senseofplace LAB contributed an installation in 3 parts for the exhibition ‘Place/Displaced’ at SOMArts
breathing in place, 2014
site-responsive drawing/performance, powdered charcoal, paper, video projection
(Click here for 5 sec. excerpt of video projection]
The piece is a meditation on time and place as an amerliorative offering. The drawing was created over a period of time. This performative process is meant to inspire a shift of awareness of place in passerby via my focused attention to ‘place’. The finished drawing for this exhibition took on some of the qualities of a bruise. The projection was created from a series of stills from the drawing process and edited so the transitions are the rhythm of relaxed in and out breaths. Change is inevitable but the changes that have happened in San Francisco over the last few years have been at hyper speed. The work is an offering of respite from the trauma of displacement.
SPOTLIGHT [on Bayview + Mission], 2014
postcard series, designed in collaboration with ’16th and Mission Thursday Night Free Word Happenings’
This is an on-going project that invites residents of Bayview and the Mission to share images of what they want to protect and what they’d like to see change in their communities. Materials from the community events created for the exhibition are here.
Markings [Bayview + Mission], 2014
social engagement action, C-prints, found frames
This piece is continued from a previous work for Mission/DOTD. Markings is an on-going community-based project in which people are invited to fill out tags printed with “This is where…” – with their memories of places. The tags are then added to flags, which are put in front of the places where their memories took place, and photographed. The photographs are framed with found frames and hung salon style to reflect the value of places and the intimate feelings that people have for them.
SF Chronicle article about the work:
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to turn pain into something beautiful. We all have our own ways of dealing with pain and loss and trauma, but I’ve never found any worth in most of the sayings that we repeat to each other in times of stress. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” for example, or “Pain can be cathartic,” strikes me as good embroidery and bad faith.
My experience with suffering is that it ennobles no one. Most wounds never become wisdom.
I am always thinking about these things, but of course they came alive this week. So I decided to take a break from looking at the latest unarmed black kid to be killed in the street, and to find a few things that channel pain into something that feels satisfying:
1. “Ellis Act Tag Sale”
San Francisco has had many crises over gentrification, but the issue felt particularly acute this year. A lot of local artists made pieces that touched on the loss of home in 2014, for good reason — if they weren’t being pushed out, their galleries were.
Right now, there’s a big exhibition at SOMArts called “Place/Displaced.” The exhibition, which was done with the Bayview Opera House, is bright and rollicking and celebratory; it’s drawn the attention of lots of people who don’t normally go to galleries.
That’s great, but it was the two subtler pieces in the show that caught my eye. The first of these is “Ellis Act Tag Sale,” which artist Ako Jacintho, 42, created after going to, well, an Ellis Act tag sale.
“I didn’t realize it at the time,” said Jacintho, with a laugh. “I just saw this woman in my neighborhood in the Mission, who had spread all of these things on a blanket on the street. There are so many people doing that every weekend. I started bargaining with her, thinking that her prices were too high. And then I heard her say to another customer that she’d been Ellis Acted.”
The experience led to Jacintho’s piece in the exhibition, which is just what it sounds like — a blanket spread on the ground, with goods displayed for sale. It’s the type of spread that we all pass every day, but what lifts it up is not just the experience of seeing it in the gallery space but the obvious care that Jacintho took with selection and placement.
“When we decide to sell our things, we’re telling our stories,” Jacintho said. “Everything in that exhibit is something that belongs to me, that means something to me.”
I didn’t know any of the story behind the piece when I saw it, but that’s why it works. Jacintho doesn’t push anyone into an opinion. Walking around the things that make up his life, I felt space for many possibilities and many stories. It’s a piece that expands feeling, instead of constricting it.
For “Markings,” also in “Place/Displaced,” the artist asked residents of the Mission and the Bayview to write down a memory of their neighborhoods on a small flag. She then placed the flags in front of the places that were being remembered, and photographed them. It’s a simple idea that gains resonance as you look at more and more of the flags, and take on more and more of their memories.
It’s the “memories that make a building into a ‘place,’” said Laurie Halsey Brown of senseofplace LAB. She’s collected more than 100 flags, and said that “the responses were all amazing — personal, funny, insightful, intimate.”
The Mission and the Bayview have experienced the highest spike in housing costs during the city’s current boom; many of the residents’ beloved places have already disappeared or won’t be around for much longer. “Markings” is a good reminder that we may lose the buildings we love, but through memory we will carry them along.
3. “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”
I was skeptical when a friend of mine sent me this film trailer. The title sounded like the kind of (slightly) exaggerated headline that’s designed to go viral on the Internet, and “Last Black Man” is getting a lot of attention on the Internet.
But for once, that attention is richly deserved.
“Last Black Man” tells the true story of 20-year-old Jimmie Fails IV, a San Francisco native. We follow Fails as he skateboards through the city. As we swoop up and down hills, Fails tells the story of his grandfather, a war veteran who was given the opportunity to move into a home in the Fillmore that was vacated because of the Japanese internment program.
Fails’ grandfather didn’t like that. So he built his own Victorian in Duboce Park, which the family later lost because of hard times. Fails has spent much of his life in foster homes and homeless shelters, but he didn’t forget his family’s history — or the home.
“It was the only place I had a family life,” he told me, and the movie is about his quest to get the house back.
Fails worked on the trailer along with 24-year-old filmmaker Joe Talbot. Like so many other filmmakers these days, they’re hoping that the trailer will get enough attention for them to get funding for the rest of the movie. If you’re looking to make a local arts donation for the holidays, find out more here: http://on.fb.me/1zYOCFc.
This movie, Talbot says, “is our way to make sense of what’s happening to us as San Francisco natives.”
Caille Millner is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter:@caillemillner