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La Perruque (The Wig): At the office/gallery

By Greg Youmans

Situated in a cubicle and two shared conference rooms on the 17th floor of a Financial District skyscraper, the office/gallery is not the flashiest exhibition space in San Francisco-though it may rank among the city's most philosophically rigorous.

Sean A. Fletcher created the covert exhibition space more than two years ago in the offices of a life insurance company where, for the past four years, he has been employed "as a performance piece." The title of the space's current exhibition, la perruque (the wig), is taken from Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, a philosophical text exploring the idea of using company time to further one's own (masked) interests. And just as Fletcher exploits his employer's space, so the eight artists have exploited their employer's time, privacy, and office supplies.

Fletcher's co-curator Amy Balkin has dotted the cubicle with whimsical steno-pad pinwheels. The repetitive, mildly passive-aggressive action of crumpling each page seems like a great way to release energy during boring meetings, and it is interesting to try to reconcile the artist's hostile gesture with the peaceful end product. Sharing the workstation is a second piece by Balkin, by far the wittiest artwork in the show: eighty slides, consisting of obscure bar graph after obscurer line graph, are projected with precision onto a Post-It note stuck to the wall less than a foot from the projector. The tiny images flashing on the disposable screen call into question the value of such corporate presentations within the lives of their captive audience.

Corporate language undergoes a similarly clever recontextualization in the work of artist Peter E.V. Allen, who has stamped legal jargon into the ceiling tiles of the space. Allen, who has worked as a lawyer for the California Environmental Quality Act, chose his excerpts from The Running Fence Corporation v. Superior Court litigation (the legal battle of artist Christo). In reading such ludicrous excerpts as "recognizing the foregoing shortcoming," one has to wonder how Fletcher's coworkers could ever fail to respond to such artistic interventions. But Fletcher insists that he works in a highly competitive environment, among a staff suffering from acute tunnel vision: they don't look up at the ceiling, nor do they look too closely at three stolen tape dispensers arranged like antiques on a shelf in a piece by Lissa Ivy.

Seeing the artists exercise such latitude, one is led to wonder if perhaps there isn't more freedom within the corporate structure than previously imagined. With employers this dense, perhaps anything is possible. This optimism is reflected in the show's most lyrical piece, Meeting, in which Indigo Som, in a simple gesture, reinvigorates a stale office space by pouring salt in front of the windows and tucking stacks of paper on the floor in the corners. Drawing inspiration from fairy tales, Som envisions the impossible task of spinning a roomful of straw into gold and suggests that today's equivalent might be found in filing or data entry.

It takes a bit of imagination to transform a put-upon office assistant into the princess of a modern day Rumpelstiltskin, but the quiet rebellion of Fletcher and these eight artists gives us hope that such a dream might not be too far removed from the inner lives of today's corporate employees.

La perruque (the wig) is at the office/gallery now through October 19, 2001.

The office/gallery is located in the Financial District and features exhibitions and bimonthly events. To visit the space, by appointment only, contact Sean A. Fletcher at 415.733.6574.