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Headlands Center for the Arts is only one part of the multifaceted, convoluted history of the Marin Headlands. Legends of the Miwok Native Americans to the archived histories of the seacoast fortification Fort Barry perhaps known by many will also tell just one fraction of the land’s entire story. ”Present Tense,” guest curated by Christian L. Frock, whose past interests include art in atypical settings and presenting works exploring histories within contemporary art, examines the upending of conventional studio practices at Headlands by its 2012 – 2013 Fellowship artists to produce narratives concurrently told within contemporary and traditional voices. New works featured in the galleries and in a series of site-specific projects staged inside and around the main building created by Fellows Joshua Band, Kyle Austin Dunn, Liam Everett, Michael Koehle, Kari Orvik, Jordan Perkins-Lewis and Yulia Pinkusevich showcases how each of the artists’ artistic practice parallels and differs from the multifarious histories found within the unique, varied Headlands landscape.
Many of the participating artists explore these themes and investigate the ideas within two disparate mediums or approaches, in many ways a powerful metaphor of the difficult task to illustrate to these multiple layers of history by just one means. Kari Orvik comments upon the continued construction of the landscape among these various chronologies as well as the at times tenuous historic relationship with Headlands’ human incursion and its environs in her series, Exercise for Moving in Between through a spectrum of approaches: a suite of tin-type photographs of Orvik tight-rope walking inside the Headlands’ historic military gymnasium, a filmed iteration of this precarious performance at an ocean bluff rope barrier nearby, and some quite effective etched mirror panels placed circularly in front of an West Gallery window. Yulia Pinkusevich’s breadth of mediums is perhaps the most commendable; her explorations of the surrounding landscapes through salt block sculptures (judging by their delicate curves, they were carved by water or some other delicate instrument) tackles both the rolling hills as well as the undulating ocean waves nearby. The large, fantastical, and heavily geometric two-dimensional painting that looks as if it implements topographical mapping completes this broad range of both the real and imagined, and the human and natural markings upon the land. Michael Koehle’s digitally created sculptures alongside digital prints upon traditionally wrought encaustic panels sways the past and the future back and forth, creating an obfuscation of historical and contemporaneous narratives, acutely paralleling Headlands’ histories that is at times follows the same patterns.
In addition to multiple mediums and assorted artistic approaches, “Present Tense” also unveils how some subversive techniques that deeply challenge the space can also call attention to the particular richness of Headlands’ environment and history. This fracture between the artwork’s inherent qualities and its surroundings can throw an audience’s gaze while calling attention to the elements of its presentation, prompting awareness of the modes of seeing contextually and how meaning is constructed from this relationship. Kyle Austin Dunn’s sculptural installation in the stairwell, Bunch of Heavy Lines remains blatantly defiant of the historic building by its very plasticity as well as its placement, stripping the stairwell of its utility for persons to gain access to and from the attic. Blocked from hitherto accustomed perambulations of the space, audiences are confounded to achieve any possible amelioration to the unyielding physical and aesthetic confrontation. They become deeply aware of their surroundings once rendered inaccessible by such a brazen obstruction. Joshua Band’s, Scenic Overlook, constructed by hundreds of photographs from not only the Headlands landscape but also the artist’ national road trips is at first a delightful and engrossing Arcadian installation wherein the viewer becomes to some degree an omnipotent presence among all Band’s travels. But, upon closer inspection the diorama’s haphazard photographic compilations from multiple travels and experiences as well as its miniature scale creates more of a disjointed, dizzying contemplation for audiences that leaves this woodland diorama and the outer-lands it represents with a fabricated feeling that rather than pulling one into the scene, progressively pushes one out.
Headlands Center for the Arts’ Graduate Fellowship program is unique in the country for addressing the critical juncture from an academic to a professional career. These fellowships give post-graduates from Bay Area academic institutions opportunities for professional development and a chance to define their practice outside the academic context. In addition to private studio space and public presentation opportunities including participation in this annual curated exhibition, Graduate Fellows are active participants in Headlands’ creative community including engagement with the local, national, and international artists participating in Headlands’ various artist programs.
Present Tense will be at Headlands Center for the Arts through June 9.