We Can Be Heroes

Pics from the fun at ‘We Can Be Heroes’, SoEx’s annual auction fundraiser!
(All pics via SoEx and Minoosh Zomorodinia.)

Big new change: the event was held at Minnesota Street Project for the first time ever. The live auction main event was held on the main floor, and the silent auction in an upstairs gallery.
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My contribution to this year’s silent auction: “Glory Hole”, a small painting of the Lake Berryessa, um, glory hole. Ink and acrylic on paper, 12 x 16 inches.
Glory Hole

And of course Woffles and Herb were on hand to host the closing out of the silent auction walls in their best budget Bowie/Heroes ensembles:

heroesss

heroes

Our jackets were made from 2 thrift-store tuxedo coats: I cut the sleeves off, smoothed and glued the extra fabric around the armholes down for clean edges, then hot-glued yellow craft sheet foam details that I’d created to the jackets and belts. The sheet foam was also fashioned into ankle cuffs that were held on with clear packing tape. (Fun fact: I can’t sew. At all. If it can’t be done with hot glue, safety pins or staples, it’s not happening.)

heroess

heroesssss
I think this was SoEx’s most successful auction to date: in this moment of uncertain funding for the arts, it was great to see the SoEx community step up to support them so generously.

snow-hio

This has been in the works for almost a year now, but I’m thrilled to finally be able to share that the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio acquired my painting ‘MacArthur Nurses’ early this year.

allen museum

macarthur nurses allen museum

macarthur nurses

Curator Kevin Greenwood made this acquisition possible–I am hugely grateful to him for his enthusiasm for my work.

Kevin had learned about my work through my friends Shelley Lee and Rick Baldoz, both of whom are professors at Oberlin. Shelley and Rick also helped arrange for me to come give a lecture for, and to meet with, Oberlin’s Asia America Art Collective students as part of a weekend of events and other guest artists in early March. Here we all are, being semi-formal at the welcome reception:

aaas collective
By the time I got around to giving my lecture on Saturday, things were a little more relaxed:
(lecture pic credit: Kenneth Eng)
woff lecture

And when we were actually visiting the Nurses, everyone was far less formal.
(Shelley, Kevin, Rick, Woff:)
cheese

(Woff and AAAS Collective mimicking the painting:)
macarthur aaas

It was COLD in Oberlin: sleet when I arrived, snow the morning I left. It felt  fantastic in short, bracing bursts, but I didn’t bring warm enough gear to really traipse around and explore, unfortunately. Freezing temperatures notwithstanding, there were incredibly warm people at all the events there.

tappan sq

snowhio

ppotwwohThanks for the visit, Ohio. I’ll do my best to make it back soon.

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The New Yorker’s February anniversary cover by artist John W Tomac is beautiful and profound: it speaks directly to the fear and uncertainty of our present moment. That said, with much respect for Tomac’s elegant statement, I felt like an obvious alternative storyline needed addressing:

libby
Tomac’s New Yorker cover (left), Wofford’s revision (right)

It’s important to acknowledge the frustration and helplessness that many are feeling right now, which is what Tomac’s image does so poignantly. Still, my personal sense is that in order to feel empowered to take action, it’s equally vital to keep envisioning the courage to move forward. By tweaking one iconic image and pairing it unexpectedly with another iconic image, this is just a quick, nerdy example of how new possibilities can emerge. The mere hint of something looking like a lightsaber in my version at right automatically creates a kind of neural shortcut to other associations.

Beyond my own 5 minutes of fun with Photoshop, it’s been interesting watching the many ways that artists and activists are presently harnessing the power of existing pop culture, cinema, comedy and all manner of embedded Jungian-hero tropes in their imagery and narratives to bolster their messages.

hero-chart

To me, what’s present in the best of this maelstrom of creative output and serious silliness is a profound sense of hope, and a willingness to undertake this journey– not naïveté or optimism in some blank sense, but hope in the very specific sense expressed in this brief essay by the great Václav Havel, another improbable president of an entirely different ilk: it’s wise and absurd in all of my favorite ways.

