SF Recology Artists in Residence

Last Friday, I attended an exhibition for the Artist in Residence program at Recology San Francisco (formerly known as, SF Recycling & Disposal, Inc.). Yes, this was an art opening at the SF dump. The program has been around for almost twenty years, and provides space and support for artists who work with materials from the city’s waste stream, including recycled wood, paint and metal. Pretty much anything the artists can scavenge. This exhibition marked the end of the residency for artists Erik Otto and Christina Mazza.

We first enter the gallery through an anteroom, with some smaller works including Erik Otto’s Rebuild, featuring the title word cut into scrap paper (including a musical score and furniture assembly instructions) and illuminated by a recycled light box.

Erik Otto. Rebuild, 2010. (Click to enlarge.)

The title and the materials of this piece set the tone for the show. In addition to my standing interest in text as a visual element, I liked the inclusion of music as part of its texture.

Moving into the main room, one immediately sees Otto’s Road of Prosperity (The Start of a New Beginning), with over one hundred small wooden houses suspended from the ceiling on fishing line, forming a chaotic spiral that descends towards the ground.

[Erik Otto.  Road of Prosperity (The Start of a New Beginning), 2010.  (Click each image to enlarge.)]

The houses, made of recycled wood, all have a similar iconic shape. Stepping back, one can see the the wooden frame at the base is itself another house. Indeed, the houses reappear throughout Otto’s work, either as central or peripheral elements, in his paintings and mixed media pieces and even in a video installation featuring recycled television sets:

Erik Otto. In the Abundance of Water, We Are Still Thirsty. (Click to enlarge.)

I am drawn to recurring icons in a series of work. So what is the significance of the houses? Certainly, they are a symbol of our current economic crisis, and a very visible part of natural and human-made disasters. Otto’s own words are informative:

My work is a narrative told by the recurring characters/elements I use often in my artwork. The house is a physical embodiment of our spiritual being. Inspired by the notion that being home is “knowing” – knowing your mind, knowing your heart – that if we know ourselves, we are always “home”, anywhere. It is often depicted in chaotic landscapes and is found seeking safety from a storm and/or rising water levels, which refer to our current social and economic climate.

His paintings, which also prominently feature the houses, include other elements such as found text, such as the “OPEN” sign in the large painting Moment of Reflection. Devotion 5 features a house (perched on stilts above a body of water) painted over book covers and a Scrabble board – certainly a powerful symbol of out-of-context text.

Erik Otto. Moment of Reflection. (Click to enlarge.)

Erik Otto. Devotion 5. (Click to enlarge.)

While Erik Otto’s work seemed to focus on discrete elements, icons and text, Christina Mazza’s pieces were about more continuous textures. Many of her finely detailed drawings feature entanglements of string or rubber bands or rope.

Christina Mazza. Construction. (Click to enlarge.)

She takes this theme of complex tangles to a larger scale with this wall piece made of shredded packing paper.

Christina Mazza. (Click to enlarge)

Mazza presents a very different texture with Redemption: SF Dump, which features a video inset in a wall made of brightly colored wood panels. Up close, one can see the imperfections, nails and slightly off angles of the the recycled wood. From a distance, it can seem a texture of precisely generated color rectangles with a moving image at the center.

Christina Mazza. Redemption:SF Dump. (Click to enlarge)

Mazza found inspiration in the discoveries she made at the dump, and documents her adventures on her blog. Looking through the images, I can see piles of discarded items that served as “subjects” for her drawings. One image which I found interesting but was not reflected in the pieces at the show was a discarded Chinese paper frame .

Christina Mazza. Chinese paper frame.

I find this image a fitting conclusion as I turn my attention to other recently visited exhibits and my own upcoming projects.

Thanks to Recology SF for providing many of the photos for this article. You can see more pieces from this exhibition and previous artists in residence at their flickr site.

CatSynth at NAMM

We at CatSynth are delighted to be attending the NAMM 2010 Show!

It is the first time I have been to the big music gear show since 2006. While Orange County, California may not be quite as exciting as some of the other locales I have written from, there is certainly going to be a lot of fun gear to look at, to play with, and to photograph with gratuitously posed stuffed cats.

Look to this site and our @catsynth twitter feed for our rather eccentric and eclectic coverage.

First Thursday, January 2010

We at CatSynth present a few notes from our gallery visits here in San Francisco on the first Thursday of the year.

Peter Focault, courtesy of Micaela Gallery

First up, we visit Micaela Gallery for an exhibition of work by Peter Focault and “friends”. Focault’s large ink-on-paper works build up complex structures from simple lines and strokes. The textures can be come very intricate and dense, such as in this detail from Four Square Squared Series #2. Several pieces also have a very architectural quality, while others such as the Evolution Series #1 have a more organic feel.

In addition to the wall presentation, there was a live performance and creation of a new drawing. This was a collaboration of Focault, musician Jake Coolidge, and Jonathan Grover. Coolidge performed live processed bass guitar with loops and other samples. The audio was then interpreted by a robot that moved with a pen on a surface in response to changes in the sound. The long curving strokes with back-and-forth motions gradually produced an image that was similar in style to completed works. You can see a brief sample in the video below from Jake Coolidge’s blog, along with a more detailed description of the process:

Shannon Ebner’s Signal Hill at Altman Siegel depicted every day objects, some with text, some with symbols like stick figures, some bits of manufactured material, that all convey information or “signals” in contemporary society. I identified with the simple and geometric elements and incorporation of text in her large photographs as well as her sculpture, as well as the sparse presentation by the gallery.

Shannon Ebner, courtesy of Altman Siegel Gallery

The photographs also had a very three dimensional texture, such as one photograph of an international graphic symbol (included in the photograph above) that one often sees on a very smooth surface.

