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A Dip in the Pond 

A new alternative art space bubbles to the surface -- and Tom Friedman makes Zen art from ordinary stuff

Wednesday, Jan 10 2001
One jaw-dropping revelation that floored local art mavens when it was revealed in 1995 is that San Francisco boasts more galleries and alternative spaces than any city in America except the Big Apple. You wouldn't know it to read about all the closings. The life span of many alternative spaces is often short and bittersweet: Sans funding and sales, these are fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants operations that remain open a few years, mount some interesting shows, then quietly go the way of the (extinct) marbled toadlet. But like some Loch Ness artophile, a new venue always seems to rear its head and fill the void. Within the past year the Mission District has seen both e.s.p. and Four Walls fold; to help keep the balance, Linc Real Art opened its doors several months ago. And now, just a hop-skip from Linc, a spanking new space named Pond held an inaugural New Year's Eve bash to kick off a four-person group show. Pond's co-directors, Marisa Jahn and Steve Shada, envision the small, intimate space (once a leather-and-sheepskin repair shop) as a community laboratory and forum for a "motley of things," including emerging experimental artists, children's art shows, and live performance.

As for the untitled exhibition of untitled work currently on view, Permi K. Gill's lilting photographic suite of female hands washing a white sheet under a running faucet is the most polished and resonant. At first glance, everything appears suffused by a pretty-in-pink innocuousness -- nothing more sinister than trailers for a soft-core soap opera. But in fact these sudsy still lifes represent Gill's ongoing explorations of symbols of cleanliness and hygiene as they relate to class, race, gender, and sexuality. Her not-so-squeaky-clean scenarios, which move coyly in and out of focus, get an acid rinse and ripple with drip-dry humor. Both the ethnicity (which may have been digitally bleached -- let's just call it off-white) and marital status of the owner of this pair of hands are difficult to determine.

Numerous associations well up while viewing the photos: washing one's hands of some immoral stain, whitewashing the truth, airing dirty laundry, dirty work, ethnic cleansing, women's relegation to domestic servitude. (The starchy, white sheet might even call to mind the Ku Klux Klan.) Suggestive images hint of "servicing" a man with a hand job or wringing somebody's neck.

Tacked to the wall like psychedelic Kodachrome postcards, Jennifer Fiore's fanciful dreamscapes are fuzzy slices of surrealism refracting a hallucinogenic and highly personal vision. Like Gill's artfully choreographed hands, Fiore's less identifiable vignettes are voluptuously blurred -- and somewhat disturbing. Ranging from raw meat that smacks of intestinal tracts to slimy mollusks slithering against foggy backdrops to pink cotton-candy moonscapes sprouting cobalt blue plant life, the images could be the trippy world seen by a near-sighted salamander gorging on unusually potent mushrooms.

Terry Mason's campy installation hints that other people can be tough nuts to crack. As such, a giant, hollow walnut shell hangs suspended above a school desk like a remnant from some cheesy 1950s sci-fi flick. Once you lower that gnarly thinking cap over your noggin, you're awash in stereophonic nature sounds; a mini-video monitor inside the shell shows a large hulk lumbering ahead of you -- another unknowable person, perhaps?

Alas, the fourth artist's work -- a video by Saiman Li -- hadn't arrived when I saw the show in the late afternoon of New Year's Eve. In past performances, Li was decked out in a single eye-popping hue from head to toe; this extraterrestrial tourist wandering amidst famous historical sites made for some memorably surreal sights. Rumor has it that his latest project documents less flamboyant sketches of daily life in Mr. Li's neighborhood. (What? No parasoled mutant preening in Monet's gardens at Giverny?) Although trying to predict if a particular venue will sink or swim is sometimes more of an art than a science, chances are Pond will generate a few ripples in the coming months.

Tom Friedman's wonderfully wacky retrospective is a high-octane harmonic convergence of science, slapstick, and streamlined conceptual sculpture. His obsessively crafted objects from truly mundane materials -- bubble gum, garbage bags, toothpaste, toilet paper -- crystallize into zany, minimalist meditations on the ordinary, injecting some goofy fun, poetry, and childlike awe back into serious art. Imagine conceptual art godfather Sol Lewitt on nitrous oxide.

Sandra Wong's unassuming yet equally obsessive pencil drawings of diminutive figures are steeped in mystery. The artist generally provides no background for either figure or viewer -- her characters exist either in the void or in some ambiguous setting. "Made Lives" also includes dioramas containing sculpted figures in glass houses that complement large, friezelike, freeze-framed drawings, adding another dimension to Wong's oddly compelling meditations on identity and interpersonal relationships.

About The Author

Harry Roche


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