I had the pleasure of seeing Issued ID at A Simple Collective yesterday, and what I witnessed changed my perception of identity and media. Three video installations greet you as you enter the intimate space. Each examines issues of identity through the lens of media. 

First up there is Elizabeth Axtman's lip-synch of old television shows and movies vocalizing deep seated prejudice against bi-racial bodies. She emotionally captures their words in single shots. You feel her pain and her liberation as she mouths these words, reclaiming them in video. 

Tim Roseborough transforms his face to look more like Michael Jackson's using simple Adobe Photoshop techniques. One side of the screen marks the transformation from Tim to Michael. The other side of the screen tracks the transformation from Michael to Tim. Side-by-side with Tim vocalizing Michael's trademark clicks, oohs, and ah-ha's over a speaker, you are forced to critique perceptions of identity expressed through both media and its manipulation. 

Thomas Beatie was the first pregnant man, and artist Chris Vargas casts himself as Thomas in his interview with Barbara Walters. In recasting this interview, Chris vocalizes what Thomas cannot and confronts the viewer to examine masculinity and manhood. It's a powerful (and at times humorous) piece. 

A Simple Collective is located at # 108 ActivSpace on the corner of Treat and 18th Streets in San Francisco. It is made up of artists and independent professionals in the arts. Founder/Director Rhiannon MacFadyen and a smaller committee of highly active Core Members volunteer their time to steer programming and manage collective-based projects, and a fabulous group of Affiliated and Recommended Professionals, all knowledgeable and trusted in their fields, completes our network of creative and professional resources.

ASC Projects is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, noon–5pm and readily by appointment. Contact Rhiannon Evans MacFadyen at (415) 786-1351 or rhiannon@oacsf.com

The lines painted directly onto the wall suggest some distant possibility of the solid surface of the building disintegrating before our eyes. The lantern holders mark the gateways to other worlds as the fabric of reality unwinds around us. And stacked neatly in rows are the portals we have arrived at, inviting us in, to travel through, each a brightly coloured window. The painted boards are little oases allowing contemplation and wordless thought. Due to be completed this coming week, this is the absorbing installation by Christopher X Bost currently on display at Progressive Grounds Café in the Mission.

Don’t expect to like these works; at least not in the way visually unobtrusive art lets your eye drift across the image, resting lazily for a second before moving on. Their deliberate orientation, stacked on top of one another, creates jarring colour combinations that purposefully interrupt. This is true of their display as well the nature of each individual painting as the patterning and colours change sharply with each suggestion of three-dimensional space. They are designed in this way to resist placid engagement, instead requiring time spent in their presence to fully experience their effect.

The exhibition as a whole comes to operate as a series of dilemmas, layered tensions of opposing forces. The works are both abstract and figurative, made up of repetitive patterns that also form sharp windows or doorways. They are at once soothing and disharmonious as they draw your eye whilst resisting its rest. And they are both static and animated as your brain uncovers new depth with each viewing. As well as this, Bost’s use of tape to create the sharp lines in contrast with the discrepancies in human error form yet another dichotomy.

Bost describes the experience of these works well, identifying his paintings as “limited tools for describing unlimited experience.” Similarly the inability to summarise these works with words can be described as the restriction of language to convey the limited tools for describing unlimited experience.  Inspired from the landscape, the repetitive patterning of line over line over line alludes to the meditative process that accompanies the creation of these works. If called on to make a judgement this would lie in the ability of each painting to give a residual sense of their creation, communing a moment of calm and thoughts lost in the repetition of the patterning. They allow the viewer to settle on the present as the eye drifts over the allusions to familiar settings, such as the beach or a forest, encouraging contemplation within an urban setting.

Appreciation for these pieces thus arises in stages, after multiple viewings, prospering with each visit. Their concentrated display demands attention however there is something incongruent between Bost’s pieces, the colour of the walls and the other imagery in the café. The circumstances aren’t ideal for these bold, hypnotic works, however they assert themselves despite this. Bost attributes this to faith in the process of creation, whereby the absorbing act of repetitive painting transcribes into the overall effect of the finished piece.


And join us for the CLOSING RECEPTION on SUNDAY, MAY 12 at 4pm at PROGRESSIVE GROUNDS (2301 Bryant St, SF). 

Whew! I am exhausted and exhilerated. It was an incredible day filled with art. First, I headed up to Petaluma for rehearsal with Sadie and Jesus of the Vespertine Orchestra. Then, I trekked back home via Golden Gate Transit to do some event planning and plotting. Finally, I spent the evening with cxBost doing the install for At - Into -Through. Like I said, it was art filled day. 