Holly Andres, courtesy Robert Koch Gallery (click to enlarge)

At Robert Koch Gallery, I saw Holly Andres’ Sparrow Lane series. The photographs this series feature a group of adolescent women. The photographs seem to be narrative, as if the girls are exploring and investigating, but they are also disjoint without any real story line. As she explains in this interview, Andres spends a lot of time carefully crafting the images, including the clothing worn by the models and the walls and furnishings of the spaces. The clothing was very well done. Most seemed vintage mid-century and featured skirts and dresses with straight lines and solid colors that gave the characters a modernist “early 1960s” feel. On the other hand, the props and settings seemed more baroque and and did not really hold my interest. The one exception was the The Missing Bird (presented here), which places the characters in a grittier basement covered in media images with a cat in the background.  I did find myself contrasting this series with the Dystopia exhibition I saw at this same gallery a year ago – it would be intriguing to see them side by side. (The exhibition will remain on display at the gallery through the end of the month.)

While exploring the photographs at the Koch Gallery, the air from the doorway carried the heavy tones of electric blues. I followed the sounds next door to the Haines Gallery, where a blues band was playing. It turns out the band was led by Mike Henderson, whose paintings were featured in the current exhibition.

I tend to be drawn to minor keys and modes, so minor blues holds a special place in my musical vocabulary. His paintings have geometric shapes with complex textures, overlaid with various line drawings and lettering. Some have a very bright texture akin to a wood surface, while others are dark black with small light shapes and figures.  It is interesting to consider the connection between the music and the visual art.  Unlike the collaboration described above where the connection was direct, the connection here is more emotional or evocative.

Stephen Wirtz gallery presented Catherine Wagner presented large highly-detailed prints of specimens from the California Acadamy of Sciences. They were arranged by biological taxonomy, but also visually. From a distance, one can focus on the overall texture, while up close one notices the details of each specimen. Hits by Rick Arnitz featured large canvases, each of which seemed to take on a different geometric theme: brightly colored circles, a texture of red a black vertical lines, stars on a light blue field, etc. I often like discovering pieces from the permanent collection on display in the back room – I recall Ulrike Palmbach’s soft sculptures of cats from a previous visit – this time it was Marc Katono’s Half Light, a large light canvas with very delicate curves and lines. The piece was reminiscent of organic fibers and would have seemed at home among Wagner’s prints.

Randy Hussong, Courtesy of Gallery Paule Anglim

Across the street at Gallery Paule Anglim, I saw Randy Hussong’s Sculpture and Lithography exhibit. All the images were based a large steel box held up on one side by a stick with a chain, essentially a “trap” of sorts. The box itself was shown in the center of the room as a piece entitled Prey and Weight.  Along the walls were combination photographs/lithographs based on images of the box in outdoor setting, based on photographs at different times of day. The box is clearly artificial, but it’s coloring and worn texture allow it to merge with the natural environment. Additionally, there was one pure black-and-white lithograph entitled Trap.

At A440 Gallery, Dominic Alleluia’s large mixed media works had a very contemporary feel. They combined large abstract elements, color textures and shapes with energetic dark swirls and waves reminiscent of graffiti. A third dimension in some works included objects and materials such as wooden dowels and metal. I found this video of the “artist at work”, and I thought the music expressed the energy of his pieces the exceptionally small gallery space.

Finally, I would like to mention seeing the exhibition Diane Arbus‘ photographs at Fraenkel Gallery.  The exhibition, titled Christ in a lobby and Other Unknown or Almost Known Works by Diane Arbus, were selected by sculpture Robert Gober from a collection of little-known photographs.  The photographs, which were relatively small in size, did fit into the context of Arbus’ better known images in that they depicted a wide selection of people, some very everyday and some a bit more challenging.

Art and music notes. Friday, December 18

Last Friday, I managed to visit four different art and music events in one evening. Below are some reflections from each.

Our first stop was the offices of Kearny Street Workshop for their SF Thomassons Holiday Party. Readers may recall KSW’s APAture Festival and the Present Tense Biennial.

“Thomassons” are architectural elements that exist (or persist) outside of the original intended function, such as an inaccessible door leading out of an upper floor of a building, or a staircase leading to nowhere. The term was coined by Japanese conceptual artist and writer Akasegawa Genpei, and the Thomasson website allows people to upload examples from around the world. We at CatSynth have actually presented several Thomassons in our Wordless Wednesday photographic series, including these stairs leading into the San Francisco Bay. KSW’s “SF Thomassons” project involves photography and performance art centered around Thomasson sites in San Francisco. The party was a preview to coincide with Kaya Press’ publication of the first English translation of HYPERART: THOMASSON, and included a performance-art piece set at one of the largest sites in the city, an abandoned church at Howard and 10th streets that happens to be across the street from KSW’s offices.


After that, it was off to Gallery Six at 66 Sixth Street. The current exhibition, entitled “Every Single Where”, features new works by local artist Pakayla Biehn. The paintings each carried superimposed images that are similar but not identical, as if multiple exposures from a camera. According to the press release, Biehn has a congenital visual disability, and her paintings attempt to “give the viewer an understanding of her own optical condition.” Although they share the common theme, each work was stylistically quite different.

Actually, the work in the gallery that caught my attention was not in the featured exhibition, but on display in the back room from a previous exhibition, a small geometric print entitled “Bird’s Nest” from Charmaine Olivia’s Urban Managerie.


From Gallery Six, we then went to Gallery 16 for an exhibition celebrating the 25th anniversary of Emigre. Emigre was a combination digital type foundry and publisher founded by Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko, and is known both for its typefaces and the design journal Emigre Magazine. The exhibition included examples from the magazine and other designs featuring Emigre fonts.

The prints had a very clean quality, with bold colors, large shapes, and of course text. I particularly liked the works based on Licko’s abstract Puzzler font, with it’s arrangements of dots and other elements into larger complex patterns. One of the large prints (again combining text and geometric elements) also featured a large barcode with a valid ISBN number. Thinking myself quite clever, I performed a quick internet search to find out what it was – I suppose I should not have been surprised that it was issue #67 of Emigre Magazine, although the cover image from the magazine looks nothing like this print.


The final stop was Cafe du Nord for a party and concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of KFJC Radio. This was the last of several events marking the anniversary, including the concert at FLUX53 that I attended earlier in the week.

Because of the busy schedule for the evening, we only caught two of the many bands performing. First was the band al Qaeda (I am sure they were aware the name was already taken). Their music combined driving punk-style drum and guitar elements with experimental electronics elements and electrical noise.

