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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Art on the Ceiling -- About the Ceiling -- at the Lab Intrigues But Falls Short of Its Infinite Aim

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2011 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge ceiling_the_lab.jpg
You enter the way you might enter a movie that has already started. The lights are low, and the crowd is silently floating across the room without a floor. But there is a floor and there are walls, albeit stark white ones; it'd be easy to write off the show as a gallery without art. So you look up to find the exhibit spread across the ceiling.

It's the Lab's annual juried exhibition "A Floorless Room Without Walls" featuring seven projects by eight local artists. Curated by Marcella Faustini and Chris Fitzpatrick, the exhibit attempts to push the boundaries of defined space and literally redirects our attention to the often overlooked and beautifully decrepit ceiling of the historically rich Redstone Building.

click to enlarge The ceiling -- the real one.
  • The ceiling -- the real one.
Artists were invited to submit or create projects that would "grapple with the governing principle of gravity...that mirror the ceiling's stratification as productive decay, that consider the paradox of a room with no floor or walls, that approach the gallery itself as a fluid object or a terminal of intersecting forms and ideas."

Had the exhibit as a whole pointed clearly to any of these ideas, the show would have been interesting. Instead, the selected work touches on too many themes that collectively don't really add up. Each piece stands alone and begs for an individual reading, ones that took my thoughts all over the place.

Aside from the standard listing of participating artists (including Anonymous) on the gallery wall at the entrance, there is no information about who created what, nor is there a written statement anywhere. You can read it on the gallery's website or be familiar with the artists' work. But surprisingly, this helps the exhibit. It forces visitors to not just look at a piece, but actually find it and decipherwhat is "art" and what is just part of the existing ceiling. This makes the show feel more like a treasure hunt than an art exhibit, and that's what I most enjoyed about it.

I was first drawn to what I believe is Cybele Lyle's projection, which was (you guessed it) cast onto the ceiling. The effect is multilayered, creating visual static and endless layers of space and time. The resulting sense of entrapment put me into a trance I almost didn't escape. Luckily, I was soon distracted when my peripheral vision caught a mirror extending the length of the room. This piece is part of the project by Aaron Finnis. I am not sure what else is and is not involved in his piece. Maybe that's the point of his installation: to install in a way that prevents you from knowing it is installed.

click to enlarge AMY HO
  • Amy Ho
I next found Amy Ho's piece, a projection hidden in the north part of the ceiling that looks like a green gradient and evoked the befuddlement I feel when I try to fathom infinity: too beautiful to scare me, and yet too humble to pull me out of the parameters of the space.
click to enlarge DANIEL KONHAUSER
  • Daniel Konhauser
I spotted some binoculars poking out of a long encasement of black cloth, begging to be pulled and handled. This is IN/SIGHT by Daniel Konhauser. The installation brought a nostalgia that magically blurred my vision into a memory upon use. In this way the constraints of time and space were overcome.
click to enlarge EMMA SPERTUS
  • Emma Spertus
In the center of the gallery, Emma Spertus' photographic sculpture drops down and serves as a centerpiece. Blatantly shaped like a bay window, the work brings the outside in. While the use of photography and structure is interesting, this is not her best work as it needs more context to succeed (like her installation White Room done at White Columns).
click to enlarge ZAROUHIE ABDALIAN AND JOSEPH ROSENZWEIG
  • Zarouhie Abdalian and Joseph Rosenzweig
The most successful piece was a collaboration by Zarouhie Abdalian and Joseph Rosenzweig. It's a pragmatic plug that emits its own illumination, creating an endless circuit of self-reflection. It is simple yet mind-boggling. How can you be without being, or without letting yourself be? These thoughts kept running through my head as people started lying on the floor to take in the ceiling as a whole, blinded by the light above them.

"A Floorless Room Without Walls" is the kind of exhibit where you wonder what people are looking at, or looking for. Your thoughts are the only hope for enjoying (or understanding) your found treasures. I wouldn't go alone. It was fun to be with a friend to point and duck and run and listen. And smell. I didn't find the seventh piece by Anonymous, but I did overhear someone saying, "Have you found the anonymous smell piece?" My excuse: I had a cold, so I'll have to go back to find it.

I'd like to think that Anonymous is the same Anonymous that wrote this quote:

Infinity is a floorless room without walls or ceilings.

Infinity is a great theme for a ceiling show, but this exhibit doesn't concisely present it. Nonetheless, the exhibit does showcase some of the more interesting artists currently working in the Bay Area. Definitely worth a (finite) visit.

"A Floorless Room Without Walls" continues through July 30 at the Lab, 2948 16th St. (at Capp). Admission is free.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.

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Stephanie Echeveste

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