So.. I thought I would pull together a short slide show and give y'all a preview of what's to come. Take a peek. I guarantee you'll find something you like. 

And I hope to see you at any of the following:
SATURDAY, April 6, 7PM to 9PM: ARTSHOP with cxBost 

THURSDAY, April 11, 7PM to 9:30PM: THE BLOOM: Death and Taxes. I am hosting this literary reading of Bay Area writers. 

SATURDAY, April 13, 8PM to 10PM: GO NUTS! presented by Latenite Bubbles and The Box Factory. I will be performing an interactive psalm with Sadie and Jesus at Go Nuts!

14 Black Poppies is producing A Solstice Celebration on FRIDAY, December 21 from 6pm to 10pm at Progressive Grounds Mission (2301 Bryant Street, SF). The event will feature performers, filmmakers, artists, and artisans doing their thing. As a lead up to the event, I will be highlighting various performers and artists.

Today, meet Vicki Rega. She is a customer of Progressive Grounds and a ceramicist. She will be displaying and selling her works.

For the past 40 years I have amused myself and found escape in creative process. It is the process that interests me. What skills are needed? What tools? How are skills perfected? Can I create new tools or improve on old ones?

I first did a pottery pit fire 15 years ago as a project for kids in the art department of the Boys and Girls Club. It was also my first pottery building experience. The process appealed to me in great part for the uncontrolled nature of the color firing.

All of my pieces are built by hand. It is a slow process requiring a tactile understanding of the particular clay that is being worked. I currently use 4 clays that each serve the process in different ways. These were identified by regular samplings of different clays. The outcome of this part of the work is dependent on my knowledge and skill (and sometimes willingness to follow the clay where it wants to go.)

The color firing also depends on some skills: how to build the fire, what temperature achieves the best results, what substances produce which colors, etc. However, once the fire is lit, it is all out of my hands. How the pottery is packed into the pit has some influence on how colors develop in the firing, but in the end the color and pattern of each piece is determined by the fire.

All that said, I just like playing with mud and building big fires. I build the pots in front of the tv with a good movie playing. The pit firings are done in the Death Valley area in southern California. It is a fun place to go hang out, and there is not a lot of stuff that I might accidentally burn down.

Star Amerasu performs as Julia and Jason watch.
Phil McGaughy performs and talks about his dreamscapes.
On Saturday, December 1st, 14 Black Poppies produced a very special Mission Arts and Performance Project happening at Progressive Grounds. It included performances by Star Amerasu, Phil McGaughy, and moi!

Star sang both acoustic covers of current pop favorites from Lady Gaga to Beyonce and some original tunes. Her voice drew people in and transported them to another time and place. It was almost as if she cast a spell amongst the audience. She is simple mesmerizing.

In addition to being a visual artist, Phil is also a musician. He performed five of his original songs on guitar. His ability to weave humorous musical tales reflected the playfulness in his visual art.

I performed my original and award-winning fable, "The Peach Thief". It is a part of my Ex Libris De Corpus project where I am transforming myself into a modern day Illustrated Man, where each tattoo tells a tale.

We also hosted Artshop, an artist lecture and workshop series curated by Tanya Gayer, with current exhibiting artist Phil McGaughy in conversation with gallerist Marialidia Marcotulli of Space 868 in Bolinas.
Crafty Afternoons was BACK on Tuesday, December 11 from 4:30 to 5:30pm at Progressive Grounds Mission (2301 Bryant Street, SF). It is a monthly art party for parents and their kids taught by 14 Black Poppies' own Ramona Soto. Ramona is an arts educator with decades of experience teaching visual art to youth and adults of all ages. All activities align to California state content standards in visual arts.

This past Tuesday, Ramona had kids and their parents using shapes and colors to create rich images in high contrast using a rubbing technique. All of the youth, from the two year-olds to the eight year-olds, were scribbling, coloring, rubbing, and creating. The entire big table at Progressive Grounds was filled with pastels, paper, and art.

This is the last Crafty Afternoon of 2012. It will be back in January relaunched as ART IN THE AFTERNOON. The change in title more accurately reflects the educative visual arts roots of this donation-based offering from 14 Black Poppies. It launches on Tuesday, January 8 at 4:30, and it will be every SECOND and FOURTH TUESDAY from January to May.
This post was inspired by the article "What Inequality Looks Like and Where and When It Starts" by Clayton Lord posted on the New Beans blog on the ArtsJournal website. I encourage you to read his article and the excellent comments below. It provides a much richer and deeper context and understanding to the conversation. And please let me know:

What do the arts mean to you?

