The second stop on our brief Art Murmur Friday night a couple weeks ago was another West Oakland spot called Aggregate Space Gallery. Though our visit was relatively short, this blogpost is not. I was so excited about this space I needed to know more, and so do you! So here goes…
At first we were enticed by the current Solo Video Show. I thought, video? Not many of the galleries feature video work and I learned in my “prep” for the show that Aggregate Space is particularly well suited because they’ve built a full-fledged screening room. Then I thought, solo? Even when video works are incorporated into galleries, it’s rare to see a solo show where an artist has the quantity and breadth of work to take over an entire space. Or rather, it’s rare to see a gallery allow an artist to do so because, let’s be honest, most galleries are in the business of selling art, and it’s a lot easier to sell a painting than a piece of video art.
But this is just one of the things that makes Aggregate Space Gallery unique. What’s commercially viable doesn’t really interest them. What does, is genre-bending, experimental, boundary-pushing work that has little hope of being seen in more conventional galleries. And this is exactly the type of work they’ve been featuring for over two years now.
I know this because I went back to meet them again last weekend to talk a bit more about how the space came to be, what they’re hoping to accomplish, and what the future holds. And they were kind enough not only to spend a great deal of time touring me through the space, answering all my questions and introducing me to fellow involved-artists, but they also loaded my arms with Chapbooks from their Writing Series (more on this later) and a beautiful soft-cover book commemorating their two-year anniversary show “Not Each, But All.” (great write-up of show here)
The title of that show, as well as the title of the gallery itself (aggregate is such a great word: adjective, noun, and verb!) is truly indicative of the collaborative art space its founders, Conrad M. Meyers II and S.D. Willis, have created. The empty warehouse they secured in 2010 was transformed into the stunning multi-functional space it is today by the dedicated work of fellow artists, friends and family, each with a unique set of skills perfectly suited to complement each others’, thereby forming the “aggregate.” I won’t go into the full history here as that’s already been covered in an in-depth interview with Meyers and Willis, which includes photos that beautifully portray the extent of the transformation. Check it out… In Conversation with Aggregate Space (SFAQ).
What I do want to share about is the video show we enjoyed during our first visit (Broadcast Standards by Doug Garth Williams), and its final run this weekend when it will be accompanied by the next installment of Aggregate Space’s Featherboard Writing Series. This I find fascinating and completely unique… they’ve created a format that integrates cutting-edge literature with cutting-edge art in a “cross-genre partnership”. Very cool.
So first the video show… “Doug Garth Williams is a filmmaker and video artist who specializes in creating imagery that is both bizarre and self aware.” His installation at Aggregate features nine short films, all looped for continuous screening. The first to greet you is Black Bars, a clever and funny portrayal of self-censorship that, along with the show’s title, sets some expectations for the viewer before fully entering the main space.
Next in line are the Average series of films, six altogether. Each is composed of layers upon layers of found footage relating to the topic at hand, i.e. Average Car Chase, Average Sitcoms, Average Cats, etc. Through what I can only imagine must be a painstaking editing process Williams weaves together the images by dialing up or down the opacity of each layer to reveal different narrative moments in time. I found these completely mesmerizing and stood transfixed as the beautiful montages morphed before me. Apparently, these were equally inspiring to Aggregate’s current writer-in-residence, Kari Marboe, who’ll be featured in this month’s Featherboard Writing Series, but more on that in a bit…
As you continue into the gallery you come to the 3-channel piece Videos for Humans. Though more straightforward than his abstract montage works, I found these videos equally mysterious, but in a completely different way. They’re character driven, featuring a hot Asian woman, an ugly alien man, and some really cute little bunnies. I can’t tell you what it all means, but it’s compelling nonetheless.