Al Qaeda was followed Arrington de Dionyso. I had seen de Dionyso perform in a trio at FLUX53, but this time he was with his band. Once again, he performed a combination of bass clarinet with various vocal techniques, including throat singing, set against standard rock drum, bass and guitar sounds. On the screen behind the band, increasingly complex black-and-white drawings (or paintings) were being created live.

Gallery Notes: Chelsea (November 24, 2009)

Last Tuesday, I spent a few hours wandering the galleries in the Chelsea district of New York. This article presents some brief reviews of what I found.

In truth, the highlight of the afternoon was not inside the galleries, but out on the street. I wandered around my favorite neighborhoods architecturally speaking, and visited the High Line for the first time since it opened. Both the refurbished elevated structures and the surrounding post-industrial landscape are quite photogenic. I presented a couple of my photos on a previous post.

After spending time outside taking in the neighborhood at both street and aerial level, I came indoors to a solo exhibition of works by Dan Flavin at David Zwirner. Flavin’s large-scale pieces were series of fluorescent lights in alternating colors. The simplicity of the lines and lights and spare nature of the large white concrete rooms of the gallery made of a stark contrast with the intensity and energy of the city just outside. The way to experience these works was to take in the expanse from the center, and then slowly walk along the perimeter with the lights, a sort of walking meditation.

Another exhibit that lent itself to a more slow, contemplative viewing was Spencer Finch’s The Brain — is wider than the Sky. This exhibition consisted of three works. The Shield of Achilles (Night Sky over Troy 1184 B.C.) featured a series of cans hanging from the ceiling, each containing a light bulb and a small hole in its base to let out a point of light. Viewers were invited to lie on a mat below and gaze upward, as if looking at the night sky. Although the cans are meticulously arranged to represent ancient Greek constellations, I found myself thinking of them simply as an abstract array of lights and cylinders. Nearby, 366 (Emily Dickinson’s Micalous year) interpreted the 366 poems Dickenson wrote in 1862 as a colorful spiral labyrinth composed of candles, each of which is colored according to the corresponding poem. The candles are lit in sequence, one a day, so that when I saw the piece several of the candles were already melted. The third piece Paper Moon (Studio All at Night) consisted of gray four-sided shapes as was described by the artist as “a very boring piece and clearly not for everyone.”

Matthew Ritchie’s solo exhibition Line Shot at Andrea Rosen Gallery stood out for me, with the abstract, mathematical quality of both the sculptural and two-dimensional pieces. The swirling, intricate forms with circles, curves, latticework and polyhedra suggest both a mechanical or computer-generated origin, and an organic living structure at the same time, perhaps a large city in space or a rather complex molecule. The two dimensional pieces seem to be projections of the sculptures onto a flat surface, with added layers of color. I was particularly drawn to the title work of the exhibition, Line Shot, an animated feature film with moving versions of his projected sculptural forms, with floating text and spoken word, and a sound track built from metallic resonances – and sound that is very rich but also familiar and inviting. I was impressed to read about Ritchie’s past and present collaborations with physicists, musicians, writers and a host of people from other disciplines; I wish I had been around to see The Long Count, a related performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music back in October.

At Greene Naftali I saw Paul Chan’s sexually charged show Sade for Sade’s sake. At first glance, the drawings in the first gallery were simply abstract nude figures drawn with curving black lines, and reminded me a bit of the charcoal drawings of Reiko Muranaga. The sexual dimension becomes more apparent in the accompanying video animations, which feature the similar abstract-figurative shapes moving and convulsing while geometric shapes float in the background. Chan also created a set of fonts (available for download) in which individual keys are mapped to sexual phrases that can be used for generating live poetry or performances. In the gallery, he presents several large-scale panels presenting the character set for each font. In the center of this room was a computer keyboard in which the keys had been replaced with modernist geometric tombstones.

At Stricoff, I once again saw Catherine Mackey’s Wharves and Warehouses (I had previously seen her and her work at Open Studios. It was interesting to see her work, which focuses on the modern urban landscape, paired with the work of other artists in the gallery, such as Zachary Thornton’s woman in a yellow dress set against a dark background.

When I saw the sign Edward Burtynsky’s photographic series Burtynsky: Oil at Hasted Hunt Kraeutler Gallery, I was thinking, “oh, ok, another politically charged photo series…” and not expecting much. But the images were surprisingly beautiful. There were area views of open pit mines that had an abstract beauty with their curved contours and subtle shades, if one can dismiss the ugliness of the practice being shown. Other symbolic images included towers in oil fields, and a highway interchange from Los Angeles, a theme of which I am quite fond (and featured in an old Fun with Highways post).

Some other quick notes. I saw early drawings of Jean-Michel Basquiat at Stellan Holm Gallery, which displayed the frenetic combinations of text, figures and shapes that characterize his paintings. Yvonne Jacquette’s intricate and detailed wood carvings featured familiar scenes from around New York City, including buildings, bridges and the waterfront. Hope Gangloff’s large canvases at Susan Inglett Gallery included one nude figure with a cell phone and beer, and another with a writing bad surrounded by abstract shapes, as well as several figures with interesting clothing. Robert Motherwell’s Works on Paper at the architecturally interesting Jim Kempner Fine Art were simple and quite calming, with little bits of detail to discover like cut sections from musical scores.

SF Open Studios Week 3, part 1: Abstract

Week 3 of San Francisco Open Studios features South of Market (SOMA), my neighborhood, and Mission Bay, the corridor along 3rd street further south. This is a rather large piece of territory within the city, and a mixture of old industrial areas and downtown that seems to me very creative. I have decided to divide my experience into three distinct sections: abstract, architectural/urban, and figurative/characters. These are by no means authoritative groupings, they just represent the main areas of my interest among the work that I saw, and a way to separate the large number of artists I saw into something a bit more manageable. And of course many of the artists blue the boundaries between these distinctions. This article presents a few of the artists whose work was primarily abstract.

Paule Dubois Dupuis.  Click to enlarge.

