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War Peaces

San Francisco artists findinspiration during wartime

As the epicenter of homeland dissent, and one of the most rapidly reactive art scenes in the states, it is no surprise that San Francisco has been host
to several highly politicized art events of late. The large number of shows devoted to the "war cause" is impressive. However, it is more than just the breadth of exhibits that is capturing the public's attention. The quality and depth of thought displayed by so many of the artists is what is really setting the Bay Area art scene apart right now. A sense of action is apparent in these works, and just as importantly, in the way they have been so enthusiastically gathered and displayed at venues throughout the San Francisco.

Many arts institutions have responded to the political climate with programming that lends new perspectives and speaks to the changing world order. Intersection for the Arts is currently showing their ode to the Revolutionary, "The World is Beginning to Tremble: Che= R+Evolution" and The Berkeley Art Museum is host to Fred Wilson's installation "Aftermath". A mock archeological dig bringing together the artifacts of war, Wilson's installation questions the implicit relationship of war and war's resulting objects to institutions such as the museum. Particularly pertinent right now, given the controversy over the destruction of artifacts and 'looting' in Iraq, Wilson takes the viewer right up to the present. Including a cell phone from 2001 alongside a pipe from Vietnam, Wilson highlights through contrast an object that signals the beginning of this most recent foray into war.

Other smaller venues such as Adobe Books with more flexible programming schedules are also hosting politically minded exhibitions. Peace Show, curated by Eleanor Harwood and on display at Adobe Books until May 30th, has been amassing since the second peace march down Market Street in the middle of January. Since its opening in 1988, Adobe has fostered a familial and inclusive sense of cultural and intellectual community. Harwood decided to curate the show because she felt it critical to continue dialogue in spaces that were 'public and semi-private' for as long as possible, in an attempt to reach those who might feel 'disaffected and disfranchised'.

Toward this end, the availability of Adobe Books' window space is vital, and was put to good use by the artists. The window houses about 20 large and small works, including some wonderful works on paper and the "great manifest destiny game" by Amy Balkin and Josh On. Their piece, a dartboard with the globe painted on it, is positioned so that if not for the glass, the viewer might be able to play. Star and stripes darts poke into its roundness - reopening the scores of holes already scarring its bright green and blue surface - and invite you to pluck them away and play your own round. The varied pieces in the window display, ranging from teabags to a Diplomat Ken doll, become arms that reach out to engage the viewer. They then pluck you from the street, dropping you into the shop where books rule the floor space and the art hovers above on a track of white wall.

Of the pieces inside, I was most struck by those that had clearly been created since the threat of military action had escalated to the brink of war. Opening a little more than a week after the war began, the show is clearly timely, however the simultaneous depth and contemporaneous quality of the work was very impressive. Pieces such as Mitche Maniton's "Has a Face" a photoprint, Donal Mosher's "Sous le Paves, La Plage" and Alissa Anderson's "Emperor Bush Wears No Clothes," both c-prints, use photography to capture moments from the weeks of protest that preceded the war's beginning, without for a moment seeming simply documentary.

Other works, such as Kyle Knobel's "Peace in my Bedroom," a stencil cut from white paper and Alena Rudolph's "Night over Nancy's" a small- scale acrylic on wood resonated for their more subtle nods toward the weeks in which we had seen not only protests, but also bombs and police and death. Fear and helplessness as well as a feeling of necessity pervade. Knoebel's piece sits subtly on the wall with its words carefully incised in white on white and livened only by shadow. An unused tool of protest, the image is a hundred times gentler than the result of its usage would be, but its potential use causes it to stare out at you, daring you to stop looking and do something. Rudolph's quietly menacing landscape cut from the contrast of black on Day-Glo breaks a quiet night with the presence of a helicopter and the urgency of someone to get somewhere fast, an emergent need fracturing the domestic peace of the scene below.

Peace Show will be available for viewing at Adobe Books until May 30th.
Adobe is located on 16th Street between Mission and Valencia and is open
from noon to 10 PM daily. <a href="">The Berkeley Art Museum</a> will host Fred Wilson's
installation until July 20th and "The World is Beginning to Tremble: Che=
R+Evolution" will be at <a href="/business.php?blId=405">Intersection for the Arts</a> until May 24th.