Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Miguel Arzabe's Excursions

Upcoming Excursions:
Monday October 6, 9AM - 1PM
Friday October 10, 9AM - 1PM
Monday October 13, 9AM - 1PM
Saturday October 18, 9AM - 1PM

Join StoreFrontLab artist-in-residence Miguel Arzabe on outings throughout the Bay Area for his performance series Excursions, the offsite component to his current StoreFrontLab installation, sightlines.

Last Friday, September 26, Arzabe led a small group of hikers on an extraordinary excursion through a Coastal Redwood trail in southeast Oakland. It was a silent hike that commenced in a residential neighborhood, transected the unusual site of an urban fly-fishing pool and climbed through a steep grade of waterfalls, ferns, and footbridges before arriving at the overlook. Upon arrival, the group delighted in their discovery of an embedded concrete tablet, relocated from the StoreFrontLab gallery space.

If you are interested in participating in an upcoming excursion, please email: arzabe*at*gmail

Saturday, September 27, 2014

This Thursday: Join us for Urban Symposium 1!

Join designers Lyndon Manuel and Leah Nichols as they host Urban Symposium, an interactive happy hour that tackles critical issues affecting our city. As part of StoreFrontLab's Season 2 City Making series, the dialogue-based event is structured as a mash-up of familiar discussion formats: symposium + social experiment + play. 

Urban Symposium 1
Thursday, October 2
6:30 to 8:30 PM

It's free, but space is limited.
Sign up here!

About Urban Symposium
San Francisco residents are angry. They are angry about the city — their city exemplified by the ongoing storm of headlines, sound bites, and neighborhood tensions. Google bus protests and Twitter tax breaks. Ellis Act evictions and another proposition to limit building heights. In response to the seemingly disconnected consciousness of our city and its citizens, the Urban Symposium series fosters an interactive and participatory dialogue about urban life as it relates to San Francisco's restless social and political climate. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Excursion #1 with Miguel Arzabe, Friday September 26, 9am-1pm

Miguel Arzabe, sightlines, cement tablet (detail) 2014

Please join SFL artist Miguel Arzabe this Friday, September 26, at 8:45 am for Excursion #1, part of his current StoreFrontLab installation, sightlines. Arzabe will lead participants on a silent hike to an undisclosed hill on public land to reveal a secret vista point that is at the same elevation as the top of the TransAmerica Pyramid.

Excursion #1, Friday September 26, 9am - 1pm.

1. Participants are invited to hike 1.5 miles each way with an elevation gain of 853 feet.

2. Be sure to bring sturdy footwear, sun protection, water, and a snack/lunch.

3. The excursion will be a silent hike, so once the participants enter into the StoreFrontLab gallery, they will take a vow of silence. 

4. Participants will leave the gallery at 9 am. The artist can fit four people in his car, if there are more people, we will arrange a car pool beforehand. The car ride to the trail head will be no more than a 35 minute drive with traffic.

5. Upon arrival at the trailhead, participants will each be given a slip of paper with simple instructions. 

6. The climb will commence.

7. Upon arrival at the vista point, a signal will be given that the vow of silence has ended.

8. Rest, eat, socialize.

9. Hike back to car

10. Drive back to StoreFrontLab by 1pm.

If you are interested in participating, please email arzabe*at*gmail

Friday, September 19, 2014

Q&A with StoreFrontLab resident artist
Miguel Arzabe

Miguel Arzabe's sightlines is an exploration of sites encircling San Francisco’s tallest building, the iconic Transamerica Pyramid. Arzabe traces sightlines to the Pyramid from various locations satisfying three conditions: They 1) are accessible by foot on public lands; 2) sit at equal elevation to the tower’s apex; and 3) have an unobstructed line of sight. From this map Arzabe conceived a codex composed of interlocking concrete tablets. He will lead excursions to the sites and embed these tablets into the earth. Arzabe will announce the trips as the month unfolds; follow @storefrontlab on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Arianne Gelardin: In sigtlines, you seem to resist the conventional vocabulary of mapping, the ways in which we've trained our brain to simplify spatial orientation. How would you describe your specific "sensory toolkit?"

Miguel Arzabe: My practice is rooted in drawing and painting, tools for working within multivalence and ambiguity, rather than geography or cartography, which are tools for control and domination. Rather than trying to generalize how I process exterior influences through the various media I utilize in my practice, let me say something particular about the how the work on view, sightlines, developed in the hopes that it might shed light on my approach to other aspects of my creative output.

In the summer of 2008, I started grad school at UC Berkeley and I had a most wonderful studio with a wall of windows overlooking the bay with the San Francisco skyline and its pyramid in the distance. I was painting all the time, looking out the window, taking pictures of the city at sunset every night. It was a privilege to work in that space and have that view.

At some point after looking at the pyramid all those days and nights, I thought, "My view is so incredible, but I bet the view from the top of the pyramid is the best." So one day I took a trip to the building in the heart of the financial district, only to find out that the building has been closed to the public since 9/11 for fear of terrorists. The guard told me that the top floor of the building is a conference room, I imagined CEOs meeting up there, smoking cigars, making deals, and enjoying their view like I did mine. Remember this was the height of the financial crisis, people were losing their homes and retirement money.

