This week: Brian and Patricia head up to wine country to imbibe—if you will—one of the most unique public collections of art in California. Sited on over 200 extraordinary acres of vineyard, gardens, and natural landscape in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley, di Rosa originated as the shared vision of Rene and Veronica di Rosa, prolific collectors whose personal passion for art and adventuresome spirits fueled their support of art and artists. Their home and the famed vineyards around Winery Lake became the focal point not only for their life and a noted gathering place for artists, but the development of the art collection that is now housed in three buildings, both contemporary and historic, as well as on the surrounding landscape.
Considered the most significant holding of Bay Area art in the world, di Rosa houses approximately 2,000 works of art by more than 800 artists. Our friends at Art Practical are the lucky recipients of a year-long writing residency at di Rosa, and Patricia shares some of the insights she’s gleaned in her weekly forays. In this episode’s conversation, she and Brian meander through the residence and main gallery with Amy Owen, Curator, and Meagan Doud, Curatorial Assistant, reflecting on the collection, its history, and the bucolic landscape surrounding them. The serenity of the setting was only disrupted by the potential for lingering aftershocks following the 6.1 earthquake that hit the area early Sunday morning, August 24. di Rosa was the closest cultural center to the epicenter in downtown Napa, and while the buildings were unscathed, about 10% of the work on view (3% of the collection) sustained some damage. Generous efforts are underway to support the repair and restoration of the collection; you can learn more here about how you can help out!
Last week, I had a fascinating conversation with Lacey Haslam of Oakland-based BLOCK Gallery and artist Kari Marboe regarding their newest project titled Latham Memorial Fountain Unveiled. Six months ago, they connected over email and by November, BLOCK will be presenting Kari’s site-specific public artwork in Oakland’s downtown area — specifically on the site known as Latham Square.
It wasn’t until half way through our conversation that I realized that we were sitting in Latham Square, just a few feet away from the site-specific building windows that would house Kari’s artwork. Kari shared fascinating stories and trivia tidbits about the small section of the city known as Latham Square, which was named after the late-19th century pioneer family of James and Henrietta, and their children Milton and Edith. The family had fueled money and programming into Oakland, including education for children on animal rights. One hundred years ago, Milton and Edith created a memorial fountain to their parents that was for “both man and beast”. The incredibly historical Latham Fountain now sits in Latham Square – sans running water – as a source of inspiration for Kari’s newest work.
Jeffrey: So what’s BLOCK Gallery all about?
Lacey: BLOCK started experimenting in 2010, playing with the on-going question of what happens when we move artwork outside of the white wall gallery space — thinking about the function of art outside traditional institutions, whether that’s museums or galleries. What BLOCK aims to do is tap into the function of art, and activating art from a more inclusive and educational place. What started as an experiment turned into site-specific exhibitions, meaning curating the work based on what’s happening in the space and using the context of the space as the content of the exhibition. What this approach ends up doing is providing an outlet for not only the artist to exhibit work — maybe it’s a piece that they have already created or it’s a piece that responds to the space — but exhibiting concepts the artists are already working with and putting it in a space that anyone can walk into or by and say, “oh this relates to me because I’m interested in this idea as well”.
J: So where are you now, three years later?
L: BLOCK is now moving into public space. It now has two different spaces — the alternative spaces with full-on rotating exhibitions and now the public space, and that’s where Kari’s coming in as an artist who also incorporates public spaces in her practice. These exhibitions are free, public, 24/7 — I mean, there are no hours associated with when you can view the work. You are not walking into a well-lit cube between the hours of 10 AM and 6 PM; rather you are walking down the street or stumbling upon them by happenstance.
J: How did you meet Kari? How did you guys hook up?
L: She actually reached out because she saw what BLOCK was doing. She was interested in the program that BLOCK was building and said, “hey, here’s my work, maybe we can pull together some projects”. I looked at her portfolio and it was exactly what I was looking for — she works site-specifically, in the public sphere, but she also draws on what’s happening in that space. Since our first meeting she has been fully involved in the entire process.
J: So Kari, how did you get to know of the BLOCK sort of “thing” that was happening?
Kari: I first heard about BLOCK while I was just finishing up my MFA over at UC Berkeley. I had been creating site-specific text-based installations during my time there.
J: “Site-specific text-based”?
