Imaginary Places & Other Objects of Unattainable Desire

San Francisco Bay Times Vol. 16, Number 26 • September 21, 1995

Imaginary Places & Other Objects of Unattainable Desire

BY SAMUAEL TOPIARY

Currently on exhibit at the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens is ”Fabricators,” a four-person group show of some of SF’s hottest young Art Stars. D-L Alvarez, Marisa Hernandez, Melissa Pokorny and Michelle Rollman exemplify the ways in which our generation is continuing the assemblage tradition which has defined po-mo sculpture since Picasso first pasted real newspaper and chair caning onto drawings, since Alexander Calder first used tin cans and other cast-off materials as the basis for sculpture, since Robert Rauschenberg painted his bed and hung it on a gallery wall.

Kudos to Center Artistic Director Renny Pritikin, for curating such a provocative exhibition showcasing the coherence of our local, largely homemade visual arts scene. “Fabricators” juxtaposes the work of four “emerging” artists, all of whom have been developing their work at local artist-run, not-for- (or barely-for) profit spaces such as Kiki, The LAB, and Southern Exposure. The work of these four artists fit together so congenially, Fabricators seems to me to be an exhibit about a specifically contemporary dialogue: about the ways in which found objects and materiality constrict nostalgia, the ubiquity of kitsch sensibility, and the impossibility of authenticity.

Rarely have I seen a contemporary show which exemplifies so succinctly current trends in art construction. The exhibit title, a pun on the use of fabric in each of the four artists’ work, refers to their seeming obsession with fuzzy, sparkly and fancy material. In the case of Hemandez and Pokomy, their use of ’60s and ’70s color schemes and furniture coverings give the two women’s works an eery simultaneity. lf San Francisco is the town of thrift stores, this show is an emblem of ’90s reuse-recycle ethos, celebrating the homey fabulousness of yesterday’s castoffs, the joys of nylon and fake fur, the ridiculousness of astro turf, the eery ubiquity of toy animal models of endangered species. Michelle Rollman’s Circus, at once an homage and a contemporary comment on Calder’s famous 1926-31 project of the same title (on permanent exhibition at the Whitney Museum), is an extension of her ongoing series, constructions using stuffed animals. Rollman creates her three-ring circus with her unique, homemade stuffed creatures elaborately outfitted with velour and sparkles and ribbons and dime store sewing notions. Gussied-up flying squirrels fly on mechanized swinging trapezes. A large leopard is caught mid-flight through a hoop of yellow and red electric flame lights.

A seal-with-ball-on-nose is fastened with a crank in its neck, suggesting a do-it-yourself approach, cruelty to animals, an unhappy marriage between mechanization and stuffing…?  My favorite character is a no-headed double-assholed, two-tailed corduroy elephant who takes the push-pull wagon troop to new levels of sexual innuendo.

Just as Rollman’s Circus suggests both perverse and innocent fascination with childhood fantasy, D-L Alvarez‘s large installation piece, Carriers, cleverly plays on a paint-by-numbers cliche of Suburbia. This larger-than-life stencil suggests you use: “1.bored; 2. covet; 3. rumor; 4. mishap; and 5.spruce” to color in the numbered areas. Carriers is a 3-D expansion of a 2-D framed work included in the SFMoMA permanent collection. Here, the piece extends into the gallery with a longramp, displaying two postal carrier uniforms each affixed with a name patch, one for Augie and one for Ethel. Next to each is a pile of brown paper packages. Alvarez’s other pieces, which include “Self-Portrait,” a light blue nylon windbreaker hanging on a hook, the word “Game” sewn-in silver thread onto a front name patch; “Famous Negro Athletes,” a handmade cut-and-fold banner with those words cut out of the paper; and “Tended,” a neatly arranged pile of discolored athletic socks which the artist has carefully darned, display the ways in which word play cloaks the oppressive undersides of cliche (read ’normal’) suburban American culture.

With a strikingly similar aesthetic, Marisa Hemandez and Melissa Pokorny both create assemblages which blend lush found-fabrics, ’70s-esque color schemes and decontextualized objects into surreal decorations. Pokorny’s large assemblages are the most traditional formal works of the group. She adheres polyurethane foam casts of plastic animal shapes to furniture parts— pieces of armchairs, couches turned on their sides and frames them with outrageous (by my ’90s aesthetic standards) fabric coverings and pieces of wood balustrades. Pkkorny’s sculptures remind me of weird hiding places that I used to find when l was a kid playing in my aunt’s suburban living room. Each piece is harmonized into a limited palette of kitsch, a campy celebration of outdated home decoration. Pieces such as Sad Puppy, or Traditional Scheme suggest the uncomfortableness of suburban reality, offering its viewers a seat without actually providing a place to sit down. Hernandez’s installations, such as the gold-olive piece Formation, are another sort of assemblage; jewelry-like wall hangings drip with faux foliage, vines and leaves made from pipe cleaners and felt and fuzzy green material, suggesting the organic, celebrating the traditional materials of femininity.

“Fabricators ” is on exhibition from Sept. 5 to Oct.1 in Gallery Two at the Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens, located at 701 Mission Street (at 3rd) in San Francisco. Gallery hours are Tuesday thru Sunday, I1 am to 6 pm (to 8pm on the first Thursday of every month), with admission $5 for adults; $2.50 for seniors, students and or youth 16 and under; and free for Center for the Arts members. On the first Thursday of every month; gallery admission is free to all from 6-8 pm. Seniors are also offered free gallery admission on Thursday from 11 am to 3 pm. For 24-hour information on Visual, Media and Performing Arts events, call (415) 978-ARTS / 978-2787.