Give Me Everything: Hasan Elahi, Gaye Chan, Stephanie Syjuco, and the New Gift Economy

April 21, 2011 at 6:15 am Leave a comment

Hiding In Plain Sight, Hasan Elahi, 2011, Intersection 5M

Did a mini gallery crawl a couple weeks ago and saw three interesting shows that got me to thinking all about commodification, ownership, late capitalism and various other pet topics. I started out at SFMOMA’s First Tuesday–my press pass somehow lapsed last year and I haven’t been able to bring myself to shell out the double-digit entrance fee to the museum, so I was happy to take advantage of the gratis admission. I wanted to check out Stephanie Syjuco’s awesome Shadowshop project one more time (as a participating artist I was able to get into the members’ opening for free back in November) to buy a print of one of Indigo Som’s Chinese Restaurant series. Syjuco’s simple yet brilliant concept gave local artists a place to sell their wares within the confines of a mainstream art institution and hundreds, if not thousands, of items from postcards to paintings to objets d’art (including DVDs of The Oak Park Story–only $25!) were on sale in a compact fifth floor space on the way to SFMOMA’s posh rooftop sculpture gallery. All proceeds went directly to the artists and Syjuco’s insertion into the museum of an intermediary-free site for sales cleverly undercut the art world’s hypercommodified system of exchange. Plus it was a good place to pick up some excellent deals on outstanding work by San Francisco’s best artists.

Shadowshop, Stephanie Syjuco, 2011, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Since it was free and since I had a bit of time on my hands I also popped into Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and The Camera Since 1870 and checked out Nan Goldin’s famous photo series, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, here presented as a large-scale slide show projected on the wall of the gallery. It was fun and entertaining to revisit this seminal piece and to see New York’s hipster underground in all its naked, lustful glory screened huge on the SFMOMA wall. Goldin’s piece has aged relatively well since it’s 1986 debut, though its soundtrack and its almost exclusively Caucasian denizens were decidedly 20th century. I was especially amused to see the slide show’s coda, which declared that each version of the limited edition show was unique, its scarcity thus insuring its worth on the art market.

Hiding In Plain Sight, Hasan Elahi, 2011, Intersection 5m

SFMOMA’s emphasis on the unique specialness of the individual art work contrasted beautifully with the anti-commodification concept of Hasan Elahi’s excellent multimedia installation, Hiding In Plain Sight, at Intersection for the Arts’ brand-spanking new digs, Intersection 5M, just down the street in the former Chronicle building at 5th and Mission. After Elahi was detained by Homeland Security in 2002 on suspicion of terrorist activities he began obsessively photographing his everyday activities and uploading the snapshots to his website, trackingtransience.net.

A wall of small monitors in the installation at Intersection showed random images, constantly downloaded from Elahi’s server, of the thousands of photos of toilets, airports, takeout dinners, cups of coffee, and other bland, quotidian details of Elahi’s everyday existence. A bank of flat-screen monitors on an adjacent wall scrolled Elahi’s daily credit card transactions. The volume and detail of the images and information, uploaded daily by Elahi, document his every move and cleverly defeat any attempt to imply illicit activities by Elahi. As he notes in an interview with Wired magazine, “I’ve discovered that the best way to protect your privacy is to give it away.” Elahi also made a quick guest appearance on the Colbert Report where he and Stephen amiably mixed it up.

Free Grindz, Gaye Chan, 2011, Southern Exposure Gallery

I then hopped over to the Mission to Southern Exposure’s On The Ground exhibit. Curated by SF artist Weston Teruya, the show includes several pieces by artists dealing with location and place. Once again issues of capitalism and commodification cropped up, notably in Hawai’i-based artist Gaye Chan’s Free Grindz, an element of Chan’s ongoing project Eating In Public, which explores issues around land use and centers on retaking the commons from both private and public interests. In Chan’s installation at Southern Exposure she presented a brief history of various edible weeds found on O’ahu, along with seeds, recipes and identifying photos, all displayed on the expanded shipping crate in which the materials traveled from Hawai’i. Viewers were free to take as many seeds and recipes as they liked, and to (literally) disseminate the plants and information without cost.

Both Elahi’s freely accessible photos and Chan’s gift economy seed distribution project are stark counterpoints to the art-market imposed preciousness of Nan Goldin’s slide show at SFMOMA. While both Elahi images and Chan’s seeds are available to anyone who wants them, Goldin’s can be seen only by those who can afford the museum’s admission, and owned only by those wealthy enough to purchase one of her limited editions. Although Goldin’s work is still aesthetically relevant, its means of distribution is decidedly archaic. In this era of the democratization of information and the erosion of intellectual property rights, will the art world still be able to control access to the objects and images that drive its market?

Shadowshop

through Sun. May 1, 2011

SFMOMA

151 Third Street

San Francisco, CA 94103

Monday – Tuesday: 11:30am -5pm
Wednesday: closed
Thursday: 11:30am – 8:45pm
Friday – Sunday: 11:30am – 5pm

Hiding In Plain Sight – A Solo Exhibition by Hasan Elahi

through Sat. Ap. 23, 2011

Intersection 5M

925 Mission Street (@ 5th)

San Francisco, 94103.

Tuesday-Saturday, 12-6PM. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

On The Ground

through Sat. Ap. 23, 2011

Southern Exposure Gallery

3030 20th Street (@ Alabama)

San Francisco, CA 94110

Tuesday – Saturday, 12:00 – 6:00 pm

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized, visual art. Tags: , , , , .

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