San Francisco-based conceptual artist Stephanie Syjuco believes that politically engaged art can also be fun. Often dealing with issues of globalization and outsourcing, Syjuco’s work intersects with some of the most heated debates of the 21st century but does so in a ways that are often surprising and playful. Spark checks in on Syjuco as she exhibits the “Counterfeit Crochet Project (Critique of a Political Economy)” at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Much of Syjuco’s work deals with what she likes to call “improper ways of interfacing with capitalism” — bootlegs, knockoffs, and otherwise reworked commodities, taking high-tech or luxury items and remaking them as low-tech and debased. She has used simple, cheap materials like foam core, contact paper, scrap wood, and glue to make cheap, non-functional replicas of expensive consumer goods like digital cameras, cell phones, and mp3 players.
Playing on the booming black market trade of designer handbags and accessories, the “Counterfeit Crochet Project” assembles copies of these luxury items ironically — and often beautifully — rendered in the medium of crochet, a technique more closely associated with homespun creations. Syjuco began the project by creating a Web site to reach out to the crafting community and soon was able to enlist makers from all over the world to participate in her project.
Organizing and collecting the resulting works, Syjuco has presented the exhibition of the collection and associated workshops across the globe. Before the show in San Francisco, Syjuco exhibited the collection in locations across Europe and Asia, including Turkey, China, and the Philippines.
Syjuco’s process loosely mirrors that of outsourced labor, by enlisting the work of producers abroad. But while corporations outsource manufacturing in order to take advantage of cheaper means of production, the works that Syjuco elicits from her manufacturers is never offered for sale but remains the property of the people who make them. Syjuco’s exhibitions underline this aspect of the project and the workshops allow the participants to get together to work, exchange ideas, and learn to crochet these unique versions of luxury goods.
Stephanie Syjuco earned a B.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute and an M.F.A. from Stanford University. She has shown nationally and internationally at P.S.1 Contemporary Arts Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The New Museum, SFMOMA, The San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Contemporary Museum Honolulu. Her work was included in the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art. She has held residencies The Atlantic Center for the Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts, KALA Art Center, Skowhegan, and the Center for Metamedia, Czech Republic.