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GenArtSF Presents Emerge 2000

SF Station 
by Rodrigo Diaz 

GenArtSF's third Emerge exhibition displays a continuing dedication to the organization's mission of presenting the work of emerging artists. This year's roundup of artists shows a great sense of diversity in the types of issues that are addressed in the work. Many of the artists complete their various inquiries thoughtfully, and the resulting work is complimented by its successful execution and delivery. The unique subject matter of the work of two artists, in particular, is especially unique.

Thomas Chang's photographs stands out in their minimalist presentation of a location, their humorous initial deception, and their ideas of gendered space. These photographs interiors that are stark, sparsely decorated, and devoid of people are initially impressive through their quietude, while, at the same time, presenting a calming dullness in their 70's colors and plain decor (almost like some sort of interior design anesthesia). The humor lies in the fact that these dull, hotel lobby-like locations are actually "strip joints." Here, Chang has starkly illuminated the domain of misogyny and patriarchy, where only a select group go to participate in a highly charged dance of sex and power. Yet Chang has documented these interiors with it participants absent. Interestingly, the photographs document a particularly ambiguous environment, which, presented without its participants, is unable to achieve its erotic intent.

Wendy Heldmann's work also deals with constructed environments. Yet hers is a more personal, and more commonplace investigation. Having moved numerous times in her childhood, Heldmann addresses her idea of the "home as an icon." The work is in two distinct formats. One is in the form of small drawings, outlines of houses, repeated over and over on top of one another (giving them the appearance of movement and instability). The drawings are then placed over a symmetrical pattern of small, brightly colored squares. The other format is a construction of a miniature street block, defined by a square of Astroturf, with diminutive houses made of various swatches of fabric, with pictures ironed on their exteriors. Like small windows offering views of their confines, these houses (and the culturally coded swatches of fabric) function as quick snapshots of the families within. Heldmann’s investigation of the idea of home is tremendously poignant in a time where housing prices, and the idea of domestic stability are getting exceedingly out of reach for most people. In other pieces, the artist also investigates the construction of suburban track housing by repeating not the outline of a house, but the patterns of housing developments which are traced on top of a checkered background. Where it is now the norm to view homes as investments, hop scotching from larger home to larger home, her questioning of the definition of house vs. a home forms a pointed investigation of the concept of shelter.

There is a final irony in this work being included in GenArtSF's Emerge 2000 exhibition: an annual exhibition that seems to have no permanent home for itself. Despite the challenge of continual dislocation, GenArt is to be commended for it success in effectively supporting young artists whose explorations are often refreshing and definitive.