San Francisco artist David Ireland’s home has become the site for exhibitions exploring the space as art. Sherman Rio’s exhibition “As Above So Below”is the final in a series of artists invited to submit proposals for solo exhibitions of new work created in response to David Ireland’s historic home-turned-installation.
The Bay Area Conceptual Artist Movement and Environmental Art
The 500 Capp Street Foundation has maintained Ireland’s home as an environmental artwork, social sculpture, and residence. The collection and archive consists of more than 2,500 David Ireland art pieces, including painting, sculptures, prints, and ephemera of the artist’s work and performances, in addition to ephemera of the Bay Area conceptual artist movement. Sherwin Rio lived at the 500 Capp Street home for 10 days to develop work for this exhibition. In the spirit of artist-driven participation, Rio’s works provide inverse ways of experiencing a house, ideas indebted to the past, the unseen, and the underground. Rio is an interdisciplinary artist addressing colonization, historical public amnesia, and intergenerational storytelling through a Filipinx-American lens. Keeping these influences in mind, his art makes visual metaphors to promote his ideas.
Spaces, History, and Symbolism
Rio, inspired by Ireland’s affinity for enclosure, developed an interest in the basement space, a place Ireland called “The Grotto.” The network of pipes and electrical conduit, and their related ambient sounds, are converted into a kind of music. Rio’s sculptural sound installation transmits and amplifies vibrational sounds within the house. Creaking floorboards, movement of doors, the thudding of feet upstairs turns into a kind of kinetic sound sculpture under Rio’s influence. “I see these items —webs of ABS, PVC, unistrut, wood, and conduit — as the veins that bring lifeblood to the house, preserving its ability to function — a need that preceded Ireland and continues into the future,” writes Rio.
Rethinking the Past
In one work Rio opens up the floorboards revealing a hidden stairwell, and extends it in plexiglass into the Solarium room above. Like the basement, the dining room also became a haunted symbol of the unconscious, and the revealing of things concealed. Ireland traveled extensively during his lifetime and at one point led safari trips in Africa. Problematic photographs, curiosities, and objects such as animal trophies from safari travels were placed there by Rio, then the space was filled with household fans. We find ourselves in a new era with changed values, and the circulating air is a symbol of clearing, a cleansing gesture symbolically rectifying the errors of the past. Rio writes, “The work is a critical look at the commodification of nature and culture, dominance and violence as leisure, and a business that profited from and upheld ideas born of settler-colonialism, manifest destiny, and global capitalism.”
In Should the Curve Contain Myth, Legend, Fable or Truth, a curved hallway wall is covered in a 90 degree angled wooden frame, isolating the architecture like a framed work of art. Similarly in A Gesture of Remembrance Part 1 and 2, spotlights point out an almost-forgotten message scribbled on a concrete wall, and a pair of worn shoes with missing laces, gently placed on a shelf like treasure. The viewer completes the narrative by imagining the past these discarded signs of life represent.
Rio acknowledges the continuing nature of this art project through our collective imaginations in Connecting the Lines: Collaboration Is the Only Way Forward. A wooden frame bisects a door to an adjoining room perpendicularly, suggesting the geometry of a framed artwork but also a work in progress, a space still under construction which has yet to be populated by our cooperative enterprise of ideas.
Rio has exhibited and performed as a solo and collaborative artist throughout the United States in venues such as de Young Museum, Asian Art Museum, Carnegie Museum of Art, and Carlsbad Museum of Art. His many awards include a 2019 Graduate Fellowship at Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, Calif.
Sherman Rio | “As Above So Below”: Guided tours Friday 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (reservations requested), self-guided tours Saturday noon–5 p.m. through Feb. 25, free, David Ireland House, 500 Capp Street (at 20th), 415-872-9240, 500cappstreet.org
Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer in Southern California. She can be reached at mindtheimage.com