Artist-curators Carey Lin and Sarah Hotchkiss conceived Stairwell’s — a series of temporary installations, publications, and off-site field trips — as an opportunity to engage art audiences outside of traditional art settings. The focus shifts to familiar, though often-interstitial spaces such as staircases, as locations that — when activated by visual art — heighten our awareness of the commonplace.

For CORNERWAYS, the third exhibition in the now two-year-old series, artists Seth Curcio and Dan Swindel were tapped to temporarily alter a live/work space in the Boise Cascade Building, a former industrial complex in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Through their intervention, our attention is drawn to spaces that often go overlooked, and to the possibility that our constructed environments are not as mundane as might appear.

Though resolutely minimal, the installation fully utilizes the unit’s staircase and the positive and negative spaces it creates. On the face of the steps, the side seen when we walk up or down a set of stairs, Curcio installed black and white images of a mineshaft to create a dense, three-dimensional collage. Curcio’s practice in part involves the use of found imagery sourced from Flickr. Hotchkiss emphasizes that Curcio seeks “bad” photography for use in his projects, the knowledge of which makes this installation that much more successful. Mounted on a flexible yet sturdy material, similar to foam core, that flexes when stepped on, the installation spans both segments of the short staircase, which was unfinished prior to the exhibition.

Walking up and then back down the stairs, I was only slightly concerned about falling down, an effect intensified by the malleable material beneath my feet. That tenuous feeling was heightened by the sound the panels make when stepped on. Not quite the alarming noise of brittle wood cracking under pressure, but very close. The sensory experience is rounded out by Curcio’s complex collage, which becomes legible as a ladder in a mineshaft once you reach the second floor. Looking down the stairs, it appeared that I was at the bottom of the shaft, looking up toward a sliver of sky. For the briefest moment, the space seemed foreign, almost threatening, and it was thrilling.

For his contribution, Dan Swindel fashioned mirrors into sculptures that defy the rigid verticality generally associated with the common reflective object. Several of Swindel’s small and medium-sized pieces are installed, giving the impression that the space on, around, and below the stairs is both extended and distorted through reflection. These compact objects, some in color and others clear, command the space they inhabit in a manner similar to monumental free-standing sculpture, effectively requiring the viewer to stand on tip toes or kneel down in order to see both their own image and Curcio’s collages in full fragmented glory.

With the temporary shuttering of SFMOMA, there has been some discussion of what will become of regional exhibition practice. So far as I can tell, there is no need for alarm, and the creative interventions conceived by curators such as Hotchkiss and Lin support that notion. If, in the nearly three years we need to look to other venues to get our fill of art, projects including CORNERWAYS more than take up that charge by encouraging us to visit a site-specific installation, or to take a walk through formerly unknown parts of the Bay Area. With financial support provided by another lauded institution, Southern Exposure and the Alternative Exposure grant program, what are now identified as “alternative” ideas in exhibition-making could move front and center in the interim, and we will be better for it.

CORNERWAYS‘ closing event takes place on Sunday, June 30, 2013 from 12-5pm. For more information, including a map and directions to the installation, visit stairwells.org.

CORNERWAYS: Up, Down, and Below 25 June,2013Roula Seikaly

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