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Back in the 1970s and ’80s when San Diego artist Eleanor Antin taught at the University of California, San Diego, she gave students in her performance art class an offbeat assignment: Go out and commit a crime — without hurting anyone, stealing or damaging anything and without getting arrested.
“It forced them to think of a more complex crime,” Antin said. “It made the kids open up and be fearless, and it made the word ‘crime’ and ‘criminal’ a little more complicated – there was a lot to discuss.”
Antin said she’d get annual calls from the San Diego Police Department asking in advance if she’d be doing the assignment again so officers could be better prepared for some of the stunts students ended up pulling off. “I’d say, ‘Oh yeah, it’ll be over in about two weeks,’ and they’d say, ‘OK, that’s fine just keep it in control,’” Antin recalled.
Antin is one of the artists featured in “The Uses of Photography: Art, Politics, and the Reinvention of a Medium,” an exhibition opening Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s La Jolla location. The show focuses on artists in and around UCSD who were active between the late 1960s and early 1980s and whose experiments with photography pushed the medium to more interesting and political places. Some of Antin’s photos will be shown alongside the works of artists John Baldessari, Allan Kaprow, Fred Lonidier and others.
I called Antin to talk about photography, but the conversation quickly bubbled over to include other art genres.
She said the UCSD art department was among the first to pave the way toward postmodernism by blending genres and focusing on conceptual art – or art that was less about aesthetics and more about communicating an idea. She and her colleagues and students broke most of the rules and definitions of each medium.
“That was a time of being very open to experimental stuff and the possibilities of things you never thought could go together did go together,” she said. “It was the mixtures of genres and a time for people to try out all sort of things, hopefully they’d be intelligent, witty and worth doing. And much of the work we ended up doing was political in some way.”
Antin said she thinks the biggest contribution she and the other artists in the MCASD show made to photography was combining it with other art practices like performance art, and by communicating contentious and political topics. Some of her most famous photographic series from the 1970s are a perfect example of taking a markedly different approach to photography at that time.
In “100 Boots,” for example, she set up 100 black rubber boots in various scenarios met to evoke a Jack Kerouac-type road trip. Artist Philip Steinmetz photographed them and printed the images on postcards, which she mailed to hundreds of artists, art critics, curators and others as an alternative method of exhibiting her work without having to stage a traditional gallery show.
In “Carving: A Traditional Sculpture,” Antin lost 10 pounds in less then 40 days and documented the process by taking nude photographs of herself. She saw it as an act of feminism that addressed ideas about the ideal female body.
“You could see the pounds disappearing,” Antin said. “And I called that sculpture because I was carving myself, but it was photography and that was a new thing to do with photographs.”
In her “The King of Solana Beach” series, she would dress up as a king and walk through the beach neighborhood, engage with residents and document the experience, bringing together acting, performance art, photography, storytelling and film.
“We were all just inventing a new way of working,” Antin said. “And by doing that, my instinct is that we really did affect photography very strongly.”
• The La Jolla Light talked to Jill Dawsey, who curated “The Uses of Photography” exhibition. Dawsey said the show was a chance to acknowledge the artists’ common roots in San Diego. “This exhibition is the first to explore how their practices emerged in tandem at a critical time and place, when things were changing, and they were looking for new forms to show what was happening,” Dawsey told the newspaper.
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
The Wonder Bread Building Versus the Convadium
Gay Sinclair owns the historic Wonder Bread building. It’s one of a handful of properties in the footprint of the new stadium and convention center expansion that would be built if voters approve the Chargers’ Measure C.
Sinclair doesn’t want to sell the old bread factory, but if the measure passes in November, she might not have a choice: The city could use eminent domain to acquire the properties needed to clear the way for the new convadium.
I toured the Wonder Bread building last week with Sinclair, who told me she’s no stranger to the powers of eminent domain. She and her husband Bob Sinclair, the eccentric and colorful founder of Pannikin Coffee & Tea, had another East Village property acquired by the city to make way for Petco Park.
Unlike the Chargers’ proposed convadium, though, she said she and Bob Sinclair backed the building of Petco Park.
“We supported the ballpark because at that time East Village needed an economy boost,” she said. “And the ballpark is open to the streets and has public access.”
The Homeless Bill Walton Bronze, Dancing at Trolley Stops and Other Arts and Culture News
• Local videographer, filmmaker and theatrical artist Chance McManus has cancer. The write-up by his fiancee Nicolette Cook on the crowdfunding campaign to help cover his treatments is the saddest and funniest thing you’ll read this week.
• Whoa, U-T sports columnist Bryce Miller is really grumpy about the San Diego International Airport’s Art Advisory Committee saying “no” to the Bill Walton bronze statue. Pat and Stephanie Kilkenny wanted to donate the piece depicting the retired basketball player to the airport. The art advisory committee, which includes public relations professional Indra Gardiner, artist and educator Gail Roberts and designer Michael Soriano, said no and listed a few reasons, but Miller rips into each one of them. The bronze of Walton is currently housed at Petco Park, but the Kilkennys want to find a permanent home for the piece by the end of September.
• I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about this hybrid fashion/art event happening Friday evening at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park.
• The big KAABOO Del Mar music festival is over, but the chatter about the good and bad of it continues. (U-T)
• The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center is shortening its name and expanding its offerings. (U-T)
• It’s that time of year again: Dancing will be happening at and around select trolley stops in San Diego. (CityBeat)
• See the work of over 40 artists in Escondido on Sunday.
• A dozen Southern California arts and culture organizations have set out to tell the story of San Diego architect Irving J. Gill. You can follow the project on Facebook.
• A local company is raising money to build an app that encourages people to buy art.
• The nonprofit behind the annual San Diego Asian Film Festival has a new leader. (U-T)
• Word on the street is that San Diego’s sewer shows are happening again (for the uninitiated, those are punk-rock concerts held in one of San Diego’s sewer pipes in Golden Hill).
• San Diego Opera kicked of its 51st season. And it was good. (U-T)
• Local poets are joining the national “Poets for Change” movement.
• Chicanista Boutique is holding a grand opening party in Barrio Logan. I talk to the sisters behind the creative clothing store in the next episode of Culturecast, VOSD’s podcast covering the intersection of art and gentrification in Barrio Logan.
Food, Beer and Booze News
• Fire is a hot trend right now in the local food scene. (San Diego Magazine)
• The Reader’s Ian Anderson says it isn’t easy to open a brewery in the city of Carlsbad, but this soon-to-open brewery is navigating the challenges well.
• The wine scene in the Valle de Guadalupe keeps getting rediscovered by folks who write about wine. (Thrillest)
• The San Diego City Council honored Ballast Point on Monday. (CBS 8 San Diego)