At this point it became clear that I needed to see what they were seeing, and let everyone else see it, too. I used the things I readily had available: a cheap camera, a telescope, a GPS, internet maps, and prior knowledge of the many public lands around the bay area. Using these tools I located several sites on public lands that were at the same height as the top of the pyramid and had a clear line of sight. I took trips to the sites and shot video of the pyramid through the telescope. These sightlines combine to form a "sightplane," a level viewshed wherein anyone can have the same view as the top of the pyramid.

AG: What does this particular approach to spatial abstraction, or mapping, mean for our understanding of the city?

MA: It's important to me that my work is visually accessible to anyone regardless of their prior knowledge of any specific field of study, be it art, architecture, geography, etc. The formal characteristics should entice the viewer to look deeper and come up with her own interpretations. Abstraction is a great tool for opening up space for multiple meanings. Having said that, the work can have more complex implications for our understanding of our urban environment if these other fields are taken into consideration.

The pyramid shape has been used throughout history as a symbol of transcendence, and therefore also a symbol of the absolute political power of those who are anointed with these "transcendent qualities," be they Egyptian pharaohs, Mayan priests, or CEOs. Andy Warhol's film Empire, an 8-hour black and white film from 1964 in which he shot stationary footage of the spire of the Empire State building, seems to play off of this kind of absolute aura of what was then the tallest building in the world to reveal small details in the environment surrounding it. In my film, the tallest building in San Francisco is shot from different angles, distances, and times of day, using a handheld camera through a shaky telescope. Here it's implied that the view from the top is always subjective, unstable, and contingent upon outside forces.

AG: You seem to be combining slow,analog tools of perception (waking/looking) with very fast, digital tools (geolocating/filming). How is technology augmenting and/or inhibiting our spatial orientation?

MA: It is crucial to remain critical of the way technology is affecting our spatial awareness. When I was a little kid I spent too much time playing a Dungeons & Dragons-like game on my dinky computer. It was a first person style game with very, very crude graphics and it came with a pad of gridded paper so you could map out the different worlds. I found that once I mapped out a world I didn't need to refer to the paper anymore. When I got older and started backpacking in the wilderness, this skill became very useful for orienteering. Now, after decades of backpacking in all kinds of environments, my sense of direction is pretty good. I don't need GPS nor do I like relying on algorithms for a list of directions, I would much rather see a paper map. It seems to me that technology for spatial awareness is being used less as a tool and more like a crutch. It also makes it a lot harder to find something on accident, and chance is such an important ingredient for finding new meaning.

This same kind of bouncing between the digital and analog was a key component to the project, sightlines. A digital map was created that led to a series of excursions to shoot digital video. GPS data was collected and used to make lasercut MDF maps. Latex molds were made from this data and then maps were cast in cement tablets. These six tablets put together are the codex that describes the level "viewplane" occupied by the top of the pyramid and the surrounding sites. Now I am using the dirt from these sites to make dirt drawings of the tablets on paper. These dirt drawings will replace the tablets in the project space over the course of the month as I lead a series of performances back to the film sites to bury them in the earth. At every step of this flipping between digital representation and analog experience, there is the potential to deviate, to lose information but to discover something unintended.

It amazes me how past civilizations were able to use sheer observation and very little technology to make stone monuments, the geometry and placement of which contain profound meaning. Though I used considerably more technology, my project is but one man's humble nod towards these past achievements.

AG: What role does walking play in your project?

MA: It's the most basic form of locomotion and offers an embodied experience of the environment. There's an inherent labor to it that has some measure of integrity, if I can't walk there then maybe I shouldn't be there. When I went on the initial filming excursions I used all manner of transport, walking, biking, bus, train, automobile to get to the public lands, which are quite some distance apart. But every excursion ended with a walk to the vista point.

For the series of performances at StoreFrontLab I am leading others on new excursions to the same sites in order to bury the cement tablets in the ground. Due to the fragility and weight of the cement tablets the mode of transportation to the public lands will be by automobile, but from there on to the vista points it will be on foot. That's important because I've had some of the best conversations with people on walks, especially in natural environments. There's also camaraderie from achieving the same destination. Walking together lends a sense of gravity to bearing witness to a shared experience.

AG: What does it mean to study the city as a group versus on one's own?

MA: It feels much more like painting when I begin a project alone. There is a non-linear call and response to the materials I'm working with, and the conversation can use a personal vocabulary that doesn't need linguistic translation in order to happen in my head. If other people are involved early on, there is a need to articulate the process through words that sometimes forecloses the productive misreadings that register within an internal train of thought. Once I have something more solid to work with, I welcome the social aspect in my work because it is becomes a generative force to expose other layers of meaning. My projects often involve repeated actions and I find it interesting that when people participate on the same project at different times it creates a network of people connected by a shared, yet asynchronous, dispersed experience. For example, for the sightlines project I went on the first few trips alone, then I invited different people to come along on various subsequent trips. Some of these people have never met each other, but yet they have their own unique experiences within a shared framework. Just like a city.

Arianne Gelardin is co-curator for StoreFrontLab Season 2 City Making.