BODIES IN SPACE (S): NEGOTIATING SITES/SIGHTS
by Anthony Torres
Bodies in Space(s): Negotiating Sites/Sights
Madrone Art Bar
500 Divisadero Street, San Francisco, CA 94117
September 2, through December 4, 2010
What follows is a self-reflexive exposition of Bodies in Space(s): Negotiating Sites/Sights currently on exhibit Madrone Art Bar. This is a personal narrative on the necessity and viability of alternative art venues as forums for art outside the institutional walls of museums and galleries.
I first became aware, through a friend, of Madrone Art Bar and its proprietor Michael Krause, a former student at the San Francisco Art Institute. I was introduced as an art writer and curator and subsequently there were conversations regarding the possibility of writing about the space in the future. The thought of writing about the Madrone as an art venue raised some issues for me, because at the time, technically, it was a bar that had a range of art objects: murals, photographs, paintings, and videos, and while it displayed art, it did not have a formal exhibition program.
However, the more I began to look at and think about the space, the more I began to view it as a site-specific installation art environment, where two and three-dimensional works, multi-media, and performance are combined to form an aesthetic constellation that affects attendees’ perceptions.
On display at Madrone Art Bar are works of all kinds, including painting, photography, mixed media, sculpture, video, film, design, fashion, spoken word, music and dance. At Madrone, I began to understand and appreciate that the nightly festivities and interior space could be considered as structured and orchestrated to blur boundaries between the architecture, everyday commodities, art objects, sound, video, performance, and social life.
As a bar that houses art, what stands out is the centrality of the patron as an integral participant, both viewer and viewed, subsumed in the environment, where the gathering of people at any given time forms an essential part of the scene. As such, the spatial environment functions as a social stage, and therefore the nightly activities take on the form of performance events.
With the possibility of writing about the Madrone, and subsequently curating an exhibition that became Bodies in Space(s): Negotiating Sites/Sights, I began seriously to consider how Madrone serves as a vehicle for questioning and expanding common assumptions of what constitutes the nature of art, as well as the subversion of galleries or museums as the sole location for exhibiting, and defining, the meaning and validity of art. I also began to consider how a space like Madrone could function to disseminate, democratize, and re-articulate the significance of art in an alternative functioning exhibition space—the neighborhood bar as an art forum.
I thus was concerned with how conventional and settled notions of art and its presentation might be, and were, subverted through a strategy of bringing and blending together a multitude of creative forms of expression, along with commercially-produced items and various found objects, to constitute an artistic spatial assemblage.
In developing the current exhibition Bodies in Space(s): Negotiating Sites/Sights, I began to contemplate how experiences and representations of the body are embedded in socially conditioned modes of expression, and are constituted as sites/sights of identification, agency, and personal history, articulated in varied cultural spaces. Central to the project was taking into account the customers’ entire sensory experience, and contributing to dissolving distinctions between art and everyday life.
The exhibition was anchored in paintings focused on representing gender— however nebulous— by Jeffery Beauchamp, Theophilus Brown, and Linda Wallgren. The exhibition of paintings also included a night of presentations by performance artists Bert Bergen, Daniel Blomquist, Terrance Graven, Justin Hoover, Geraldine Lozano, Honey McMoney, Crystal Nelson, Kathryn Williamson, and the Muistardeaux Collective. The exhibition and performances were intended to situate the idea that peoples’ bodies are “objective” social units that have a physical presence, and are sustained through objects, people, and cultural matrixes external to one’s own being. The project thus presented the works on display and performative acts as modes of self-realization that have the potential to articulate, translate, contest, and problematize, the way in which thoughts and images construct identities and social realities, through fluid, hybridizing identity-formation systems.
Thus in the staging of the exhibition and performances at Madrone, what was central was a concern with fostering the element of surprise, and unexpected responses through the work, by means of juxtaposing the works and performances with ordinary objects and aspects of popular culture, in order to open up a full range of possible new meanings for both.
Central to the presentation of Bodies in Space(s): Negotiating Sites/Sights at Madrone was freeing people from common assumptions and expectations associated with artistic white-cube exhibition formats and structures associated with traditional gallery displays of art.
Here, the neighborhood bar functioned as a conceptual art vehicle for a cultural intervention concerned with confronting the hierarchalization of various art media, as well as blurring and confounding common sense ideas people have of “art” and associations attached to its presentation in traditional spaces, as a means of imploding views that see art as autonomous from the world of everyday life and from society as a whole, in an attempt to (re)integrate “art” into the alternative art space that is Madrone.
This essay first appeared in Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, September 2010.