BAM/PFA exhibit engages visitors in creative process
By Lou Fancher Correspondent San Jose Mercury News
The Possible, an experimental, collaborative creation open now through May 25 at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, attempts to break its own innovative mold.
Curated by Oakland-based artist David Wilson and operating in and outside of five galleries at BAM's 2626 Bancroft Way location, the four-month project has tentacles. A series of Sunday workshops places visitors elbow-to-elbow with textile, perfume, video, sound, print, ceramic and story artists.
Kids Club activities originating with 100 pounds of clay and a someday gigantic felt rug-creation will continue to the end of 2014. Even before the opening weekend (Jan 31-Feb 2), a mail-art collaboration was inviting artists to participate and setting the stage for Wilson's dream.
The 31-year-old Wooster, Mass., native made an early habit of communal art as a boy, arranging musical projects he treasured for their shared, lasting, remembered experience.
Wilson was awarded SFMOMA's 2012 SECA Award and included in BAM's 2010 MATRIX with a solo exhibition and San Francisco's Southern Exposure recently awarded him an Alternative Exposure grant in support of his wide-net, come-together installations.
As contemporary art museums evolve beyond presenting artistic results to exhibiting the process used to reach them, Wilson says, "The Possible" will periodically filter publicly created work into the gallery installation.
"We're setting up a production space," he says, "it's a platform for creating work, a meeting ground."
Suggesting it is like a pop-up school, where people can learn to make music, art, dyes, and more, Wilson is delighted. "What happens when art isn't one event? What happens when you don't freeze art in place, but allow it to be wonderful, awkward, unexpected, changing?" he asks.
Diffusion -- a lack of meaningful, focused expression -- is one answer, but not the one that time has taught Wilson to expect. "We aren't trying to create artists," he explains. Instead, he anticipates that the combined force of nearly 100 artist collaborators and surprising peculiarities like an outdoor, public shower will create "new leaping openness" and "private experiences in a public space extending beyond a visual moment."
The lure of escaping the silo of solo artistry has made it easy for Wilson to attract an eclectic mix of friends, colleagues and peers. "They're people I trust for their generosity, or because they work with a spirit of improvisation, or simply because of the quality of their attention to their materials," he says.
The main gallery houses a print shop, and textile and ceramic studios. Gallery 2 offers collected materials from perfumist Mandy Aftel, sound archivist Alan Lomax and art historian Gwen Allen, along with a listening library with selections from labels Mississippi Records, Sublime Frequencies, and others. A rotating roster of rehearsing or performing musicians will inhabit Gallery 4.
"Art becomes a place," Wilson says, "a sight with potential."
A group of 30 Bay Area art school student volunteers were engaged to hand-deliver 3,000 curated invitations to BAM supporters and members. "We're kind of on the other end of the spectrum from Facebook," he says. "Creating physical things that can be held, shows it's worth the actual work to print something."
Wilson says it's important to balance orchestrated projects like "The Possible" with more traditional presentations. He's not dogmatic about collaborative exhibitions and readily admits, "there's value in placing a piece of artwork on the wall or sculpture on display, rather than forcing people to engage with others. The power of unexpected connections with things that are inanimate is timeless."
But for the next four months, it's self-initiated, group-experienced creativity and the chance to "turn people on" that fires Wilson's soul and suggests all things are possible.