Paule Dubois Dupuis. Pour toi maman. (Click to enlarge)

At South Beach Studios, I once again visited the studio of Paule Dubios Dupuis. I had seen her work last year when I was specifically looking for large abstract paintings, and indeed her rich and vibrant canvases were once again among the largest I saw this weekend. Her paintings feature shapes and areas of color of different sizes with soft of ambiguous borders – the content has a very expressive, even emotional, quality. Her smaller “Graffiti” series is very crisp and tight with shades of black and grey; her exceptionally large Pour toi maman is simultaneously study in color, shape, and use of text, and a moving tribute to her mother.

Clare Kuo.  Boundaries #24. (Click to enlarge.)

Clare Kuo. Boundaries #24. (Click to enlarge.)

At 1035 Market Street, I encountered the work of Clare Kuo. Her large abstract paintings have very strongly defined shapes and boundaries, with large fields of color. Within each, one can see different shades in the brush strokes and fine detail, but it is the large outlined shapes that most stand out. Conceptually and texturally, her paintings remind me a bit of Silvia Poloto’s Observations series (from Open Studios week 1), but with a different vocabulary of shapes.

Andrzej Michael Karwacki. (Click to enlarge)

Andrzej Michael Karwacki. (Click to enlarge)

Also at 1035 Market, Andrzej Michael Karwacki presented both abstract work as well as figurative work, and indeed I did not initially realize they were from the same artist.Karwacki keeps the two bodies of work fairly separate, and noted that the viewers and clients for his abstract and figurative work fell into two very distinct groups. So perhaps I was an exception in having an interest in both. His abstract work was very textural, with brighter natural colors often running down the canvas in a manner that suggests water running down the side of a wall. Some of his paintings also feature plant shapes and patterns. His figurative paintings, by contrast, had a very crisp feel with well defined lines, and reminded me of fashion and glamor photos. These images also incorporated text in the form of poems printed in the background.

One of my favorite “spaces” from the weekend was Pier 70, a collection of dilapidated port and industrial buildings in Mission Bay. I featured one of my own photos from this area in last week’s Wordless Wednesday, and will have more to say about it in a future article.

Phillip Hua. (click to enlarge)

Phillip Hua. (click to enlarge)

I did see several artists at the Noonan Building at Pier 70, including Phillip Hua. I have seen Hua’s abstract work from his De/Construction series before at Hang here in San Francisco. I was attracted to the large shapes lined with smaller dots and splatters; and stark coloring with broad areas of black set against white and bright colors. His more recent work, re:Action involves ink and tape placed on top of pages of the Wall Street Journal. The images of trees that emerge suggest the “reclaiming” of the Journal pages. The newspaper was created from trees, and now it is being used to recreate trees.

In a lower level of the same building, I found the work of John Haines. His metal sculptures feature soft curving lines, circles and smooth textures. The abstract metal shapes have a very organic feel and the thin lines in some of the pieces convey a sense of motion. It also was fun to try and use the circles as “windows” through which to peer at some of the other sculptures.

John Haines. (click to enlarge)

John Haines. (click to enlarge)

Rebecca Fox. (click to enlarge)

Rebecca Fox. (click to enlarge)

It seems that I always end up being drawn to abstract metal sculpture, and thus I ended up again this year atIslais Creek Studios. Some of the artists I saw last year were not showing this time. But I did see Rebecca Fox’s large metal sculptures. Her arrangements of almost perfect circles and other curvilinear forms in arrangements suggest astronomical symbols. The shapes and surfaces have a very smooth, continuous quality to them. They also have a feeling of strength when viewed in person, even some of the pieces composed of thinner circles.

Nearby, Yong Han’s sculptures provided a stark contrast. If Fox’s sculptures are represent simplicity, strength and circles, Han’s are intricate, delicate and very linear. Several of his sculptures featured complex arrangements of wire, bars and rods, sometimes vertical and sometimes at odd angles, and sometimes quite tall. Although not necessarily the tallest of his sculptures, I liked this pair as they reminded me a downtown city block.

Yang Han.  (click to enlarge)

Yang Han. (click to enlarge)

Back in SOMA. Reiko Muranaga’s drawings blended figurative and abstract shapes, such as in the large charcoal-and-ink drawing Session. One can focus on either the thick black curving lines, or the figures that emerge from them. This piece in particular seemed to fit quite well with the red table in front of it.

Reiko Muranaga.  (click to enlarge)

Reiko Muranaga. (click to enlarge)

She has also composed some exceptionally large scrolls of her drawings, although these were not on view. Muranaga also presented her Letters to Monet series features soft fields of colors (light reds, oranges, blues) overlaid with very detailed brush strokes suggesting birds or plants.

At Garage Studios on Bryant Street. Alan Mazzetti’s paintings feature a very geometric vocabulary with clearly delineated shapes and textures. Although the linear and rectangular shapes stand out from a distance, up close one can see the the defining elements are the circles. There the large and clearly visible circles, but also the arrays of smaller circles that together form larger objects, and the circles that are hidden in the textures of the paintings.

Alan Mazzetti.  (click to enlarge)

Alan Mazzetti. (click to enlarge)

At SOMA Studios Mark Harris presented an interest mix of purely abstract work from his Letting Go series featuring energetic curved lines, and prints that ranged from abstract to overtly political. Some of his prints were recycled from previous trials, on which he placed text elements including his iconic “signature” shape.

I had initially seen Jeremy Garza’s work as another example of the use of text in abstract art, with his shapes that resembled a sci-fi language. This was apparently a coincidence, though he noted I was not the first person to point that out during the day.

A few artists blurred the distinction between abstract and architectural (actually, several did whether intentionally or not, like Yong Han’s sculptures above). From a distance, some of the paintings in Nanci Price Scoular’s “journeys” series look like abstract color fields with soft muted tones, but on closer inspection they are revealed to be details from structures, such as the “urban still life” pieces featuring rusted iron rings and gates.

Nanci Price Scoular.  (click to enlarge)

Nanci Price Scoular. (click to enlarge)

Samantha Ricca also crosses the boundary between abstract and architectural, with one series of paintings featuring surved, organic, almost corporeal shapes, and another featuring featuring straight lines and sharply delineated outlines of structures, such as a ferris wheel. Ricca’s studio was back at Pier 70, and a fitting place to conclude until the next article, which will focus on urban and architectural art.

[Images marked with “catsynth.com” are photographs taken with permission of the artists for use in these artists. Other images are reproduced from artists’ websites with their permission.]

Metal Machine Manifesto – Music for 16 Intonarumori

Last Friday, I attended Metal Machine Manifesto—Music for 16 Intonarumori at the Yerba Buenca Center for Arts here in San Francisco.   This concert, a joint performance of SFMOMA and Performa, was part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the launch of futurism, or more specifically the Italian Futurist movement launched in 1909. A century ago, the futurists were producing art, music, architecture and performance that still feels very modern, even more so than some of the more conservative post-modern art of recent decades.

In the area of music, one of the most influential composers and writers was Luigi Russolo, who wrote the Art of Noises, and developerd the intonarumori or noise makers.  The work of Russolo and others in futurist music paved the way for experimental and technologically-focused music from George Antheil to the electronic experimental and noise music of today that we at CatSynth perform and celebrate.  Indeed, RoseLee Goldberg in her introductory remarks to the program refers to the music of the futurists as the “original DNA of noise music.”

The intonarumori were hand-cranked instruments designed to produce “noises”.  Their sounds included whirrs and buzzes, clangs, scrapes, and also sirens and mechanically plucked strings.

For this performance, Luciano Chessa, a “foremost Russolo scholar” oversaw the recreation of 16 intonarumori, which were used to perform both pieces by the original futurist composers, and contemporary pieces for these instruments.

The recreated intonarumori looked much like the old pictures, with simple wooden boxes and large cones for sound projection.  You can see and hear some of the futurist noise makers in this video from Chessa and composer/performer Mike Patton:

After the concert I a chance to see the intonarumori up close and even try a couple of them out.  This medium-sized instrument produced repeated plucked-string sounds.

This one was purely mechanical, though another that I tried which produced automobile noises appeared to have an electric motor.

The concert itself featured Luciano Chessa as conductor for most of the pieces, and members of the Magik*Magik Orchestra under the direction of Minna Choi.

It opened with Paolo Buzzi’s 1916 piece Pioggia nel pineto antidannunziana.  This was a rather theatrical piece, with dramatic conducting by Chessa and various words in Italian shouted through a megaphone.  The noise intoners here were used to literally reflect the urban noises of the time such as sirens and the whirring of machinery.

In the the more contemporary pieces, the noise intoners were used in other contexts rather than as simulation and expression of the modern noisy environment, but as instruments that could be played subtly and expressively. Such was the case with Theresa Wong’s Meet me at the Future Garden.  Hits and clangs and mechanically plucked strings were set against Wong’s percussive vocals and Dohee Lee’s more dramatic low voice with loud vowel intonations.  From Wong’s program notes: “2 a.m. sharp, in a primordial cooperation of pulsating forest, I will sing you a song tactitle tick tocking of residual harmonies, caution manifest launching the dominance of mutual respoect and hypersensitivitiy this message sent from my iphone [sp].”

let us return to the old masters, a collaborative composition by members of sfSoundGroup, took its inspiration directly from a quote of Francesco Balilla Pratella ‘s Manifesto of Futurist Musicians to “destroy the produce for ‘well-made’ music”.  The piece itself was composed during the rehearsals for the concert.  The sfSoundGroup members have excelled at extended technique and performance of complex compositions with their traditional instruments, and brought that skill to the intonarumori.

The first half of the concert ended with one of the most disinctive pieces of the evening, Donno Casina by Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi.  The performance featured two the larger “bass” intonarumori, along with Kihlstedt on vocals and violin, Bossi on accordian, and Moe! Staiano playing a large drum and collection of colorful metal objects.  The distinctly futurist sound of the intonarumori was blended with Kihlstedt’s more contemporary extended vocal and violin techniques, and Moe!’s intense and theatrical percussion performance.

In addition to having the best title of any piece in the concert, James Fei’s New Acoustical Pleasures (A Furious Meow) was the most subtle.    It was made of “quiet noises” with lots of empty space between sounds and relatively little movement, and reminded me of some of John Cage’s more static pieces.  The short, soft tones from the intonarumori were quite a contrast to the loud blaring representations of modern life of the original futurist pieces.

While listening to John Butcher’s penny wands and the native string, I came up with the word “scrapier” to describe the piece.   And I am pretty sure that is not a real word.  Nonetheless, the piece was “scrapier” than the others.  The performance, which featured Gino Robair, included lots of scrapes and grinding sounds building up to a crescendo and then coming to an abrupt stop.  After a brief silence, the scrapes and grinding sounds resumed.  This pattern repeated a couple of times, with variations in each repeitition.

After Fei’s and Butcher’s pieces, the full ensemble returned for Mike Patton’s << KOSTNICE  >>.  All sixteen intonarumori were played together to produce a thick “orchestral” sound along with drums.

Luciano Chessa’s L’acoustic ivresse (Les buits de la Paix) also featured the full ensemble plus bass vocalist Richard Mix.   There were similar thick clusters as in << KOSTNICE >>, but this time framing Mix’s vocals.  There were moments when the vocals and ensemble played off on another, with Mix’s strong bass voice and traditional singing style simultaneously blending and contrasting with intonarumori.  This performance received one of the longer and more spirited rounds of applause of the concert.

Elliott Sharp’s Then Go, which featured Dohee Lee, received a similar reaction.  This was another full-ensemble piece, where the noise tones were very well synchronized to Lee’s dramatic singing.  She also tapped (or stomped) her feet in time with percussive sounds from the ensemble in a strong rhythmic pattern.  Through the rhythm, piece seemed to connect both the futurist sounds (as archetypically modern sounds) with something much more traditional, even primal.

The concert concluded with a realization of a fragment from Luigi Russolo’s 1913 Risveglio di una città.  Like the other original futurist work in the program, this piece directly referenced “sounds of the modern world” like cars and sirens.  This very short fragment of a piece abruptly ended with Chessa dropping his baton.

