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A Goodie-Bag from Langton

The Secret Life of Storage

Bags, the current exhibition from the folks at New Langton Arts, has brought Soma an experience somewhere between a puppet show and the wonderment of a child's first trip to the airport baggage claim - overwhelming, yet intriguing. Bursting with flights of fancy, Bags transforms Langton's gallery into a living, breathing creature full of component parts, referred to by James Bewley, the show's curator, as "bag-based life forms."

A visual and sound installation by Nick Bertoni and Laetitia Sonami in collaboration with Tinkers Workshop and East Bay teens, Bags draws on the tradition of Object Theater, manipulating everyday objects to change both their context and identity. The result, at the hands of the artists and the Tinkers Workshop, is a haphazard ballet linked through a manic system of cables, wires and compressors, which become the strings of Sonami and Bertoni's robotic puppet show. Briefcases open and shut to the vague din of office noise, Food Bags dance on tripods to the crooning of Chubby Checker's twisting, Luggage chatters about traveling and Chanel's buckle glimmers to the flashing blue light of the photographer's flashbulb.

The bags slide, shimmy and shake, animating parts of themselves through constant bursts of unexpected movement. Determined not only by the bag's particular societal context and usage, but also on careful examinations of how the bag could come alive, Sonami and Bertoni have molded distinct and interrelated personalities for their creatures. The score emanating from the bags, engineered by Sonami, creates the kind of cacophonic layered composition that at times allows for moments of revelation and at times prevents the distinguishing of any particular sound, as it crashes in and out of coherence. From 'bag confessional' interviews conducted by East Bay teens and supplemented by the sounds of buckles, zips and snaps, Sonami's score gives voice to the characters created. New sounds and voices constantly come to the fore the longer one spends in the space, distinguishing new identities for themselves as you step onto their sonic stage.

The place of bags as signs of capitalistic consumerism is noticeably absent from the show, disappointing in the face of the Musee d'Honneur Minuscule piece, which one encounters on the way through the gallery door. This smallest of bags, entitled "For your Fanny" seems to be the show's only overtly political piece, mocking America's brazenly antagonistic patriotism with its sequined Old Glory fanny pack. One is left to wonder at the place of the bag lady or of shopping bags emblazoned with Prada or Gucci, names uttered repeatedly in Sonami's score.

Bags runs from Wednesday September 18 until Saturday October 19 at New Langton Arts. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12 - 6 pm and admission is free. New Langton Arts is located at 1246 Folsom Street between 8th and 9th. For more information, call 415.626.5416 or visit their website at: