Larry and Debby Kline artists and provocateurs – installation, performances, and other works

“Reviews: West Coast: San Francisco” – Art Papers, March/April 2005
Art Papers article
ART PAPERS    MARCH/APRIL 2005REVIEWS / West Coast: San Francisco

Monuments are repositories of collective public narratives more than personal memory triggers. If our interpretations of history and our memories of events differ, monuments nonetheless strangely condense them through accessible representations and public markers. Marking the thirtieth anniversary of SF Camerawork Gallery, Monument Recall: Public Memory and Private Spaces is an ambitious group show featuring works by twenty artists (October 26-November 24, 2004). If curators Paula Levine, Trena Norval, and Laurie Blavin successfully crack open the collective cache of generalizations and assumptions about monuments, they do not go much further. The exhibition lacks focus and suffers from overcrowding.

Three pieces address the life and fate of monuments with sophistication and depth. Mark Breast van Kempen’s Monument to Forgotten Dead, 2004, combines photographs and instructions for a self-guided walking tour of sea-polished gravestones left behind in the defunct Golden Gate Cemetery. The area is now home to both the Legion of Honor and a golf course. The large, foreign rock markers along the shoreline are still visible from the cliffs above. Manuel Piña also shows large photographs of remnants of monuments. In On Monuments, 2000, memorials live on, through the very traces of their removal, to outlast the regimes that erected them. The artist masterfully captures vacant pedestals and holes in the pavement where statues of past presidents used to stand along the Avenida de los Presidentes in Havana, Cuba.  Jeannene Przyblyski and Mitche Manitou’s Travels with Anza and Carlos, 2004, a collaboration with the mysterious San Francisco Bureau of Urban Secrets, displays materials concerning the nomadic life of two San Francisco statues: eighteenth-century Juan Bautista de Anza and his patron, Carlos III of Spain. Their walking map allows viewers to retrace the ambulation of each of these inconvenient public monuments as it was erected, moved, and erected again.

Documentation of off-site works provides some of the most intriguing pieces in the exhibition. David Maisel’s Lake Project Billboards, 2004, are exquisite aerial images of the ecological destruction at Owens Lake.  Debby and Larry Kline’s Electric Fields of California Site #4, Encryption, 2004, are fluorescent tubes located under large electrical transmission towers alongside a Sonoma County highway. Captured in photographs, invisible electricity saturation becomes visible as it makes the plasma in the tubes glow. Both projects beautifully expose our frightening impact on the environment.

KW:a’s Shroud of Memory, 2004, and Germaine Koh’s Relay, 2004, similarly call attention to the mundane objects we leave behind-de jure monuments to our culture. Quotidian objects cast in clear resin, cut into soap- sized pieces and patched together like a hard-edged quilt are placed on a large floor light box in Shroud of Memory. Visible to passersby, a light flashes intermittently from SF Camerawork’s street level entrance in Relay. The flashes visually translate SMS text messages that, sent to its phone number, are then converted to Morse Code. If these pieces seem out of place, venturing too far from the meat of monument issues, they are nonetheless sufficiently complex to keep us revisiting them mentally.

Many other selected works, however, dilute the issue. Some pieces are too narrowly dependent on existing monuments or on the monumental impulse; some also seem to confuse monument and place. Other selections are still more puzzling. Too many works, tenuous connections, and diffuse ideas make it hard work for the viewer to glean meaningful ideas from Monument Recall.

I applaud the curators for tackling overdetermined and monolithic concepts such as the monument and collective/public memory, and attempting to renegotiate their boundaries. All the more so since an anniversary exhibition could have been uselessly self-referential. Ultimately, however, numerous lines of thought are indiscriminately left open. This reflects a soft curatorial premise. This lack of investment in a few, thoughtfully selected axes of investigation delegates both too much and too little to the viewer. No position needed here.

-Meredith Goldsmith

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