K: Artworks designed conceptually and physically for a particular space, and in my case made with text. For example, during our thesis exhibition I worked with Dena Beard to find a public and easily accessible spot outside of the Berkeley Art Museum to place a piece. She suggested taking over one of the panels outside of the museum on Bancroft which is normally used for internal advertising on upcoming exhibitions or events and found a 4’x4′ panel that was available during the time we needed. So I wrote a piece that talked about being exactly in that space, the motions of coming in and out of the museum, in poem form so people could sit down on one of the benches across from the work and enjoy it for a while. The label for the work was displayed right as you were walking out of the museum, so people were stopping and asking, “where is this piece of art, it’s not the Calder, where is it”. Another piece I worked for that show was with the East Bay Express.
J: The newspaper?
K: Yep, the free newspaper that comes out weekly. They were so kind and donated rectangular advertising space to me for seven consecutive weeks. My collaborator Erin Johnson jumped on board and we made a series of seven squares that spoke about the nature and functions of a newspaper. That was a fun project, especially since it was free and available to everyone. While I was working on that, I also spent a lot of time online, seeing what other people were doing with sites and where my text work could fit in. I somehow ran into BLOCK Gallery and it was exactly the type of thing I was looking for. I had never heard of a site-specific gallery before, or at least not one in the area, and was immediately interested in meeting the person behind it.
J: What was that advertising or marketing for BLOCK?
L: Gosh, at that point, it was very minimal. It started by hooking up with Oakland event calendars and bare-bone sites to say, “hey, I’m a program in Oakland and this is what I do”. It hasn’t been easy to put words to this type of program, instead I had to just do it, letting the installation images and the curatorial statements piece it all together.
J: So Kari, take me through that process of contacting Lacey.
K: After looking at BLOCK’s website I decided to send her an email with some links to my work. We got together and brainstormed on the types of sites that would be exciting to work with. While looking around in downtown Oakland we stumbled across Latham Square just before the City of Oakland and ReBar started their Pilot Project there.
L: In our first meeting, I mentioned wanting to do something in that little triangle where Broadway and Telegraph spilt — we didn’t know it had a name then. After seeing the Pilot Project and realizing that it did not involve any artwork — other than the street paintings — we started thinking about how to get in touch with the City, ReBar, what the logistics of doing a work there might be, what would a project there look like, and how could we help add to this newly pedestrian space.
J: So what is Latham Square? Are the Lathams an Oakland-based family?
K: I’m glad you asked.
L: Yes, here it comes!
K: When we thought we might be interested in doing the project here I went to the Oakland History Room of the Oakland Public Library — wait, have you ever been in that room?
K: Oh my goodness, it’s worth a visit! They have a specific room and librarian for all-things-Oakland on the second floor. The first librarian I met was already familiar with the Lathams and instantly pulled the files of James, the father, and Edith, the daughter.
J: So interesting! I just got the chills.
K: I know! They also have a database with scanned articles from the Oakland Tribune. I was able to search around and found an amazing article from April 10, 1913, that described a great deal about the fountain and the dedication ceremony. I mean everything from the color of the granite to Mr. Latham’s first job. The title of this piece – Latham Memorial Fountain Unveiled – is the same as the article’s title.
Kari continues to share the fabulous history of the Lathams. It is so fabulous that it has become the driving concept behind her installation. Text here would do no justice, and rather, a visit to the work of art would be most appropriate.
K: What I’m interested in is taking this history and creating a piece that combines that story — specifically the desires of motives of the Latham children for building the fountain — with themes of how the memories of citizens are preserved within city structures over time. It’s been just over a hundred years since the fountain was installed.
L: And at a certain point this piece will become part of Latham Square’s history as well.
J: Can you talk about some of the logistics of the piece?
K: Oh, boy. Site-specific pieces are about eighty-percent logistics and twenty-percent art making.
L: It’s been email after email, meeting after meeting. It’s an ongoing evolution. You don’t want to start on finalizing the actual artwork because so much can change.
J: Any details of those emails or meetings?
K: Well, we knew we had to talk to the Downtown Oakland Association.
L: The Downtown Oakland Association oversees a lot of different departments. Their main mission focuses on getting Oakland to be a more livable, more beautiful, more active, safer city. For example, they do the hanging plants on the lights, they have solar integrated trash compactors — great solution to any city’s trash management.
K: They have a certain amount of funding allocated for projects like ours. For instance, they helped Art Murmur get off the ground and have been sponsoring the Great Wall where large-scale video projections happen.
L: What’s fascinating about Oakland is that there is so much energy around the city’s re-identification through art, to position it as an exciting and relevant cultural hub. The crowds that turned out in the early days for the Art Murmur activated Oakland in a certain way, and now that First Friday has hit a plateau, I think there’s a lot of room for growth at this point. There is a ballooning need to gather around art again.
J: What’s BLOCK’s position in the Oakland art scene?