Never Hope Against Hope, Václav Havel*, Esquire Magazine, 1993

(*Confusing byline in link, but this is Esquire’s 2011 repost of Havel’s essay. Original 1993 scan here. If you know any Czech history, the year this was originally published only adds to its potency.)

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

Vaclav Havel, 1990. Tomki Nemec
Vaclav Havel, Dec 14, 1990. photograph: Tomki Nemec

Kala opening reception

Below, a few pics from last Thursday’s opening reception for the Print Public exhibition at Kala Art Institute. Since my project is actually still in its nascent stages, my contribution to the show is more of a premise than a presentation. With everything that’s been going on these past few months, safety has been very much on my mind, and so this theme is how my project will now unfold.

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So. As an introductory exercise at the reception, visitors were invited to take a #safetyselfie in my space, holding up a paper detailing some simple actions they’re undertaking to feel safer these days.

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I decided to kick this project off with 2 large illustrations of Kala’s 2 nearby fire stations. While there’s no guarantee that anyone from either fire station will in fact collaborate with me on my Print Public project, I felt like these images would set a good tone, either way. I liked the idea of setting these 2 strong, hard boxes in a dreamy, inviting environment to convey a sense of stability, calm, courage, protection and hope.

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I also painted out my corner of the gallery in a palette of magenta, purple and yellow to add to this sense of a safe, but energized, environment.

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Beyond these initial 2 prints and this paint job, I’ll continue to use this area as a stage set, workshop space and evolving installation over the course of the exhibition. Stay tuned.

no scrubs

“A scrub is a guy that thinks he’s fly
And is also known as a busta
Always talkin’ about what he wants
And just sits on his broke ass…” TLC, No Scrubs, 1999

NO SCRUBS was the boisterous, fun dance brigade that I organized for the Jan 21 Women’s Marches (both Oakland and San Francisco). Why “NO SCRUBS”? Because if you know that jam, you know that it’s an earworm that’s hard to shake. Its lyrics could also be interpreted, under present circumstances, as a fun way to critique the new administration.

Oakland march
Oakland march

Organized around hiphop and pop music, Team NO SCRUBS’ goal was to add some sass to the occasion by dancing: “marching” just seemed so… grim. With that in mind, we got a PA system on wheels, and put together a playlist of fun, feisty pop songs by women of color (and Prince). Team NO SCRUBS then made and brandished quirky, absurdist protest signs quoted from these songs, and got a rolling dance party going with other marchers at both events.

Oakland march
Oakland march
Oakland march
Oakland march

Our goal was to be a focused, energetic burst of sunshine: the color yellow was employed as a motif for Golden State optimism, energy and power, and the music chosen was a deliberate strategy to engage and energize people. By all accounts, it worked well, especially when people were stuck in a holding pattern due to the crowds, and later when it started raining, too. It gave everyone within earshot of us something to do, and something to bond over.

SF march
SF march
SF march
SF march

With many more protests likely in the near future, it’s important to come up with strategies that allow for optimism, collaboration and play, most especially when folks are feeling furious, alone or negative. Most activism requires more serious action, so dancing to pop music is by no means a blanket solution: however, Alice Walker did tell the crowd at the Jan 18 queer dance party held outside Mike Pence’s house that these times call for “serious dancing,” so…

While much of Team NO SCRUBS was the result of a great collaborative effort among the women involved, its premise was the direct result of a deep reading of The Culture Group’s “Making Waves” PDF, which I highly recommend to anyone trying to figure out what to do with themselves, creatively and politically, at present.

Sing with me now:

“NO I don’t want no scrub
A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me…”

brief video clips here and here.

sign prep
sign prep
body glitter prep
body glitter prep
SF march
SF march