    I have been in the unique role of infusing arts educational peda/andragogies into other content topics (e.g. financial literacy, political astuteness, organizational structure) for the middle school to adults who work with youth audiences (in essence all ages) for over 15 years. I have done this work in a variety of settings from youth development to educational reform to intergenerational community theater. Throughout my experience I have been to many formal arts education and arts policy talks, workshops, conferences, etc.. Almost every time I attend, I am frustrated by the lack of understanding and incredibly narrow focus of what arts is, especially when related to the exposure to and expression of art in historically marginalized communities.

     As an example: In my experience, arts and culture was the absolute BEST way to engage families in educational reform work or learning about wellness factors. We rarely ran a community event without some sort of talent component, and the talent of the young people (the majority of whom were from incredibly diverse backgrounds) was outstanding. It was outstanding not just because the young person was taking risks and presenting his/her self to an audience, it was outstanding because the audience almost always responded positively.

     (There was this time a young woman went onstage and was nervous beyond nervous to sing her song. She was definitely not a singer. She was a karaoke-er. Before the talent show, we, the program directors/leaders, were debating whether we were going to let her perform. It was a middle school, and middle schoolers can be assholes. Yet we decided to because she want to. When she went up and sang her song, everyone cheered her on. She sang off-pitch, hiding behind her long, black hair. And as the song went on, her singing did not improve, but her performance did. It was an amazing moment.)

     While outstanding, these performances are definitely not as “skilled” as the symphony or the opera or the ballet. But that is why the audience relates so much to it. They can see their selves in the performance, art, media, whatever.

     Additionally, arts and exposure to different forms of art are being used in incredibly vital ways that are often overlooked. One project I worked on was with Mission SF Community Financial Center (now called Self Help CFU). I worked with the Youth Credit Union Program to use theatrical forms to role play and interrupt the divestment cycle of predatory pay-day-lenders in low-income communities of color. The curriculum was used to train adults and youth who worked with youth. Through the training we provided the curriculum/lesson plan to the adults so they could facilitate the lessons with young people in their programs. (And all of this was done through a youth development technical assistance and capacity building organization NOT through an arts education organization.)

     I know I am not the only one doing this kind of work. It is happening in a variety of settings, and mostly as a result of the need of the community.

     Does this translate into a diverse audience for the symphony or the opera or the ballet? Not at all, and I am not too concerned about these institutions losing audiences. Nor do I care to figure out how to help them increase diversity of their audience.

     The concerns raised in this post about the inequity of funding for arts education in public schools is a travesty. (It is also a travesty of our, USA’s, social programs (in general) which continue to be slashed year after year by policymakers who regard money and power over people.) It is both a structural revenue issue as well as a policy perspective issue. As you mentioned in your (Arlene Goldfarb)) comment, increasing funding for the arts without a better policy that looks at how young people engage and interact with art (in its multiplicity) will continue entrench arts into “the arts”, which continues to create and promote an other.

     What is needed is funders who truly change the way in which they define and roll out their arts portfolios. And we all need to (in some ways) open up our scope and shift our perspectives to see what is out there.

     I went to the Beyond Dynamic Adaptability Conference (a conference on audience participation/engagement) in October 2011. Josephine Ramirez, the program officer from the Irvine Foundation, shared the audience involvement spectrum (link leads to a post from the ED of Museum 2.0 who was also a panelist) unveiling it as if it was innovative and insightful. I leaned over to my colleague and whispered, “this is exactly the youth participation continuum (link leads to a youth participation matrix similar to the one I was introduced to in the late 1990s althought it isn't the exact same one) in youth development” (from youth as vessels that need to be filled to youth as educators).

     Josephine then shared statistics (of which I am really bad at remembering) about the percentage of arts organizations that have budgets less than $25K. It was a very large percentage, and if my failing memory serves me correctly was close to 50%. She shared that more money needs to go to these small budget organizations who are making responsive arts in their communities. Then, my colleague leaned over to me and whispered, “you know Irvine won’t even invite a proposal from organizations that have budgets under $150k.”

     This is just one small example of the disconnects and lack of wider perspective that occur at the systemic/institutional level. There are many, many more (the audit of the Cultural Equity Grant program of San Francisco Arts Commission as another).

     A much larger shift IS occurring. We are seeing it as the Decolonize/Occupy movement in this iteration. And it is taking hold internationally. The question is, are the legacy organizations ready to do the work needed to actually engage diverse audiences (and this goes not just for arts organizations but to all of the legacy organizations from churches/synagogues/temples to city/state/federal departments)? Or will they be tossed aside by an audience who doesn’t have any vested interest in seeing their success?