The Victorian houses of San Francisco are obvious sites of beauty. Locals and tourists alike stop to admire the architecture, with their grand staircases, stained glass and quaint box shape. But it’s the space in between these edifices that has interested curator Tanu Sankalia and artists Catherine Chang, Elaine Buckholtz, Pedro Lange Churión, Paul Madonna and Moshe Quinn.
Each artist took a look at the overlooked empty space between the buildings of San Francisco for the Thacher Gallery’s exhibit “The Urban Unseen: Examining San Francisco’s Interstitial Spaces” (Feb. 21- April 25.) San Franciscans walk by these empty spaces everyday and rarely take a look at what is there. This unobserved space is made beautiful when captured in unique photographic and artistic ways.
In a panel discussion with the artists prior to the exhibition’s unveiling, curator Tanu Sankalia explained how inhabitants view the city. So often, he explained, we gaze at the city as an object, as opposed to gazing at the façade of the city. The unobserved space makes tangible what is unseen and when we begin to focus our attention on this unobserved space we then realize that there is a lot of beauty and charm within these spaces.
The variety of artists who took on this challenge, of capturing the unobserved space, did so in a variety of mediums. Paul Madonna drew the empty space with India ink and watercolor. Madonna’s drawings take out all distractions of people and cars and focus on the relationship between two buildings. During the panel he explained how he was fascinated by the awkward feeling of the empty space and he focused on the non-normal surroundings. Madonna decided to add stories that he felt were created by the empty space; one of his pieces is a tribute to Michael Jackson.
Another approach was the use of photography. Photographer Moshe Quinn’s stunning grey toned photographs captured the empty spaces at interesting upward angles. Quinn’s photographs were taken on cloudy days causing the white sky to pierce through the empty space and create a dramatic contrast with the dark tones of the buildings. “The gap is an occasion of escape and the potentiality for something else,” Quinn commented. He wanted the light between the spaces to “bleed into the buildings,” and said that light is used in his photography as the “instance of the ephemeral.”
Filmmaker Pedro Lange Churión captured what he refers to as the “optical unconscious,” and explained that the camera introduces us to these unseen spaces. Churión likens the empty space for a pause, “like musical silence.”
The exhibit brings awareness to a new San Francisco, a part of San Francisco we do not appreciate, but completes the city. The empty space has a large effect on how the city feels and “The Urban Unseen” is successful in bringing attention to what our eyes often fail to notice.