SF Open Studios, week 1

Just as it was last year, Open Studios is “art overload” – the sheer number of artists and artworks can be quite overwhelming, even just concentrating on a few studios in a small number of blocks in the Potrero Hill and Mission neighborhoods. I concentrated on a few areas of particular interest, such as pure abstraction, conceptual work, urban landscape, and use of technology, but also took notice of other themes such as animals (especially cats) and selected figurative works as well.

The first major stop was Art Explosion Studios on 17th Street (they now have several locations). I usually begin by seeking out larger abstract works (such as might be appropriate for the walls of CatSynth HQ). These could be single large paintings, or collections of smaller objects to form a whole. An example of the latter was Kally Kahn’s black-and-white “pincushion” series.

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Kally Kahn

[Click on any image in this article to enlarge.]

Very abstract and geometric, I did not immediately recognize them as pincushions until Kahn pointed it out. The brought to mind science fiction or microbial illustrations, and as such I thought of Miro’s Constellation. The coloring and texture also reminded of Julia Orshatz’s work I had seen a week or so earlier at First Thursday, although Kahn’s pincushions were rounder and less intricate.

In terms of larger abstract canvases, Heike Seefeldt’s Roller Coaster series stood out. Each 3-foot square canvas featured a central color and set of shapes (e.g., spirals, radial patterns, stripes, etc). Most made use of bright colors, but the Devastation sub-series featured darker colors, including one distinctive black canvas with more rectangular shapes.

Heike Seefeldt

Heike Seefeldt

Melisa Phillips

Melisa Phillips

I again found Melisa Phillips’ paintings, featuring stenciled text on large color fields as well as embedded abstract figurative images. She also presented some of her figurative drawings this year, but it was still the larger text-based works that got my attention. There is always the question with works that incorporate text about whether it is a purely visual element, or conveys meaning. Certainly, one recognizes the letters in these paintings as letters and thus as language, but for me part of the appeal is that they don’t appear to mean anything with regards to our normal use of language. (I found myself speaking with another artist, Megan Cutler, on the challenges of using text in art.)

Michelle Champlin’s large canvases featured cityscapes that were imaginary but were inspired by real cities, such as San Francisco.

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Michelle Champlin

At least one painting featured an outline of the Transamerica Pyramid; another was supposed to represent a neighborhood like the Tenderloin as seen at ground level and incorporated newspaper clippings into the background. Champlin said she was inspired by the cosmopolitan nature of the cities, and the coming together of many different people with different perspectives.

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Jhina Alvarado

Jhina Alvarado’s stark Forgotten Memories series was based on old photographs she collected. It seemed odd to possess “other people’s memories”, which led her to create these series where the people were presented on empty backgrounds, and their eyes covered with black boxes. Alvarado suggests that blocking out the eyes added anonymity, as well as some mystery to the figures, and to separate them from the memories of the original owners of the photographs.

Interestingly, some Alvarado’s work was displayed into the main hall next to another series of paintings in which the main figure’s eyes were hidden. Romolo R Nisnisan Jr’s In the eyes of a hakujin included a large portrait of a blindfolded Asian woman, supposedly a caricature of western mens’ perceptions of Asian women (or at least that’s what the poorly worded artist’s statement suggested).


On my way to Art Explosion, I stopped at a small studio on Potrero Avenue, featuring paintings by Calixto Robles. Several of his large paintings feature iconic and stylized images of jaguars.

Calixto Robles

Calixto Robles

Most were singular portraits like the examples above, although Robles sometimes incorporated them into other pictures with dreamlike or religious imagery.


Sevilla Granger

Sevilla Granger.

At 1890 Bryant Street, I met Sevilla Granger. Most of her canvases feature trees in silhouette surrounded by warm colors. The trees often have sharp bends in their branches and patterns reminiscent of the cypress trees along the California coast. Interestingly, these “arboreal portraits” are sometimes painted over initial abstract layers of paint that are never seen except as texture beneath the surface. She actually presented one of these preliminary images as a finished work, and found that it received a very positive reaction.

Catherine Mackay’s paintings focus on the “visual urban experience”, and her new series Wharves and Warehouses continues this theme. I had seen Mackay’s work before, which featured familiar locations from San Francisco and New York. Unlike her previous paintings, which featured very think paint and strokes that obscured the industrial quality of the scenes, the current series is very finely textured and almost photographic in some cases.

Catherine Mackay

Catherine Mackay

I instantly recognized one of the piers from along the Embarcadero near the Bay Bridge, an area which has been a rich source of material for my own photographs – this led to an opportunity to share some of my own images and discuss our experiences with the urban landscape.

While some artists focused on a particular media, theme or technique, Mr. Rogers was focused on a single character “Bunnymatic.” As the name implies, bunnymatic is a sort of robot/bunny character, inspired at least in part by the characters of Sanrio (e.g., Hello Kitty, etc.). We see bunnymatic in a variety of media (painting, graphics, popsicle sticks, kinetic sculpture) and in a variety of situations, such as playing drums, partying, towering over a skyline, etc.

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Mr. Rogers. Bunnymatic.

Another comic/cartoon-like image that caught my attention was this one illustration by Matt Delight, featuring a young woman and her pet mollusk.

Matt Delight

Matt Delight


A block or so away was Project Artaud, which houses a warren or live/work artists’ spaces, studios, galleries and a large performance space (where the 2008 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival was held).

Around a corner, I came to the studio of Janet Scheuer, whose colorful paintings feature cats. In particular, they feature her cat who passed away at the venerable age of 21.

Janet Scheuer

Janet Scheuer

In another corridor, I heard electronic music coming from the studio of Saiman Li, where a small group was performing live. The walls were covered with a variety of objects, photos and conceptual works relating to Asian visual imagery and Asian identity.

Saiman Li

Saiman Li


I made a brief detour to Cellspace. I mostly know Cellspace as a performing arts venue rather than a place for visual art. I did see large black abstract sculptures by Corey Best in the main hall. I also saw a few minutes of a dance performance entitled “Happenstance of Social Blunders”. Basically, it seemed to be deliberately clumsy dancing, set to some light jazz music provided by a live band.


Silvia Poloto.  Observations in Deep Blue.

Silvia Poloto. Observations in Deep Blue.

Silvia Poloto.  Void.

