seismic activity

Earlier this spring, Chinese Culture Center curator Hoi Leung approached me regarding my potential inclusion in Present Tense Biennial 2019: Task of Remembrance, a group exhibition she was organizing.

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Since the exhibition’s theme was to focus on the global and local ramifications of key events from the year 1989, and since word had gotten back to her* about my ongoing 1989 Loma Prieta Quake fixation, she asked if I might be interested in participating.

The answer was of course  “yes”, but since the turnaround time between my Thacher Gallery show and the CCC show was very tight, I had little ability to prepare new work. After thinking on it a bit, I proposed that we revisit Earthquake Weather, my Loma Prieta web project, and see if it could be reconfigured for a gallery installation.

I began Earthquake Weather in 2014, having read some interesting essays about the year 1989 (2014 being the 25th anniversary of various significant events, from the collapse of the Eastern bloc to Tiananmen Square.)  With some local hindsight on what the Loma Prieta quake had ultimately wrought in the Bay Area (as well as with a new and keen interest in emergency preparedness, given the firefighters now in my family), I wanted to find a way to make the memories and changes resulting from the quake more visible. In a flurry of weeks leading up to the October 17 anniversary, my web project collected over 100 contributors’ stories from the quake’s era: I then tried to illustrate as many (about 50%) as I could. In subsequent years, I continued adding occasional story contributions to the site, but hadn’t carved out time to illustrate them.

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I’d always planned to attend to the site in earnest again in 2019, this being the 30th anniversary. Black and White Projects had agreed to host another Loma Prieta-related solo project of mine this fall anyway, so I’d been gearing up for more earthquake activity for sure. (Very excited about the Black and White Projects show, by the way: stay tuned for more on that!). So the CCC exhibition turned out to be a great way to plunge back into this subject.

After conferring with Hoi via email about what would work best, my site visit to the gallery cemented the best course of action. (Sidenote: site visits are always better than virtual speculation.) The resulting installation ended up being a little more involved than I’d hoped for, since I ended up editing almost 50 stories and images into a 26 minute video, on top of  printing an equivalent number of images out for installation (and creating a few new images, as well). So much for my grand plan to keep things simple and easy.

Still, I’m happy with the result. The images look good, and the video functions pretty well as a piece which can be drifted into and out of, whenever. (I’m not a fan of long-form videos which demand a captive gallery audience for their duration.) Arranging the prints in a ruptured grid around the monitor helped create a sense of the “break” that the quake generated in Bay Area culture, without oversimplifying it into a before/after binary, and allowed the images to breathe in a more curious and theatrical way. The images are, of course, still completely context-less without knowing the stories that they’re attached to, but my hope is that they do their job in luring people to actually read the extraordinary, funny, moving personal accounts that are on the website and the gallery monitor.

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Anyway, more tremors to follow this year. Hopefully just the creative kind; not in a rush to attend to the realities of another actual earthquake here just yet. In the meantime, it’s a pleasure to be in a show in a part of SF I love spending time in, and in the company of artists and curators I’m a big fan of, like Alice Wu, Related Tactics, and Hung Liu, among others.

Present Tense Biennial 2019:Task of Remembrance
Chinese Culture Center
750 Kearny, 3rd Floor (inside the Hilton)
April 27- December 21, 2019

*thanks to a little birdie with the initials CWY

orbits and returns

A perfect stranger reached out through the internet to ask permission to get a tattoo based on a drawing of mine. Grateful to be asked (in an era where most simply lift artists’ work without permission or attribution), I consented, and got a fun update from him not long after.

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The gentleman who reached out to me had found my drawing on a very old post from my long-defunct prior blog. Even at the time of that post, the drawing was older still. While I can’t speak to its symbolic importance in his life, it certainly made me recollect its importance in my own.

The drawing was one component of Sputnik, a large panel comprised of multiple drawings executed in 2002. I had just left a teaching job I loved that year: having realized that I was burning out and risking the loss of my art practice, I took time off to figure out how to be an artist in the world, and to find my way. Over the next year, I undertook 3 artist residencies (in upstate New York, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the south of France): it was a heady period of creative discovery, adventure and independence, but often lonely and uncertain, too.

Having read Haruki Murakami’s haunting “Sputnik Sweetheart” while in New York, I became fixated on satellites as poetic, solitary devices: isolated in their orbits, in perpetual slow motion, always transmitting, never permanently connecting. Murakami’s book had little to really do with that particular Russian satellite, but it dug under my skin regardless, given my state of heart and mind at that time.

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“And it came to me then. That we were wonderful traveling companions but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal in their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they’re nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happened to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we’d be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing.”

(“Sputnik” translates as either “companion,” or “travelling companion,” in Russian.)

One marvelous aspect of maturing as an artist is the gift of hindsight. I can appreciate with fondness the earnest clarity that went into an earlier moment of creative and emotional expression, while no longer being tormented by it in that moment. It’s fun to look back on things that were then-new semiotic realizations, and to see how I was first encoding which images with what meanings. These are the gifts of art, on the best days: knowing ourselves a little better, sharing our humanity with others, and inscribing a certain part of our identities even more deeply on some surface, somewhere.

