Southern Exposure: Magical Portals in Four Site Specific Installations

Southern Exposure, through February 23, 2008; 417 14th Street (@ Valencia), San Francisco, CA 94103, t: (415) 863-2141, Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 12:00 pm - 6:00 pm

The four site-specific installations that are on view right now at Southern Exposure employ the gallery’s bare four walls to deliver their message and rely on the viewer’s imagination for that secret ingredient to bring the work to life. It’s fitting that this exhibition puts the walls to work; this is the first show planned for the venerable non-profit’s new space since the 34 year old, envelope-pushing institution moved to 14th & Valencia from its old home in the Mission/Potrero flats. Busy nine-to-fivers will be happy to hear that the best time of day to see this show is at after work when it’s dusk, about 5:45 PM.

But before you go you’ll have to recalibrate. Looking at art like this requires a slower pace and more introspection. There’s no Oprah “ah-hah” moment. The story arc is much flatter, like an open-ended character study instead of a juicy piece of plot-laden fiction. Conceptual installation art like this is a distant cousin of the Mad Lib- you supply the punch line.

Chris Bell’s “Slow Pan Interior” is installed in the first room of the gallery. Close the door behind you because this is a video piece and the room has to be dark. Bell has dressed up this plain room with a rotating video piece. The projector pans around the room and plays back an image of the room itself, recognizable from the signature bead board. First there’s an image of a ladder as if its there in the room leaning up against the wall. Then when the projector hits the windows, you see an escapist panoramic view of the beach, as if the gallery’s address is the Great Highway instead of 14th Street.

Bell was an established artist in his home country of Australia before coming to the Bay Area for the MFA program at Stanford. He just completed a three month residency with the Headlands Center for the Arts. Industrial design and electro-mechanics, his first focus of study before becoming an artist, is the dominant theme in his work.

Jennifer Wofford’s Phillipino heritage influences much of her work, including this piece for SOEX, “Unseen Forces.” (One of her many expressions is as a member of the provocatively named, tongue-in-cheek, performance art group called Mail Order Brides.) But before you can walk into the jungle fantasy of her muraled space you are reminded of the unavoidable ritual of travel: dreaded metal detectors. Although they are made of particle board, they do have the intended effect of conjuring an airport and transporting us out of the Mission district. The mojo was so strong on the night of the exhibit’s opening Friday, January 11, that party guests were purposefully walking around the fake detectors. Wofford has her BFA from San Francisco Art Institute and just received her master’s in 2007 from Cal. She teaches at CCA, USF and DVC.

It’s about 6:00 PM now and the gallery is closing, a perfect time to leave because Elaine Buckholz’s light installation piece is turning on. “Scenes for a Box Carnival” projects dappled kaleidoscope broken light onto the storefront. It’s a happy wintery scene and a friendly announcement to the neighbors that SOEX has moved in. Buckholz has worked as a lighting and visual designer in the Bay Area for 20 years and is a teacher in Stanford’s Art and Art History Department. She received her MFA from Stanford in 2006.

For the last piece, you’ll have to leave the gallery and hop on the Number 26 bus and travel to 1240 Valencia between 23rd and 24th. This is a conceptual piece and the co-collaborator is the entire population of the Mission District. Bruce Tomb bought the former police station about a decade ago and turned the property into his residence. Shortly after moving in, Tomb learned that the former police station was a target for taggers. Tomb decided to go with the flow. The (de) Appropriation Archive ( documents the layers upon layers of graffiti and posters that have been coated on week after week, year after year. On January 30th there will be a public meeting about the wall at SOEX where the neighbors are invited to speak their minds. Tomb is an architect by trade and has been teaching since 1989. He is an adjunct professor at CCA in the architecture and sculpture program.

Mark your calendar for the annual Monster Drawing Rally at SOEX on January 22, 2008. It’s a live drawing and fundraising event with over 100 artists participating. As the drawings are completed they are hung on the wall and can be purchased for $50 each.