Silvia Poloto. Void.

After Cellspace, I visited the private studio of Silvia Poloto. I have a small mixed-media piece of hers, and have always liked her very deliberate arrangements of geometric shapes, color fields, organic elements and the occasional snippet of text. Her studio, like her canvases, was clean and smart and organized and was well suited for displaying some of her larger works.

Some, such as the blue painting from her Observations series, resemble that original small piece and have a the look and feel of a rough drawing.  Others, like those in the Absense Presence series are very smooth and polished, and divided into sections with abstract shapes or photo-realistic elements in each.  A third series, Highland, appeared to combine both styles into a very tall narrow dimensions.

[Images from the artist’s website reproduced with permission.]


From Poloto’s studio, I wandered down Folsom Street to Workspace, Ltd., a large and inviting collection of studios in a converted old industrial building.

Perhaps one of the most unique collections of work I saw was that of John Zaklikowsi. His source materials are a combination of discarded electronics (hard drives, cell phones, etc.), gears and chains, and musical instruments, which he arranges into large and intricate sculptural works. Some are flat wall-mounted collages, including one titled Number Theory; but he also had a grand piano covered with electronics and embedded with flutes, a clarinet and even a tabla.

John Zaklikowsi

John Zaklikowsi

I did not try to play it.

The corridors and studios of Workspace, Ltd also featured a variety of more conventional work. Leslie Andelin’s The Big Bang was a huge canvas covered in rectangles. The bright greenish colors are not really my preference. I did like the industrial and abstract paintings by Amy Curkendall and Alex Zenger, with lots of straight lines and angles. Ali Saif had a large collection of darker abstract canvases, mostly black and silver, with bits of red and other colors – his titles suggested industrial themes like classic cars.

As 6pm approached I did find a place to “decompress” from the artistic and sensory overload. Delfina Piretti had set up a tent as a quiet space where people could compose images from their dreams. While I mostly just wanted a moment without any additional input, I did contribute a drawing, trying to unload a bit of everything from all the different themes and trends into a single image. I left it behind in the book, unlabeled and unsigned.

First Thursday October 2009

It’s been a while since we have a reviewed a First Thursday Art Walk here at CatSynth. It is partly because I have been away the first Thursday of several months, and on the ones that I have been here I felt largely uninspired. However, fall is usually the best season for these events, and several exhibits at 49 Geary did catch my interest this time.

The highlight of the evening was actually the combination of visual art, musical performance and film at Steven Wolf Fine Arts. As I entered, bass clarinetist Jeff Anderle was performing a solo piece. We last saw Anderle at the 2008 Switchboard Music Festival. I then noticed the main visual exhibition Taking Pictures by Nicholas Knight. In these photos, Knight captures gallery viewers in the act of taking photographs of art, particularly with small digital cameras or iPhones. I of course needed to play along and take a photo of his photos of people taking photos of art:

In front of Knight’s work, we see the part of the percussion setup for the next performance by the Magik*Magik Orchestra. The piece by composer David Lang (of Bang on a Can fame) featured flower pots purchased from a hardware and garden-supply store (visible on the lower right of the photograph). However, the pots were very well chosen for intonation and resonance, and the performance had a very harmonic and ethereal quality. The three percussionists also remained very in sync with one other through the long tones. The next piece, which was also by David Lang, was titled Little Eye and featured cello plus percussion. It was a contrast in complexity from the cello and simplicity from the percussionists. The cello melody was very classical or baroque, while the percussionists provided a very modern background texture that featured rubbing on rusted wheels. There were also individual notes on a xylophone and piano/keyboard that added a different texture.

It turns out this performance of David Lang’s works was in support of the soon-to-be-released film (untitled), for which Lang provided the music. The comedy features a new music composer and Chelsea art galleries, and I am quite eager to see it when it comes out.

At the Haines Gallery, I was particularly drawn to the exhibit by Julia Oschatz entitled Odd One Out. The room was painted in a geometric black-and-white pattern, which matched the quality of Oschatz’s largely geometric and abstract drawings on the wall.

The drawings had a very stark quality to them in terms of the shapes and textures. Rather than just abstract geometry, the drawings depicted other worlds. Some seemed to be directly taken from science fiction, others more surreal. There were also several videos featuring a mouse-like character experience all sorts misadventures. On further inspection, I realized that a small version of this character was present in most of the drawings as well. One just had to know to look for it.

Once again, the Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery featured large abstract paintings, this time by Gustavo Ramos Rivera. Rivera’s large canvases are brightly colored and feature large shapes that seem like signs or icons in an unknown language. One can see repeated shapes with different color palettes in each painting. The sculptures that dotted the gallery for the exhibition featured similar motifs and complemented the paintings well.

Aaron Parazette’s paintings at Gregory Lind Gallery seemed reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s famous neo-plastic works, but with a more varied color palette and some different shapes. The most stark pieces of the evening were Freddy Chandra’s retangular color fields of acrylic, resin and graphite at Brian Gross Fine Art .

We conclude with a very different exhibit that again brings together visual art and music. Fifty Crows Gallery featured the solo exhibition Curse of the Black Gold by photographer Ed Kashi. Perhaps what got my attention more than the photographs themselves was the music of Femi Kuti, son of the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.

2009 San Francisco Electronic Music Festival

This September was the 10th anniversary of the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, and I had the opportunity to attend two of the performances. To mark the occasion, many of the original participants in the first festival ten years ago came back to perform.

The festival began with a piece by Miya Masaoka (whom Pamela Z jokingly referred to as the “mother of SFEMF” in her introduction). The LED Kimono project not surprisingly featured a kimono with LEDs, worn by dancer Mariko Masaoka-Drew. The dress itself was very pretty and simple, with a large LED array on the right-hand sleeve. Throughout the performance, different patterns were featured on the LEDa, sometimes very subtle with only a few active, and at other times large oscillating rectangular patterns.

The music began with a very traditional koto performance. There some delay, sampling and pitch-shift effects in the background. The koto was mostly struck or plucked, and occasionally bowed. During the section of the performance, there was almost no dance movement. Over time, more electronics came in, initially low, dronaning, and with overtones that sounded vaguely FM or inharmonic, almost like electrical noise.

