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Yerba Buena Center’s BAN 5

Where is the Bay Area Now?

When galleries and cities begin recurring art exhibitions, they make long term commitment to showcasing their region’s art well into the future. Twelve years ago, San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts committed to the Bay Area with the initiation of its triennial exhibition, Bay Area Now. Only this year, just four triennials in, they almost didn’t hold BAN 5.

Aware that global living diminishes the sense of regionalism, the curators of BAN 5 began discussing whether a locally-focused exhibition was even pertinent anymore: can art and artists be defined by their geographic location? In the end, the themes of this year’s exhibition revolve around the overarching question of what makes an artist a Bay Area artist and, in turn, what makes art into Bay Area art? YBCA asked the selected artists to consider how the geography, myths, histories and realities of the Bay Area that influence them and their work.

The resulting exhibition is as broad as the investigation posed. Spanning four months, YBCA offers five exhibits of visual art; the main survey exhibition plus four others: Estacion Odesa, Theory of Survival, Galleon Trade and Ground Scores, as well as a series of film, performance art and community events. BAN5 also includes shows at two satellite galleries: The Red Poppy Art House and Queen’s Nails.

Fittingly for a show that is questioning what, exactly, it is surveying, the main exhibition is anything but cohesive. Instead of the works melding into a common vision, each piece stands on its own, offering a distinct point of view, though without threatening to negate the others. There are no answers here to the dozens of questions posed, only jumping off points for discussion.

Amid all this, a pattern of the artists’ refusal to color within the accepted lines begins to emerge. Traditionally, there are clear divisions between viewer and artist, distinct boundaries that separate cultures and neat little boxes that contain just one art form each, film, say, or performance art.

In BAN 5, each artist breaks tidy borders and blends at will, whether subtly, as in Ana Theresa Fernández’s diptych "Eco y Narciso", where she paints a woman going through a Mexican ritual while clothed in the American woman’s standard of the little black dress. The blend of cultures here is both unexpected and not immediately apparent, as is case with the soundtrack to her paintings: the small earbuds that hang from the wall so the viewer can hear the noise of wet hair smacking against a tiled floor requires a sign above them to direct the viewer.

Praba Pilar, on the other hand, flagrantly blends form with The Church of Nano Bio Info Cogno, a religion she created out of a combination of Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Neuroscience. Via a large flatscreen TV, Pilar preaches to the chapel she created of open pews ready for whomever wishes to sit and complete with automated confessional (have you bid on your own ebay item?). Is it installation piece? Performance art? Film?

While this melding of cultures and art forms is hardly groundbreaking, the pervasiveness of it at BAN 5 speaks loudly for where, exactly, the Bay Area is now: in transition, indefinable, open for interpretation and ready to be whatever you make it.

The constant invitation for the viewer to interact with the works themselves, whether by listening to a soundtrack or becoming an actual, though momentary, part of the piece reflects the need for the viewer to come to his own answers as to where, exactly, is the Bay Area now?

BAN 5 is much larger than the survey exhibit itself, yet in all aspects, presents interactive opportunities. Ground Scores, one of the guest-curated shows, is a series of guided tours through San Francisco and Treasure Island. The BAN 5 blog ( invites you to be the “surprise guest” to the Community Conversations. Even the Bay Area Now 5 catalog is designed to be a notebook, pocketsized, it has note-taking, doodling space available on every page.

This triennial hardly begins to answer the many lines of questioning the curators posed. What it does, though, is to continue the dialogue by pulling the viewers -- the community -- into the fray as well. Where is the Bay Area now?

Bay Area Now 5
runs through November 16th
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Hours: Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat & Sun: noon – 5 pm
Thu: noon – 8 pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays.