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‘Exposed to all the Ruins’: a Fitting End to Et Al Gallery’s Decade in Chinatown

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By Cole Hersey

Et al gallery in Chinatown, San Francisco. Photo Austin Leong IG: @awstain

In a small basement tucked between two convenience stores in Chinatown, there is a room filled with flowers beside walls covered in eclectic pairings of photos. It’s for the final show anyone will see at Et Al, a staple gallery in San Francisco’s Chinatown for the past eleven years. 

Put on by the pop-up curator project jane galerie, the show Exposed to all the ruins is, as jane galerie puts it, an exploration of things between “life and death.” However, while attempting to explore this contrast it also works as a fitting final show at Et Al’s original Chinatown space, with the flowers slowly wilting before the gallery shuts its doors for good in March.

Exposed to all the ruins features photographs by Laura Kiernan, Dane Manary, Mark Ochinero, Aysia Stieb, Kristen Wong, and Jasmine Zhang, and floral arrangements by Olive Couri, Saint Flora, Veronica Llave, and Pearl.  Photo: Austin Leong

The show consists of an eclectic group of photographers exploring many forms and styles of photo making, from mixed media and vinyl printed images, to quiet moments in muddy rivers. Each photographer presented two images based on the theme of living between life and death. Once the photos were selected Janie Radler, the curator behind jane galerie, gave the images to florists and other artists for them to reinterpret the images in their floral arrangements.

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The work is aesthetically and intentionally all over the place, with some arrangements refined and simple, as in Olive Couri’s long stemmed hyacinths in an aluminum camping pot to pair with Dane Manary’s photos. Or as for Jasmine Zhang’s vinyl photo prints, rigid yet wild with color and textures being met with dead and decaying stems laying on top of iron cubes and clear, dirt filled pots beside seemingly heavy maroon colored lilies.

And yet, while the images and the works themselves hold such differing material, the sense of in between is present and remarkable across the show. Walking though it, viewing each set of images alongside their floral interpretations is the same as staring out into different windows at someone’s house in a chaotic neighborhood. The art all works together as a whole despite their differing aesthetics, like walking on a street of brilliant and unique homes. 

Photo: Austin Leong

Entering the space a second time, if you can, is a great way to experience this show as well. Every day some lilies are falling to the floor, flowers are losing their structure and smell and the space is changing. It’s an unstable show, but life is just as messy, confused, and uncertain. So why should this work be so settled?

Laura Kiernan, a photographer based out of Oakland, showed two pictures of signs, one of two strawberries beside a road somewhere in the Central Valley, the other of a smiley face in the middle of the Sacramento River Delta asking us to have a nice day. The photos were paired with an arrangement of green plants, some painted red, and white buttercups in the image of a strawberry. Kiernan’s work in this show, quiet and pensive, admires the understated beauty of these roadside and handmade signs, presenting these things we pass by with an appreciation that they often are not given, but perhaps should.

A short passing moment that might not be met again, Kiernan seems to be doling out her appreciation for a small moment, remarking that she was there, but more importantly, that that is there.

Photo: Cole Hersey

Another work I had a hard time looking away from was Dane Manary’s photographs. The first image is of a person hidden by a large piece of steel as the light hits their hands reaching beyond it, holding a person in a long white dress, their legs bent and barefoot, like some odd bit of grace or debauchery (it’s hard to tell which) in front of a decrepit backdrop of New York City. The other image is of a large swan boat facing left with a much smaller great egret facing the boat in a canal. The pairing, much like Kiernan’s, seems to be admiring that these moments can exist at all. Olive Couri, who created a small hyacinth arrangement for the pieces, seems to be focusing on the long white movements in Manary’s work. It’s just a really satisfying thing to see all together. 

Photo: Cole Hersey

This reverence for each moment and its passing is made all the more present as you think of the gallery space itself. Just over a year ago, co-directors Aaron Harbor and Jackie Im signed a year lease for the entirety of the building. Then, their previous landlord sold the space. The day after Christmas, Harbor, and Im received word that the new owners were not interested in renewing their lease, leaving them to say goodbye to the space they have loved and made space for upcoming artists and curators for over a decade. 

“We love this show as our last show for as much as we love to work with artists and curate ourselves, we feel it is the responsibility of any art space to support the next generation of gallerists and curators,” said Aaron Harbour over email. “We knew very little about the artists and nothing about the florists in the show. Janie Radler gave us exactly what we hope for: genuine surprise, and a thoughtful exhibition.”

“Janie Radler gave us exactly what we hope for: genuine surprise, and a thoughtful exhibition.” – Aaron Harbour

Everything on the walls and in the vases are beautiful and captivating in their own right. And maybe you’ll disagree with me. Maybe you’ll find the swans and rivers and wildflowers wilting all to be boring, though I’d be surprised if you thought so. Maybe you’ll think I’m reading into it all too much, or not enough. There’s only one way to find out. Go to the show. And if you’re living in the city, I really don’t see why not at least give it a quick look.

The flowers will keep wilting until February 24 when the show closes. DM jane galerie (@janegalerie) on Instagram to see the show, or stop by the open hours Friday and Saturday from 12pm – 5pm.

Et al
620 Kearny St.
San Francisco
jane galerie x Et al.
January 20 – February 24 2024

If you end up missing this show, jane galerie will be putting on another show at Upper Market Gallery in the Castro on March 9th. Radler is also curating another show at Root Division on Mission and 7th Street from March 27 through April 18. More info upcoming on jane galerie Instagram.

Aaron and Jackie are still keeping busy with Et Al etc., their Mission location right next to the  24th St.  Mission bart station. Go check out the opening of Anthony Discenza’s show, Daemonomania on March 1st.

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