Published on February 26th, 2013 | by Julie Davis0
Artists Explore the Beauty of Water in SF’s Presidio
A rainy day in the Presidio is usually something of a disappointment, but it’s an atmosphere that only adds to the experience of viewing the new exhibit at the China Brotsky Gallery, Ways of Water. Hosted by the Thoreau Center for Sustainability, a green-centric nonprofit named after Henry David Thoreau (the 19th century American writer best known for the two-year back-to-nature living experiment that he documented in the book Walden), the small gallery space is devoted to exhibits that “educate, beautify and enrich the daily experience of our tenants, visitors and community.”
Ways of Water features works by four female artists: Helen Lessick, Aline Mare, Carol Newborg and Hagit Cohen. The theme of the exhibition is water and humanity’s impact on this vital resource. A variety of media—photography, sculpture, installations—explore the beauty, power and fragility of water as well as its containers, shapes and effects on other materials.
Getting to see the exhibit can be a little tricky; the gallery occupies a hallway connecting the 1014 and 1016 buildings—lovely old-fashioned white wood structures from the Presidio’s days as a U.S. Army base. Access to the building requires a buzz-in by an employee, so it’s probably worthwhile to call ahead if you plan to visit. The gallery entrance can be found between a small cafe (the Acre) where you can relax and peruse a community bulletin board advertising events, classes, workshops and recycling programs. On the other side of the entrance are a series of wall-mounted placards explaining the history and mission statement of the Thoreau Center for Sustainability. A table set with flowers and postcards marks the gallery, which is through a glass door.
Inside, photographer Aline Mare’s series “By the Waterfront” is positioned first. Consisting of large, dye-infused metal prints and backlit transparencies, Mare uses digital photography fused to metal surfaces to show “weathered objects calcified with the stains of water,” creating montages of textured materials, such as porus rock surfaces, wood, foil, stone or scuffed metal. The metal prints focus on a single, distinctive image, such as steel coils or a spray of vegetation, while the transparencies offer a dreamy montage of pink, aqua blue and teal green.
Visual artist Carol Newborg’s work, “In Formation”, consists of teardrop shapes of paper mache and wax that droop on copper wires near the corridor windows, resembling curtains that frame the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. (The teardrops of rain on the windowpane lent the installation a sort of mirrored image.) “Traces”, on the opposite wall, repeated the teardrop shape with cotton and wire ovals placed in a rainfall pattern.
Hagit Cohen describes her “Acid Rain” series as “a prayer for the declining creeks of the Bay Area,” capturing the transient beauty of flowers floating in water as the blooms drifted past her camera. Her prints are stunning with bright blooms standing out sharply against dark flowing water; the blur of motion adds a dreamlike touch to the images, emphasized by streaks of stray color.
Artist Helen Lessick’s work is at the end of the exhibit, including her “Becoming” (an installation from 2011 that incorporates dangling buckets and a shower curtain), some photographs and a few sculptural pieces created from repurposed objects (a kitchen mixer, a glass urinal filled with water).
In the context of an open hallway, as opposed to a more formal gallery space, these items had a rather puzzling effect as the closing pieces of the exhibit. I was left with more questions about the intent of the art rather than the previous photographic and sculptural ponderings on the nature of water. Did the blue tape circles below the buckets represent the sea, or leaky pails? Was I supposed to want to peek into the buckets to see what was in there? (I didn’t, until the informational placard tipped me off that I was indeed meant to.) Was the beaded curtain meant to be pooling on the floor, or was the ceiling simply too low for the curtain to clear the floor? I’m still not sure.
However, at the end of the day, I had seen some beautiful images, discovered a part of the Presidio I had never seen and had new artistic questions to ponder—not bad for a rainy afternoon. At minimum, Ways of Water makes for a pleasant and thought-provoking way to spend a less-than-sunny day by the Bay.
The Thoreau Center for Sustainability is open Monday through Friday, 9am – 5pm, at Presidio Building #1014 (Lincoln Blvd. & Torney Ave.) in the Presidio. Call (415) 561-6300 for more information, or visit www.thoreau.org.