L: BLOCK is designed to be fluid on every aspect. When you’re not tied to a space, you’re not worried about the on-going programming of that one space. Being able to break away from that idea and bring art to a community or to places that people will frequent, and being able to use art as a sort of bridge for a new experience. In essence, the program is about activating art, activating space to further the experience. So, why is BLOCK in Oakland? That’s a fascinating question. There’s something here, there’s an energy here that San Francisco has, but it translates in a very different way. Oakland is primed for growth, has a sense of opportunity. The people we’ve come in contact with here have an authentic, raw enthusiasm for it. I haven’ seen that in any other space or city.
Latham Memorial Fountain Unveiled will be presented from November 1, 2013 to April 2014. For more information, visit http://www.block-gallery.com/locations/public-space/lathamunveiled
This week: We talk with artist Amanda Ross-Ho!
Amanda Ross-Ho was born in Chicago in 1975. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Amanda Ross-Hoâ€™s work is inspired by detritus: the clutter and remnants of daily existence, and the â€˜negative spaceâ€™ of things over looked. Ranging from sculpture, installation, painting, and photography, her work seeks to uncover the subtle beauty of coincidence and anomaly. Working from source material as diverse as newspaper articles, narcotics agency records, life aspiration manuals, and home-craft instruction booklets, Ross-Ho highlights points of cultural â€˜intersectionâ€™ to create extrinsic portraits of contemporary zeitgeist. Throughout Ross-Hoâ€™s work is a sense of de-familiarisation and detachment, a numbing alienation contrived from everyday ephemera. Ross-Hoâ€™s paintings similarly broach the uncanny. Translated from images of doilies or macramÃ© wall hangings, her intricate webs are manufactured in grandiose scale, cut from painted black canvas dropcloths, or carved in sheet rock. Their recognition and domestic symbolism becomes estranged, placed out of context through size and materiality. Construing kitsch with the elegance of minimalism, Ross-Ho presents the sentimentality of tchotchke as emotive voids, displacing homey intimacy to the realm of objective contemplation.
February 13, 2013 · Print This Article
Some time in the 1990’s, two children named Jeffrey and Renée were dancing ballet in separate productions of The Nutcracker. Jeffrey was performing in New Jersey, while Renée was performing in Florida. Years later, these two kids would grow up to be young adults and their stars would align in graduate school at San Francisco Art Institute.
When Renée Rhodes and I started our friendship, her hair was no longer than 2 inches in length. She captivated my interest with her performance-based artwork, utilizing a familiar language of dance that I always assumed was separate from the discourse of fine art. She exposed me to her interests in Yvonne Rainer, Pina Bausch, and Jonah Bokaer. Today, Renée and I jokingly prance around the city of San Francisco, hoping to one day choreograph our own piece for the world to see.
At the start of this interview with Renée for Bad at Sports, we sat down and watched a YouTube clip of Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle. The clip reminded me of a ballet movement called croisé.
Renée: I think I’m losing my French ballet words.
Jeff: Uh oh.
R: Have you heard of Labanotation?
J: No! What the hell is that?
R: It’s a method for movement notation created by Rudolf Laban. It’s a way of noting dance moves as a graphic score.
J: Have you used it before?
R: No, it’s very complicated. You really have to study it and be trained to properly use it. I’m more interested in the narrative and history of measuring the body in that way.
J: You’re so smart!
R: Are you mocking me?
J: No, but, before we started this interview, I thought I was going to open with, “Renée, your hair is so long”.
R: Oh God. You know what else is long? A Jacques Tati film.
J: Are they really long?
R: No, but there’s not very much dialogue, so it can feel really long, and kind of like a dance. I like how he creates an alternative language out of gestures.
J: Have you taken a ballet class lately?
R: Nope, sure haven’t.
J: But ballet has been a huge part of your artistic practice, or at least, an influence, right?
R: Is this is a prompt?
R: I was taking ballet classes mostly throughout childhood and high school life, and later started using that as creative material. And back to Labanotation, the reason I brought that up was because ballet is another way of measuring how the body moves. Ballet is a sort of geometry when you strip it of its fairytale narrative. It’s about making shapes and forms in this sort of perfection. So I guess I’m not really interested in perfecting my ability to make those shapes, but I’m interested in that sort of quest and narrative. It’s very human to want to achieve formal perfection, and I see that in ballet and that’s interesting, and it’s something I’m critical of, too.
J: I see formal perfection in an Abercrombie & Fitch ad.
R: Damn! Anyway, I think that the idea of making forms and shapes with your body is a way of measuring your own body’s physical terrain. But it’s also a way of measuring the space around your body, or the space that your body is in. It’s a very abstract language, but I see it as a sort of cartography, which is itself an abstract representation of space.
