, the BAN8 piece offers plenty of conceptual purpose, but not much razzle-dazzle. A collaboration between the two artists might be phenomenal, a mixture of intellectual impact and exhilarating imagery. As the musician/actor Flea once said: “You don’t want to be all flash and no smash.”

Across the room is a sparse, industrial framework with Giger-esque flatscreens. Getting closer, what appeared to be computer monitors are actually intricate layers of welded metal. They arch organically, mounted to frames of bars that have been coated with a subtle green hue. Between them are tongue-shaped armrests built again out of layer upon layer of bead weld and upholstered with a luminescent green vinyl that compliments the green tinge of the steel frame.

Charlie Leese’s “SURROGATE: FACETIME” Photo by Jason Boyce

The work touches the intersection of the digital with the organic with public space and private space. It’s like if the Bay Area’s dominant internet culture was turned into a carnival ride. Stand there and stare at this flat plane. Stay on your side of the tongue. Admire the monochromatic structure that rises high above you. Don’t worry that your space has been predetermined for you.

Artist Charlie Leese has defined his installation as three distinct works: the supporting frame is titled INTERNAL: STRUCTURE #2; the screens shapes are SURROGATE: FACETIME; and the armrest tongues are appropriately titled ARMREST: TONGUE. Leese also plays the part of the modern artist to a tee, wearing self-made clothes and sporting a long patch of hair at the base of his neck, paired a shaved head — a style that would still be unique in a Mad Max film.

Around the corner, another piece touches on the current state of affairs in our fair metropolis. Sadie Barnette’s From Here takes over the glass atrium that looks out onto Mission street. It consists mostly of a sparkling vinyl couch, pink window film and a large cursive font reading “FROM. HERE.” Above the couch is a picture of her and a young child of the eighties and a small lamp that evokes a classic, American living room.

Photo by Jason Boyce

While I feel the urge to sit on the couch as though a zoo animal on display (perhaps while gripping a megaphone, broadcasting: “That’s right! What?! Yeah! Keep walking!” Barnette says the piece isn’t as much about confrontation as space.

“I guess I was thinking of it more as a sign projecting outward,” she says. “So maybe like a person is not so much on display but sort of taking up space. Maybe more like a throne.”

Dwell on that for a while.  Good, bad, entitlement, gentrification, intersecting cultures, civic planning, civil rights, racism, economics, and the internet and picture this wylde-styled eighties chylde sitting on grandma’s vinyl-covered-couch, gazing at the world through ultra-pink glasses. Let your mind wander across the hills, valleys and rivers of the Bay Area and picture all those spaces that people “from here” occupy. Far out.

There’s far too much more to fit into describing here. With the range of work, one could spend several days at this exhibit, digging into meanings, examining details and interpreting each statement. If you’re able to go, please take the time to explain Sofia Cordova’s piece Meltwater Pulse 2b – a Dada-ish sculpture composed of a gas generator, a bucket, a stick, wire, and white dove wings.

Photo by Jason Boyce

And after playing an 8-bit video game by Porpentine Charity Heartspace titled Almanac of Girlswampwar Territory & the __girls Who Swim as Fertilizer Through the Warm Soil Cloaking the Roots of the Glorious Tree of Eugenics (giving birth to a black hole in a Walmart parking lot at 1 am), I turned to photographer Jason Boyce and say: “I am not bestowed with the wealth of time necessary to understand the point of this game.”

Photo by Jason Boyce

“Well,” he says. “Maybe you’ve figured it out already.”


More Info on All BAN8 ARTISTS

Bay Area Now 8 Exhibit @ YBCA
Sep 07 2018 — Mar 24 2019


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Sam Devine

Sam Devine

Sam Devine is drawn to art, bikes, song and drink like the proverbial moth to the moth-heroin. He plays music, tends bar, and makes silly animations. In addition to writing for he's appeared in several publications, including MotoSpirit, SF Bay Guardian, Motorcyclist magazine, SF Weekly, and The Kiteboarder. Check him out at