The Art in Brewing Beer

January 16, 2012 · Print This Article

By 1979, Tom Marioni had been gathering with friends, drinking beer, and calling it art for almost a decade. It began in 1970 when Marioni invited friends to the Oakland Musem of Art on a Monday, the day it was closed, to hang out and drink beer. The gathering’s detritus became the art for the museum-going public to experience. Marioni called it The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends is the Highest Form of Art, and began hosting nights of beer drinking at his studio and at his Museum of Conceptual Art. In the wake of countless bottles and hangovers, the work finally made an appearance at SFMoMA in 1979. It was recently reinstalled there for the museum’s exhibition The Art of Participation.

Installation view at SFMoMA in 2008.

This iteration of The Act of Drinking Beer took shape as a seventies-era fridge stocked with free beer, a framed poster from Marioni’s Museum of Conceptual Art, and a sturdy wood shelf mounted on the wall that displayed 200 bottles of Anchor Steam Beer. A bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling seems to me to represent Marioni’s “eureka moment” realization that the act of drinking beer with friends, an experience common to so many local art scenes, could become the art itself. The beer served was certainly appropriate for the venue—Anchor Steam Beer has been brewed in San Francisco for over a hundred years, perhaps the best known of a category of beer called California Common. It’s something of an anomaly, as most beer is sorted into one of two categories: warm-fermented ale or cool-fermented lager. California Common Beer blurs these categories. West Coast brewers in the late nineteenth century brewed lager yeast warm to produce a beer that retains characteristics of both ale and lager. The result is something of a hybrid, an experiment by necessity that flouts traditional wisdom and tastes good anyway.

Anchor also holds an important place in the history of craft beer. After the second World War, the American beer market was dominated (as it still is) by large breweries like Miller and Anheuser-Busch. While the Anchor Brewery in San Francisco held on after the war, it did so by producing low-quality beer. Fritz Maytag III, heir to the Maytag fortune, bought the brewery in 1965 and restored it to its former glory by slowing things down and making smaller quantities of high-quality beer. It was artful, experimental, and historically conscious—all hallmarks of craft brewing today. Craft beer categories are even more well-defined than categories in art. With precisely measured qualities like alcohol-by-volume, international bitterness units, and specific gravity I could describe a Pilsner in a few lines. Art Brut would likely take a few paragraphs. But craft beer also opens itself to radical mistreatments of its established standards, allowing for the birth of new hybrid categories like California Common.

By refusing categories, The Act of Drinking Beer allowed the social form of beer drinking to exist as an artwork in its own right. Since Marioni’s first bottle was cracked open, a slew of artists have made artwork that takes shape around shared food and beverage. But Marioni’s expansion of art’s categorical dimensions to include social gatherings is not the most interesting thing about him. The impulse to disregard categories without permission, abandoning the urge to patrol boundaries, is what truly opens up new productive avenues for artmaking. Only this kind of free-wheeling experimentation can keep art, and brewing, vital.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be conducting and posting interviews with artists that brew to try and find out what skills, qualities, and perpsectives they bring to bear on beer. I suspect that most of them brew not to plant the flag of art on the shores of beer, but to explore untapped potentials in making a beverage they’ve been led to for reasons as varied as the refrigerated stock of a craft beer store. Just as a lager yeast and an ale-style fermentation can combine to make a beer that happily exists as both ale and lager, so too can artists and brewers disregard time-worn categories and embrace the possibilities of being two things at once. That beer can be art shouldn’t surprise us. The myriad things that artists can do with beer should.

The Chimera In Me Greets The Gobot In You: An Interview with Tessa Siddle

January 4, 2012 · Print This Article

Tessa Siddle is a transgender video maker and performance artist based out of San Francisco. In her work she regularly embodies hybrid forms — bleeding her self between animal, human, singular and multiplicitous identities — in order to challenge a tidier, pervasive binary tradition. What I find particularly interesting about her work is the way in which it relies as much on the performative, physical body — make up and costume effects — as it does on technology advances, like the blue screen for instance. The effect is itself a hybrid of effects that coalesce to become an illusory, allegorical space. Tessa also organizes and curates an experimental film series, The MisAlt Screening Series, in the Bay Area.