As more electronic sounds came in, the dancer began to move, very slowly and subtly. Indeed, most of the movement throughout the piece was very subtle and slow, and did not clearly map to the musical material. On the other hand, the LEDs on the dress did match the rhythms and timbral changes. The first came on during and electronic arpeggio that sounded like classic FM synthesis. There were some dramatic swells with the higher FM-like sounds. The music primarily moved between the elements described, with the long drones and then the fast arpeggiation. But the physical movement of the dancer remained slow. As a result, I found myself mostly focused on the LEDs and the dress.

And the end, I stayed to watch the process of Masaoka-Drew being “unplugged” from the dress, and to fully observe the amount of electronics (and wiring) that were required for it to function.

The second set featured Lukas Ligeti performing his own compositions on the marimba lumina. He began slowly, with very low tones, one so low that the amplitude modulation itself became and audible rhythm. He then layered other sounds over these tones, including some vocal samples that sounded like chatters or whispers. Overall , I would describe his music as a cross between classic minimalism, world music, and electronic music. He described what we was doing as using the marimba lumina to play “samples and funny synths” on his laptop, with a focus on samples were collected from his world travels. One could definitely hear some of the instruments and voices from various places around the world, particularly Africa, in his performance.

The final performance of the evening was by Amy X Neuberg. Her performance was a combination of her “electronic cabaret”, which we have heard several times before and reviewed here at CatSynth; and a new work entitled “The Dude Trilogy”, a series of abstract poems for voice and the Blippo Box. The Blippo Box employs chaotic oscillators and modulation, and can be very difficult to control in a predictable way. However, Neuberg manages to perform it in a very poetic way, and more remarkably is able to match her voice to the sounds of the synthesizer. Rapidly changing vowel sounds matched a fast chaotic filter modulation, the rhythms of spoken word material matching the sequences. At other times her high sung tones followed the unstable high electronic pitches. During the piece, a video camera recorded and projected close-ups of her hands manipulating the instrument, including its theremin-like antenna.

Several of her electronic cabaret pieces were familiar from previous programs. They always are very tight and solid, combining voice, electronics and theatre. She did close with one song I had not heard before. It began with her striking the electronic drum pad repeatedly to produce a “banging piano-chord” pattern, which was matched by her vocals. It ended with a solo and fade-out on the Blippo Box, which almost seemed like a spontaneous moment.


The location of the festival, the restored Brava Theater in the Mission District of San Francisco, was itself an attraction. Besides the large theater space and lobby, the deliberately weathered foyer housed the installation The Exchange by Dukoro, the duo of Agnes Szelag and The Normal Conquest. This installation with subtly placed speakers and sounds generated interactively by visitors, complemented the architecture.


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The Saturday performance opened with [ruidobello], aka Jorge Bachmann performing his piece Coleoptera_0909 for electronics and video. The piece centered around beetles, or scarabs, who are members of the biological order Coleoptera. Videos of scarabs were projected onto the screen. Some were crawling on skin, some were in dishes, a couple were on a corrugated cadrboard surface that resembled a Q-bert board. Initially the beetles were solitary, but then they started to appear in groups. One particular scene involved one poor scarab being madly chased and grabbed at by another (one can only speculate what was going on here). The sounds were based on recordings of natural sounds from scarabs. In the early part of the piece, the relation to the insect noises was quite transparent (i.e., it “sounded like insects”). Later on, the connection between the performed sounds and the original material became more abstract, and sounded like thick pads with delays, time-stretching and pitch-shifting effects. The piece ended with a scarab taking off in flight, and the sound following suit with an ascending glissando.

[ruidobello] was followed by an electronic performance of Gino Robair’s opera I ,Norton. It is an improvisational piece based on the writings of Norton I, “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico”, and a famous character from San Francisco history. In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton declared himself Emperor Norton I of the United States, and began to issue a series of decrees, including the dissolution of the United States Congress. The opera is based on the text from these decrees, but in an “open-ended structure [that] allows it to be assembled differently for each performance.”

In this version, Tom Duff played Norton I and read from his various edicts, while the spoken words are processed by three electronic performers Chris Brown, Kristin Miltner and Wobbly. Indeed. all the electronic sounds were based on Tom Duff’s voice. At first, the electronic manipulations kept the words intact through various delay, pitch and time effects; but over time the electronics became more complex, with delay lines or samples short enough for the snippets from the original voice to form completely different timbres, and as such became more detached from the stage performance. I found myself focusing heavily on the video work of Tim Thompson along with the theatrical performance, and the electronic sounds became part of the background. One particularly strong visual moment was when Tom Duff/Norton I built a small “city” out of colored translucent cubes and shining flashlights through them. This illuminated construction was then picked up by the video and projected onto the screen. There was a middle section in which our protagonist appeared to go to sleep (perhaps dreaming) and the electronic music became the focus, with the video playing against the sounds (which were still entirely based on previously sampled vocal material). There was an overall calm pace to the entire opera performance, punctuated by the dramatic proclamations and occasional abrupt shifts in timbre or visuals; and one simply became immersed in the whole experience.

Pamela Z concluded the festival with what she described as an “old-new sandwich” with several short pieces. The first “older” pieces included looped rhythms layered with rich vocal textures and harmonies, with one featuring a dramatic simulation of a manual typewriter complete with carriage return. There was a performance of a piece I had originally seen her perform at room: PIPES back in May. The next piece was the “new” part, a work in progress entitled Baggage Allowance. It opened with a video of a baggage carousel, with various people reciting the contents of their luggage (clothing, toiletries, books, etc.). The contents became a little more unusual over time, as people described confiscated items and even an attempt to hide a knife at LAX. A simulated x-ray of a bag included strange objects like a frog and a gun (actually, I suppose I gun isn’t all that strange). This was set against live electronic processing of vocals as well as other sounds such as the popping of bubble wrap. The final piece was another older work involving delays and dramatic harmonic vocals (it was originally done years ago with hardware effects boxes before being ported to modern laptop computers); as a representation of classic electronic music being redone with modern technology, it was a fitting conclusion to the festival.