Finally you pass through a small door into the screening room to see the delightful Wait for It. I actually shot a video of this video to share here, but then thought against it. You should really just go to Aggregate Space Gallery yourself so you can see all of these films in their proper venue–to feel yourself in the space in which these works were spatially placed with such careful intention. But if you want a bit of a teaser in the meantime, they’ve posted a quick walk-through on Facebook.
Featherboard Writing Series
Ok, so the Featherboard Writing Series was started by their friend and fellow artist Steffi Drewes with the idea of promoting a “one-of-a-kind-dialogue” between artists and writers as they share their work with each other. It all began with a poetry reading by Drewes at Diesel Bookstore in Rockridge (note: I wrote about Diesel ages ago here, and one of the things I highlighted was their amazing author events).
This was in the early days of Aggregate Space (December 2011) as they were gearing up to launch only their second show, titled Ostranenie, a multimedia show featuring film, sound, and video artists. Aggregate Space asked Drewes if she’d be willing to curate a poetry reading to coincide with the closing reception of the show. She did, gathering two other writers in addition to herself to perform readings, and the event was somewhat surprisingly a big hit. (This is the kind of risk taking that makes this gallery so cool.)
Meyers said an unexpected benefit of this collaboration was the expansion of their artistic community. By bringing in the literary crowd to join the art crowd, there was a sudden growth and cross-pollination that hadn’t existed before. And hence, the Featherboard Writing Series was born, pairing a literary event with the closing reception of each art show.
Added more recently in 2013 were the Writer-In-Residence Program and Chapbook Series extensions, which further enhance the dialogue between artists and writers. A Writer-In-Residence is selected for each show installed at Aggregate, for the duration of the show, 4-6 weeks usually. The writer is provided keys to access the gallery as needed, utilizing an office space upstairs, but also having unlimited access to the installed artworks themselves. The idea is that the writer’s work will then be influenced by the content of the installation artist’s work.
In addition to reading at the closing reception of the show along with two other selected writers, each Writer-In-Residence gets to produce a limited edition chapbook to be distributed at the event. Now I wasn’t familiar with this term and actually had to look it up, so for those who don’t know… “chapbook” is a term now used for small publications, typically of poetry. But its roots date to centuries ago when the ability to print books first became widely accessible (more history here).
These small books are bound at Aggregate Space and, though consistent in their 8.5″ x 5.5″ softcover format, are truly blank canvases for each writer to “paint” freely. Some choose to incorporate imagery (photos or sketches), some work in prose, or dialogue, and others stick to poetry. All are created with editorial assistance from program manager Steffi Drewes.
The Writer-In-Residence for the Broadcast Standards show is Kari Marboe. I was fortunate enough to get to speak with her a bit about her plans for this weekend’s event. She explained that she typically works in site-specific text-based installations, and opted to treat this project the same way, considering Williams’ installation of video works as her site.
She spent time in the gallery and was intrigued by the Average videos, as was I. In interviewing Williams it became clear that there was a “formula” he used in creating these pieces. It goes something like this…
- Found Content – he worked with exclusively found video, rather than originally created content
- Layers & Opacity – approximately 30 videos were incorporated into each work, all 30 videos simultaneously layered over each other but only revealed at times through shifts in opacity
- Timing – each individual layer, or “story”, is revealed for somewhere between 3-5 seconds
She decided in creating her works for the Writing Series, she would apply the same formula. It’s brilliant!
She’s utilizing found texts (handwritten apology letters for example, found through Google images), and is weaving them together in a similar fashion. She wants her process to closely mirror Williams’ process so she’s spending a lot of time editing her text snippets together since she knows his montages were heavily edited.
I asked how she could address opacity with respect to text, especially since she’ll be reading the pieces aloud, and she said she’s interpreting different levels of opacity through the different emotions and intents of the original writer. Fascinating.
If this sounds fascinating to you too, get yourself to Aggregate Space Gallery this Saturday.
Aggregate Space Gallery
801 West Grand Avenue
The gallery opens at 1pm. The Featherboard Reading and Reception start at 5pm.