Posted on 26 January 2014.
Stephanie Syjuco: Modern Ruins ( Popular Cannibals)
For a ringside view of consumption and its discontents, there’s no better place than Recology, the arts program at the San Francisco city dump. Each year, a handful of artists-in-residence gain access to a seemingly limitless supply of commercial and residential debris which they transform during four-month residencies into plangent installations, many of them dealing with environmental woes and their underlying causes.
The bad news is that these exhibitions are up for only a few days. The good news, if you act quickly, is that you can still see this one on Tuesday, from 5 to 7 p.m. It’s definitely worth the effort.
Stephanie Syjuco, an artist with a rich history of such undertakings, offers a two-part installation called Modern Ruins (Popular Cannibals). The idea, she says, was to portray – without using figures — notions of “class, consumption and wealth” that were once conveyed by court painting. With cast-off construction materials, textiles, carpet scraps, plastic refuse and e-waste, she fills a room with replicas of high-end designer furniture that, at distance, look like pages out of Elle Décor. (Up close they’re way funkier, but are, nevertheless, ingenious examples of trash turned into minimalist treasure.) If you’re among those who pine for the latter, you’ll recognize Eames, Mies van der Rohe, Noguchi and many other well-known brand names. Sapien’s famous floor-mounted bookshelf, for example, Syjuco replicates for use as “a materials library.” It holds swatches of everything that went into the installation, and stands a kind of mock how-to guide for people saddled with desires they can’t afford.
Yulia Pinkusevich: The Glory of a Tool is Seldom Judged by its Handle
Lowbrow tastes also receive critical examination. Behind a screen, Syjuco points to a primer-gray “cornucopia” of bottles, cans, wicker baskets, flags, bric-a-brac and obsolete electronic devices and says: “That’s the flipside, the reality check.” It’s a carefully assembled trash pile that could be taken for a survivalist’s rummage sale. Together, the two parts of the installation call up basic questions of value. What is garbage? What is wealth? And how are our ideas of it determined by class and circumstance?
Yulia Pinkusevich’s installation, The Glory of a Tool is Seldom Judged by its Handle
, examines how urban and rural economies intersect. It contains several parts. In one, a needle-less sewing machine drives a large fabric wheel round and round without inserting a single stitch, a cycle of fruitless motion that mirrors the plight of workers in corporate-run sweatshops. Nearby, a dozen shovel handles embedded in concrete blocks allude to the gobbling up of
Stephanie Syjuco: Modern Ruins (Popular Cannibals)
farmland by cities: plowshares into skyscrapers. Most compellingly, there is the shadow image of city projected onto a large wall. It arrives there by the artist’s placement of heat sinks — the fluted metal boxes that cool electronic devices – in front of light bulbs. The angle of the light makes the silhouettes of some appear crumbling and ancient, while rendering others as geometric monoliths, echoes of the towers that now populate cities like Shanghai. Lastly, there is a wall sculpture made from capacitors, which the artist painstakingly extracted from several dozen discarded computers. Shorn of rubber sheathing they resemble shell casings, and are here arrayed by size to represent the shape and population density of Silicon Valley, which, until the 1960s, was largely farmland. It was called the Valley of the Heart’s Delight.
Not anymore. Progress, the artists tell us, always carries a price.
–DAVID M. ROTH