"Flopsy Loves Mopsy Says Flopsy" (2010), Installation View

CP: You often deal with hybridity often in your work — in your performances you sometimes embody animals, in other instances you are at once one person and two people at the same time. Can you talk a little bit about how you think of hybridity? 

TS: I feel like a lot of people in the arts are talking about hybridity using very different (and I think more or less equally valid) definitions which occasionally leads to a little bit of confusion. I have often heard the term “hybrid forms” applied equally to visual depictions of chimeras and other hybridized figures and to the use of organic forms, mixed-media, and composite materials.

My personal interests in hybridity comes out of the convergence of my life-long fascination with combined human/animal/machine forms (most notably the chimeras of ancient myth, anthropomorphized animals in children’s literature, and human/machine/extraterrestrial hybrids of science fiction and UFO mythos) with my exposure to critics like Donna Haraway who use the figure of the cyborg and other hybrids to critique dualist social constructions and the idea of personhood and individual agency being bound within a unified and independent bodies. This exposure roughly coincided with the beginning of my desire to confront my long-time (and continuing) discomfort with binary gender and I was constantly on the look out for alternative theories of the body and I found the concept of cyborg bodies whose slippery existence is held together by constantly shifting relationships between humans, machines, animals, and institutions to be extremely exciting. It is largely in this spirit that I go about creating work in which I split
myself into various animal and plant versions of myself.


CP: It seems like there’s a way that hybridity can question assumptions latent in, say, gender binaries or species distinction. Even in terms of what you’re addressing with robotic/mechanical vs. organic/self-determined structures. It’s like you’re decentralizing ideas of self-hood and self-determination, while undermining traditional power structures. Having said that, I’m not really sure I know what I mean when I say “traditional power structures” except that I feel it manifests itself visually in my mind as a kind of monolith. A giant cultural pillar with neat and tidy assigned parts. Do you feel like your efforts are anarchistic? Or are you looking for a new kind of order? In other words, should the hybridity remain unfixed and unfixable? Or would do you aim to create a new kind of identity that is, say, part cheetah with human hindquarters and a robot arm?

TS: I feel that when talking about power structures it is important to distinguish between models of power (the ways of looking at power) and the organization of power into social institutions. I think that the traditional way of looking at power is the monolithic model of which you speak, in which power descends from a (often divine) pinnacle of authority on to the people beneath. There is also the bottom-up view of power, which is a democratic inversion of the monolithic model, in which the legitimacy of the authority on the top comes from the power of the people below. I subscribe to a model of power in which power is radiating from everyone, everywhere, in all directions — without a top, bottom, or center. I think that this is the structure of power regardless of the institutions and social constructions into which it is molded.

What the monolithic model and the bottom-up model share is that they are both preoccupied with the legitimacy of existing institutions and constructions. Things are the way they are, they say, because of divine (or scientific or natural) order or popular consensus. Under these models, binaries are presented as part of a natural or innate cultural order, part of the way things are.

I think that what hybrid figures do to binaries is to show that they are actually the way things are not (or that binaries, if they exist, are extremely rare). I think, for example, that the human/non-human binary falls apart as soon as we look really closely at the human body. A classical (humanist) reading of the body considers it to be a unified, holistic, 100% human form — the most human form — however if we take out our microscopes, look onto and beneath our skin, look deep into our guts (take a literally very close look) what we see is that the body is host to colony after colony of (mostly benign) bacteria, protozoa, viruses, very small animals, and fungi. From my limited understanding (I am not a biologist) the health of these colonies is essential for the health of the overall body to the point that we can look at the human body as already (and always) being inhuman.

I feel that in my own efforts, I am not trying to prescribe an anarchistic role to hybrids or to suggest a new world order, but rather I am attempting create semi-fictional realities in which the already slippery relationships between humans, animals, and plants are amplified in their slipperiness.


CP: Can you talk a little bit  about how that slipperiness plays out in some of your work?

