What does it mean to truly be indestructible? Perhaps it means finding a cure for physical mortality or being so secure in your mental state that you cannot be shaken by the tumultuous world around you.
The exhibit, “Become the Monuments That Cannot Fall” works to answer this very question through the lens of racial identity. The display of artwork uses powerfully quoted graphic posters and interactive web pages in an attempt to bring people together from all over the globe under one cause.
USF’s Thacher Gallery commissioned and organized this virtual, community-based exhibit which is accessible to people worldwide through the digital realm, but and can also be experienced by someone walking down a Bayview the street in San Francisco without even realizing it simply by looking at a store window. This special feature of global accessibility, along with local community engagement, is an important aspect of this exhibit, creating an unprecedented audience for the Thacher Gallery.
The exhibit was created by Related Tactics, an art collective based in the Bay Area and Washington D.C. which focuses on creating thought-provoking work about race and culture. Related Tactics is comprised of Nathan Watson, a visual artist whose pieces focus on complex social issues, Weston Teruya, who works in art grantmaking, and Michelle Carlson, who creates across various mediums of visual art, literature, and film.
While speaking at USF’s A+A lecture series Feb. 4, Carlson said, “I think of myself as a multidisciplinary artist with a flavoring of uneasy disregard for the rules within all of those disciplines.”
Carlson further explained that when working on this project, she asked herself, “How might models of collective working, in partnership within an art studio, reveal critical strategies within broader current and/or historic movement building?” Carlson’s perspective and background in approaching the artistic parts of this project vary in relation to Watson and Teruya’s; yet, the viewer is left with something that is holistic and impactful for a variety of reasons.
The experiential part of the exhibition, titled “Future Now,” was introduced Nov. 19. It consists of artistic posters and messages plastered on the storefronts of 3rd Street in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco. Specifically, the poster series navigates the implications of national politics on different aspects of African American culture in the city. Messages such as, “What can we no longer pretend not to know?” are powerfully displayed in plain sight throughout the Bayview streets.
The second, digital element of the exhibit is a scrolling webpage, launched Dec. 1, to showcase the artists’ work virtually. Each section pushes the audience towards racial awareness and cultural consciousness in its own way. For example, one project called “Shelf Life” uses colored stickers to encourage audiences to observe and think critically about patterns of racial disparity and cultural unawareness in the content of their book shelves.
This two-part creation “impels the audience to examine their privileges and decolonize their systems of knowledge,” according to the webpage. The exhibit employs various message-based posters, sections of writing, and interactive activities; all elements that were arranged by first-year graduate students in USF’s masters of museum studies program. With the guidance of their curatorial practicum class professor and Thacher Gallery guest curator, Astria Suparak, the students worked with the gallery to bring Related Tactics to USF.
“This was the first time that both [the collective’s] work as a group, and individually, was put next to each other,” first-year graduate student Cailean Magee said. This prompted the students in Suparak’s class to base the online portion of the exhibit on pieces that the artists in Related Tactics had done before.
Another student in Suparak’s curatorial practicum class, Sarah Kefalas, said, “One thing we got to do is go through the individual artists’ practice, and the collective’s as well, and look through the exhibitions and art they’ve already had. From there, we picked which ones we, as a class, wanted to showcase.” This creative flexibility allowed students to analyze the importance of each piece. “Throughout this whole process it was never, ‘Oh, that’s a pretty painting, let’s put it up.’ It’s more of ‘What will resonate with people more as a whole?’” Kefalas said.
After deciding which elements would be implemented, the question of how they should be arranged was addressed. “It was really challenging to figure out a way to present artwork on a digital space,” Alice Timmins said — another graduate candidate in museum studies who was on the exihbit’s design team.
Timmins’ team created intricate details in the movement of images and text on the web page to make sure the messages from the artists still came through clearly to the viewer. “One thing to know is the pink section [of the first image] — when you scroll down, it rises up past the text and those three people [in the image] are being attacked by the police in the Excelsior District,” she said of the digital exhibition. “So this [image] is touching on police brutality.” The same image Timmins referenced is also printed on some of the posters in the “Future Now” part of the project, giving the audience the ability to connect both mediums.
Miranda Bello, another graduate student who worked on the project, said, “As a collective they are able to build on top of each other, with each other, and collaborate so [this exhibit] is an aspect of all of their works together.” This balance of individuality and holistic fluidity among, not just the artists, but also the viewers, is a central theme to the way this exhibit was designed.
Each piece of art in the exhibit can be experienced as either just a flattering image or they can be used for self reflection and social reform. Either way, the exhibition is definitely something to experience before it leaves the virtual space and Bayview storefronts.