So, when a random stranger reaches out through the ether to ask if they can inscribe some part of your iconography in some part of their dermis, you accept. And while their reasons for doing so have nothing to do with your reasons for making the image to begin with, it doesn’t matter.  It’s lovely and human.

Here, a different favorite book from an earlier pivotal era in my life:

“Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story.”

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Opening Event Photos

A few pics from the ‘Limning the Liminal’ opening events: the talk in Fromm Hall with Patricia Cariño Valdez, and the reception in the Thacher Gallery. For a rainy mid-week event on a college campus at rush hour, turnout was decent! Many thanks to loyal friends who came through and supported.

Limning the Liminal
through April 14
Thacher Gallery
University of San Francisco

All photos courtesy Thacher Gallery (color) or James Sobredo (b&w).

 

Limning the Liminal

Last year, when I was invited to present a solo exhibition in USF’s Thacher Gallery this February, I was also asked for a show title much earlier than I was prepared for. After some brainstorming, I ended up suggesting “Limning the Liminal,” since this felt like a safe catch-all term for something that comes up in my work relentlessly, whether I intend it or not. (To limn=to draw/paint/describe; liminal=threshold/passage). Since I wanted to use this exhibition as an opportunity to show a range of work from the past decade or so, this also felt like a term that would reconcile the relationships between these various projects.

Wofford Limning the Liminal copy

Liminality is one of those words that no one knows until they know it: usually it comes up in a class, and then all of a sudden, it’s apparent how pervasive it is in one’s life. There are some very complex and specific definitions of liminality in certain disciplines, but I understand it as simply the space in-between; of transitions and overlaps, of hybridity and change. In my disposition as well as my work as an artist, I find it impossible to see things as singular or fixed; this governs subject matter like immigration, identity and mortality, and determines that creative output be interdisciplinary. It just makes no sense to me to be so narrow in focus when it comes to theme or technique.

That said, I still felt mildly unsure that bringing the various projects together for the first time in the ginormous Thacher Gallery space would make sense. Would the nurses make sense with the earthquake paintings or the death songs prints? And what about the Carlos pieces, or the folders, or the witches? Would the illustration-style work make sense with the realistic canvases or the semi-abstract works on paper?

In the end, with everything in the space, the relationships have felt reassuringly clear; distinct from one another stylistically, but very much in conversation with one another. I had this thought flit across my head that it’s a gift to be able to speak multiple languages; rules of grammar underpin each language, which allow for translation and comprehension. So why should there be any kind of stigma in being able to work in multiple visual vernaculars? Not everyone will speak the same language, but everyone’s capable of getting the jist of the thing with a little effort.

Jenifer K Wofford: Limning the Liminal
Thacher Gallery
University of San Francisco
Feb 25 – Apr 14, 2019

Wed Feb 27
Conversation with Patricia Cariño Valdez and Jenifer K Wofford

5-6 pm
Maraschi Room, Fromm Hall
Opening Reception
6-7:30 pm
Thacher Gallery, Gleeson Library

Roundup

Roundup of the last 2-ish months: while I’m not big on traditions, I’m realizing that we all have our own weird rituals and repeating motifs, many of which surface at the transition of a year.

STUDIO:
Finally in full studio-mode, prepping for a solo show that opens in late February. While a decent number of works in the show are already done or from a few years ago, there are unresolved odds and ends that I’m using this show as an excuse to return to, so there are a few variables yet. As part of the warm-up to this bigger work, I spent a good chunk of time finishing off the last few pages in my art journal. It’s always a nice feeling to complete one of these books, especially at year’s end.

MYLAR CAVE:
In early December our Mylar Cave was up and running again! Having been gifted a bunch of crumpled mylar by a friend a few years back, we’ve since made this our annual seasonal decor by transforming our tiny living room into a cave of wonder for SF’s wintriest months. (With festive holiday costumes, to boot.)

HOLIDAYS:
The Terrible Holiday Svetr(sweater) made the rounds yet again, with more family photo-ops than ever. I procured this masterpiece of oil consumption at a swap meet a couple of years ago; while not technically an ugly Christmas sweater, it more than fits the bill.

WANDER WOMAN at Root Division
Manananggoogle‘s 2018 recruitment video made its U.S. debut as part of a nice show curated by Rea de Guzman. Since Reanne couldn’t make it up from LA, Eliza and I didn’t don full C-Suite drag: we went in casual whites, repping the company’s less formal philanthropy wing.

NO SCRUBS 3.0 at the SF Women’s March
I wrote about how potent and fun this was at the first Women’s Marches in 2017, but was unsure whether it was appropriate to reboot it for subsequent Marches in 2018 and 2019. Turns out, it was! And multiple young women came up to us, expressing glee that we were back again. It was fun to absorb them into our motley crew along the way. Traditions aren’t so bad!