TS:  I think in a lot of my work I’m attempting to create situations/environments/performances that play with the boundaries between things that are frequently placed in opposition with each other. When I perform as a community of fox/people, a family of rabbits, a bouquet of flowers, or a forest ecosystem I try to borrow equally from scientific, mythological, historical, pop cultural, autobiographical, and autofictional sources to create the text, structure, and logic of my characters and the worlds they interact with. My hope, is that by fusing these elements together I can create alternate realities that feel natural, magical, confessional, and opaque at more or less the same time. I also try my best to give these worlds a logic that seems coherent but also transparently artificial and frayed around the edges.




Episode 313: Elaine Buckholtz

August 29, 2011 · Print This Article

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This week, Brian, Patricia, and Art Practical contributor Mary Anne Kluth sit down with artist Elaine Buckholtz and gallery president Richard Lang at Electric Works in San Francisco where Buckholz’s solo show, Light Making Motion: Works on Paper and in Light, was recently on view. In her review, Kluth notes that Buckholtz, whose primary medium is light, “is a generous guide, making instructive objects that allow her audience to come to discoveries” about the “experience of vision as a phenomena unfolding in time… focus[ing] attention on shifting, fleeting, elusive sensations.” In this conversation they talk about that generosity, the installations on view, working with Meredith Monk, and the pleasures of going off the cliff, Wile. E. Coyote–style.

Buckholz received her MFA at Stanford University and has shown at the Swiss Technorama Museum, Winterthur, Switzerland; Pierogi Leipzig, Germany; the Wexner Center For The Arts, Columbus, OH; the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, Idaho; the Claremont Museum, Claremont, CA; Stanford University, Palo Alto; California College of The Arts, Fusion Art Space, the Luggage Store, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

You can read Kluth’s full review on Art Practical here:

Episode 304: The Kadist Art Foundation/ Lauren Levato

June 27, 2011 · Print This Article

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This week: Double header! First Brian and Patricia talk to the fine folks at the Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco. Next Christopher Hudgens and Richard talk to Artist Lauren Levato about her new show at Firecat Projects “Lantern Fly Sex Cure”.

Episode 296: Butler and Cain

May 2, 2011 · Print This Article

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This week: As part of the Art Los Angeles Contemporary art fair, which took place January 27-30 at the Barker Hanger of the Santa Monica Airport, the crew from Art Practical produced “In and Out of Context: Artists Define the Space between San Francisco and Los Angeles,” a series of conversation that imagined the two cities as “a continuously evolving constellation of dialogues, shared interests, and overlapping approaches.

In this episode Patricia Maloney and Art Practical editor Victoria Gannon chatwith San Francisco-based artist Luke Butler, again in the parking lot of the Santa Monica Airport, as part of their ongoing quest to find a quiet spot away from the bustle of the fair. Butler reflects on his longstanding admiration for Captain Kirk while Patricia and Victoria wonder if he’ll suddenly start speaking in Klingon. Later, Patricia and AP editor Tess Thackara speak with artist Sarah Cain about her years living and working in the Bay Area before relocating to Los Angeles, her working process, and the oases she finds in LA.

Luke Butler received his MFA from California College of the Arts in 2008. Heworks in paintings and collage; much of his imagery comes from pop culture, most often from television and movies of his childhood including Starsky and Hutch and Star Trek, along with other iconic images, such as that of former U.S. presidents. Butler’s work was included in the 2010 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum, Newport Beach, CA. He is represented by Silverman Gallery in San Francisco, CA.

Sarah Cain received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2001 and her MFA from the University of California Berkeley in 2006; she attended Skowhegan in 2006. Her work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum; the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; KN Gallery, Chicago; and the Seiler + Mosseri-Marlio Gallery, Zurich. Cain received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2007 and a SECA Art Award in 2006. She is represented by Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco and Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles.

Also check out last weeks show with Lisa Anne Auerbach and Michael Parker/a> if you didn’t catch it, they have a great conversation on torn porn and being one’s own bumper sticker to the Shakers and how artists can make change in the work. Airport parking lots, who ever thought so many interesting conversations were going on at them?