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Capp Street Project

Celebrating 20 Years with a show at CCAC's Logan Galleries

Stepping into the weathered two-tone green bus, my attention was immediately divided. The surroundings were both foreign and familiar; stickers in both Arabic and English abounded, with lived-in details like a rabbit-foot keychain hanging out of the ignition and jangly skeleton hanging on the dashboard. It was Ken Kesey's bus, made for the Middle East. Sunlight flitted through the slats, filtered through different colored shades as one went towards the back of the bus. Time was rendered meaningless by the shades, obscuring any attempt to gauge the light outside. Instead of seats, there were cabins with carefully pasted newspaper comics, enigmatic posters (one giving the chemical composition of cocaine juxtaposed with a flag emblem), carpeted ledges and half-open drawers. Every item begged inspection, screaming its purposeful placing and historical import. Ducking into the rooms, I remained reverent, staying still, keeping quiet. In Mike Nelson's Pumpkin Patch, everything was sacred.

Installations, by definition, are impossible to contain; they are also, by definition, self-contained. As a recognized art form with specialized artists, installation art is new, only coming to fruition in the latter half the 20th century. San Francisco's Capp Street Project, originally located at 14th and Capp, became an important place for installation artists to work and exhibit. To celebrate twenty years of the Capp Street Project, four resident artists were selected to exhibit work at CCAC's Logan galleries, with adjunct lectures and a book on the history of installation art to further mark the anniversary.

Inside the gallery, behind the first set of black velvet curtains, lies Mike Kelley's piece Light (Time)-Space Modulator. His mildly monstrous rotating machine with a spiral staircase taken from his home, was suspended in the center of the room with red, green and yellow lights attached to the highest point. Accompanied by a chorus of beeps, the machine whirls around, moving a slide projection around the room while another slide projection is shown stationary at the wall opposite the entrance. Both slide machines show family photos of a house, a garden, and, intermittently, children around the house (one set shows pictures of his house as he remodeled and the other set are of the previous occupants). The steady, circular movement of the machine suspended in the center of the room with the mystery slides evoked the endless march of time; I expected to see the slides in chronological order, watching the children grow, although the artist did not make his point so crudely. Kelley made the most of visual and aural stimuli without overwhelming his audience, posing questions about the different kinds of movement in the room without creating a closed narrative on the slides.

The next velvet curtain had a warning on it: It takes at least five minutes for eyes to adjust to Ann Veronica Janssens's Subjective Fields (Donuts), 2003. In a dark, empty room a pattern of swirls coming around a dot, resembling a graphic image of an eye, was projected on the front wall in a changing array of colors with a slow strobe. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, they began to play tricks with the projection. Dark spaces were filled in when I blinked; I was reminded of trips to a science museum as a child, when I was transfixed by the concept and the demonstrations of optical illusions. Vision cannot be trusted to reflect objective reality. I walked around, feeling like an acid casualty-blinded by trails, bits of color and patterns that flashed in front of me when I blinked. The audience was held captive, forcing delight or anger at the uncomfortable vista of a giant flashing pattern. I overheard more than one person whispering, "Trippy" while rushing to get back to the white-lighted world.

Roni Horn's work, Some Thames, (2000), was the most conventionally mounted of the bunch. Consisting of several photographs of London's Thames River, the piece forces you to walk from picture of dark, muddy waves to picture of dark muddy waves, becoming increasingly astounded at the utter lack of information. There is no scale, no way of judging how far away from the water you are, what time of day these photos were taken, what part of the river you are looking at. All you see are the waves moving in a variety of angles. Without reference points, there is only the movement of the water. Perhaps there is a more sophisticated way of understanding these photos, but I was moved by some very basic lessons. After learning from the title of the exhibition that I was looking at the Thames River, I craved context. I wanted to see recognizable pieces of London. I wanted to know when the photos were taken, in what order, from what street. Context is comfort; I reflexively demanded facts to help me understand pictures of water and light.

All four installations were well worth second and third visits; they excel as examples of the different ways space can be used to create meaning. Site-specific art uses strong-arm tactics, forcing you into the artist's work in a way that can grate as well as inspire. Mike Nelson's mystery bus, parked in front of the gallery, was particularly emotional for me. Ghosts of imaginary Islamic owners haunted its worn Oriental carpets, its crowded, empty rooms. Someone left it in a hurry, keys still in ignition, and I had visions of American soldiers pulling the bus to the side of the road and yanking its occupants down the steps. Between the Arabic matchboxes and the Grateful Dead stickers, the mix of cyrilic script and foreign scribblings, the bus held secrets that made me cry. Moving out of the rose-tinted back room rocked the bus slightly, the small round windows on the sides becoming like portholes, changing the bus into a submarine. Like any good installation, Nelson's Pumpkin Palace moved me through real and imagined worlds, showing the power of art to transport.

Capp St. Project 20th Anniversary Exhibition runs through May 10th. Logan Galleries California College of Arts and Crafts is located on 111 Eighth Street in San Francisco. They are open Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 11 am - 6 pm, and Tuesday and Friday from 11 am - 8 pm. For more information, call: 415.551.9210, or visit their website at: ccac-art.edu.