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Masterminds 2010 

Meet the talented Bay Area artists competing for our $2,500 grants.

Wednesday, Feb 17 2010

Page 2 of 4

Kate Mitchell
Many artists work in more than one discipline, but few manage to successfully blend them. Choreographer, designer, and collage artist Kate Mitchell is the exception. She designs clothing around movement for her dance troupe, Kate Mitchell and Dancers, which she founded in 2003, and takes inspiration from as varied sources as the painter Wassily Kandinsky, fashion designer Christian Lacroix, and filmmakers such as Julie Taymor and Pedro Almodóvar. "I just happen to be one of those people with a split artistic personality," she says, laughing.

The Oakland resident attended New York City's High School of Performing Arts, where she studied dance, and then to Yale. She put dance aside in college to focus on design, taking classes in art history and stage management, but returned to it as part of the dance repertory company CoDanceCo in New York, which became known for working with choreographers Bill T. Jones and Mark Morris.

She also studied fashion at Parsons New School for Design in New York.

"About ten years ago, I began weaving together dance and design, my two passions, and I started to realize all these creative pursuits connected through composition — whether it be the frame of a video or on the stage, or in a two-dimensional work," Mitchell says. "At this point, I started to feel really excited. Like all of these things that I had done and studied had a purpose."

Tabitha Soren
Her face is instantly recognizable to anyone who watched MTV News in the '80s and '90s, but Tabitha Soren, 42, has retired from journalism after a decade or so of globetrotting. She has not, however, stopped working. The Berkeley-based Soren has been seriously pursuing photography, with assignments from The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and others providing public displays of her portraits of people and places.

Her primary subject? "Time," she said in a phone interview. Soren tends to find a subject, such as post-Katrina New Orleans, and keep returning to it. In that series, "Uprooted," she first shot "all over the place," but eventually limited her scope to eight plots of land. The images are bereft of people, but feel far from empty: Soren shows the cycle of destruction and growth through mud-splattered patio chairs and plants poking up through the earth. In another series, "Underdogs," she has been taking pictures of baseball players, showing their journey from fresh-faced rookies to more weathered professionals. "They started out as happy, hopeful kids, and now — they are being marketed, they have a lot on the line," she says. "One injury can change everything. There are psychological elements of time in their portraits."

Soren is less sure about why time has been such an interesting topic for her. "That's a hard question," she said, pausing. "I grew up in a military family, so we were always changing locations. Maybe photography is a response to that, an effort to slow time down. And now that I have children, well, people say that children mark time, by their changing growth, and height, and so on."

While Soren's photography does seem to somewhat straddle the line between journalism and art, she remains firmly planted in the latter. When asked whether photography could be construed as an effort to avoid the frantic pace of her MTV days, she answered drolly: "Oh, ya think?"

Misako Inaoka
For visual and installation artist Misako Inaoka, 32, figuring out what is natural and what is artificial is often trickier than it seems. Take parks, for instance. The grass and trees might be from nature, but, as she points out, "everything was planted," or placed in planters or otherwise manipulated. Houseplants, fake Christmas trees, animal statues in front yards — once you start paying attention to things, as Inaoka does, they seem to be everywhere.

Inaoka's keen eye for the subtle absurdities of urban attempts at nature has led her to create a unique body of work. In "Urban Habitat Re-Creation" at YBCA in 2008, she installed dry moss on the ceiling and Astroturf on the floor of a narrow, sloped corridor. Recorded bird noises engulfed the space. Visitors had to crawl into the space to peer up to small windows that contained such things as floating plants and a mirror. It was a memorable exhibit.

She also uses representations of nature, as well as actual plants, in her work. Small bird figurines with strange heads, equipped with motion sensors, tweeted in a 2006 show. Inaoka, who has been an artist-in-residence at the de Young, made a chess set with animal pieces last year, poised to attack each other from across the board.

Inaoka's goal seems to be to make us look more closely at the world around us, whether it's man-made, natural, or in between. "I think a lot of people around here pay attention," she says, noting that she chose to move here instead of New York City after attending the Rhode Island School of Design, and has been happy to find such a "warm, supportive community." But even if audiences in the Bay Area do tend to keep their eyes open, Inaoka does a great job focusing their gaze.

"We are Will and Grace," Ryan T. Smith, 29, co-founder of San Francisco dance troupe RAWdance, says of Wendy Rein, his professional life partner. "No, we make Will and Grace look totally functional," Rein, 32, quickly adds. "Because we've lived together and worked together." They both start laughing, as if on cue.

The dancers and choreographers have known each other since their Brown University days, and it shows in their work. Neither could imagine working as closely — and taking as many artistic risks — with anyone else. The pair formed RAWdance in 2004 after collaborating for six years. They get props for edgy, sexy inventive fare designed to speak to audiences who would rather snort glass than call themselves "dance people," but who actually might like modern dance.

About The Author

Reyhan Harmanci


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