J: Do you mean like Google Maps? Is that a stupid question?
R: No! Yes! I love Google Maps because they make me totally confused!
J: How are Google Maps and ballet related?
R: They both operate on a fixed number of axis points in their movement. They’re both very frontal. It’s more about the grid — working on a grid system, and fixity that appears to be fluid. With projects that I’m working on now, that ballet influence is there in a critical way. I’m more interested in rolling around on the floor.
J: Isn’t that how we met in grad school? We rolled into each other on the floor?
R: Yeah — fun icebreakers.
J: So what project are you working on now?
R: It’s called Navigating In a Whiteout. There’s a lot of rolling on the floor.
J: I’ve never seen a ballerina roll on the floor.
R: (in theatrical voice) “It’s Modern Art, Jeffrey!” Joking aside, it’s a more contemporary form of movement that starts with one simple movement phrase that is permutated along different axis points of the body. It moves from the variation of the movement that’s just in the hands, to the version of the movement that happens through floor work, and then a version of the movement that’s for a body standing.
J: How did you arrive at this type of choreography? Can I call it choreography?
R: Sure, you can. I started the project by imagining myself as an explorer of Bouvet Island via Google Earth. Bouvet Island is tiny and is the most remote island in the world. It’s a place I’d never likely get to in any other way, but I spend a lot of time there! I feel really familiar with the terrain and the topography on the island as if I have a memory of it. That memory is now very visual and cerebral, and I am trying to figure out what my sense and physical memories are of that place. The movement is a narrative about translating mediated landscape — about wandering through that terrain and transposing that topography onto my own body.
J: Whoa, so you’re like explorer and terrain all at once?
R: I think so! When you navigate through a place, that terrain maps itself into your memory and onto your body.
J: How will this project manifest?
R: As a manifesto.
J: Are you serious?
R: No, but thanks for asking. It’s actually a performance for three dancers with four different movement sections, sound, and video. It’s being presented during Scrawl at the Center for Drawing, which has a new monthly performance series created by Mimi Moncier. Mimi’s idea is to present movement and performance-based works that loosely explore the idea of drawing.
J: Are you one of the three dancers?
R: Yes I am.
J: Can you share how you choreograph your work with the dancers?
R: I made all the choreography on my own, before meeting with them. So that’s a lot of time alone in the studio, jumping around, rolling on the floor, and looking for movements that are compelling to me. I’m also spending time with source material, which is the Google Earth footage through Bouvet Island. I think it’s called making a tour in Google Earth. You can save your movements in Google Earth as a data file and re-watch your expedition. In terms of the dancers, I met Laurie Bramlage at a favorite dance class of ours, and Rosa Navarrete at a symposium at Z Lab UC Berkeley where I gave a presentation — or a “movement workshop,” if you want to be more specific.
J: I do not want to be more specific, thank you.
R: In this project, we had a really short amount of time to set the piece, so I wanted to make sure that I had all the movement ready. There wasn’t a lot of time to experiment and change things. It was a process of me demonstrating movement and them developing a memory of it.
J: Whoa, that was a beautiful way of explaining how any dancer probably learns how to dance.
R: (in kid voice) “I’m going to show you this move and you’re going to repeat it over and over until you remember it so we don’t have to use words anymore!”
J: What is “a short amount of time”?
R: We met four times. It really feels like the beginning stages of a project, like it’s in a sketch phase or something. This is atypical for me because I usually spend more time on things. On the other hand, I performed a solo excerpt of it last week in Portland at Worksound Gallery. It felt really good to get it out there.
J: I think that fast paced, “no-time” sense of urgency is actually quite precious, and for me, makes me work really strangely in a super productive way.
R: Yeah, I agree with that. Sometimes it’s good to have limitations so I just don’t go off on every tangent. So now I feel like I have a pretty solid framework for this project that I’d like to develop more in the future. One of the ways I want to develop it more is to collaborate with the dancers more and create a responsive movement with them. Right now, there are some moments with partnering work, and in the future, I’d like there to be more improvisational exploration of what that movement could be.
J: Renée, do you feel like you ever finish anything?
Renée Rhodes’s Navigating In a Whiteout was presented last week as a part of Scrawl at the Center for Drawing in San Francisco on February 8th. You can view her other artworks on her website: www.reneearhodes.com.
Suzanne Lacy (born 1945) is an internationally known artist, educator, writer, and former public servant. She describes her work, which includes “installations, video, and large-scale performances”, as focusing on “social themes and urban issues.â€ She also served in the education cabinet of Jerry Brown, then mayor of Oakland, California, and went on to become an arts commissioner for the city.