A VISUAL ARCHEOLOGY
Moving a critical writing project into a gallery space is a compelling challenge, and not only because of the translation of language-work to visual materials and information. The spatial and institutional contexts of the gallery space also put the writer—as researcher & critic—on stage, as an active participant in the production of visual culture, rather than a detached observer writing from a ‘critical distance.’
In the case of the Mission District, ongoing cultural and political contestations over public and private space, real estate and gentrification, sanctioned and underground social practice, etc., often leave their traces and scars in the built environment and city-scapes, even if those traces are often abstract, obtuse, & over-determined by aesthetic and economic codes of meaning. Here then, the participant-critic might begin the work of visual archeology, in an attempt to simultaneously (re)interpret and re-mix the historical and material aspects of a site’s ‘enviro-aesthetics’ towards new meanings and perspectives. Some of this work requires the compositional (and curatorial) techniques of sampling and appropriation, while at other times the performative research practices of psychogeography and site-specific ‘readings’ are suggested by the limits of conventional criticism. Throughout, I’ve attempted to draw on critical methods as the materials and questions have demanded, rather than setting out to present a finished work ‘about the Mission’. Using the “17 Reasons Why!” sign that used to sit atop this building, an advertising sign which over the years became an empty signifier re-animated by residents’ passionate attachments to (if not also nostalgias for) certain ideas about the Mission, I’ve tried to foreground questions rather than answers, ‘reasons’ for further work, that might continue to try and answer to the always-critical and political question: Why?
The vast bulk of materials in this installation have been gathered from within a one-block radius of the gallery. The exhibit is ongoing, and open to participation and input from anyone. At the end of the run of the show, BARGE will publish a ‘catalog’ that presents the provisional results of its research and work during its residency at Mission17, along with a site-specific performance of “Reason 17”. Please see the BARGE blog for updates & to send in comments, questions, photos, stories, maps, etc.
Many thanks to Dillon Westbrook, Samantha Liapes, Lara Durback, Alli Warren, Karla Milosevich, Melissa Alvarado, Katrina Lamb, Alexandra Grigorova and Abelo Printing, Juliana Spahr, and especially Clark Buckner and Lara Mott of Mission17 Gallery.