By Liza Veale, Oakland Local
Owners of a shuttered medical building at 29th Street and Telegraph Avenue, just north of downtown Oakland, are waiting for construction permits to restore the spot to its original 1920s function as residential housing. In this fleeting moment of transition, 12 artists have taken up a brief residency to create site-specific art installations and invite the public inside. Curators Ernest Jolly and Chris Evans call their pop-up ArtComplex, and it opens today (Saturday, Jan. 18.).
Unlike most other forms of visual art and gallery presentations, these temporary, site-specific installations don’t begin and end with the borders of a frame, Jolly says. “They interact with the space; the space is part of the piece.” When they are disassembled and reinstalled somewhere else, they become something new.
In this case, the twelve artists devised site-specific pieces inspired by the building. Some of them took their cues from its medical function, others from the nature of apartment cohabitation, others from the flux and transformation of the space in time and still others from the particular way the light came in the window. All of the work is animated by an Oakland sensibility.
“I selected a few of the artists and then those artists selected the rest,” Jolly says. “So it’s a really varied sample of local work.”
The exhibition will be open to the public on weekends through the end of March. Select dates will feature live music and dance performances that respond to the artists’ installations. Collaborators include Bandelion performers, dancer-choreographer Byb Chanel Bibene, avant jazz group the Broun Fellinis, international solo artist Folawole, Bay Area dancer Nadia Oka, dancer-choreographer Sheena Johnson, and more. ArtComplex is trying to create an immersive art experience; this is not your grandmother’s art museum.
The new owners of the property, Irina Gelfenbeyn and Bill Bagnell, board members at the nonprofit East Bay Rental Housing Association, say that agreeing to the installation was a “no-brainer.”
“It is very important for us to make a contribution to the local art community,” said Gelfenbeyn, “We know how difficult it is for artists to find venues to show their art and build their credentials. We want this project to be a template for other people who are developing the city of Oakland.”
Gelfenbeyn and Bagnell are looking to revise the city’s housing laws to allow for unconventional lease agreements like the one they have with ArtComplex.
In Jolly’s vision, if installation artists are better able to capitalize on spaces in transition, there is the potential that their work could could be incorporated into the permanent design of the building as it is turned over to a new purpose or owner. The idea is less viable in residential buildings than it is for public facing spaces like restaurants, civic buildings and venues.
“Real estate interior design tends to involve the staging of fake flowers, a throw rug, but what if we rethought that?” asks Jolly. Given the growth in public appreciation for innovative design and artful architecture, perhaps Jolly’s idea is not only exciting, but inevitable. ArtComplex will be open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from Jan. 18 through March 23, from noon to 4 p.m.