What do you get when you combine a Brazilian, a Swede, and some colorful vinyl tape? In the case of Bay Area artist duo t.w.five, the result is a series of vibrant art works that speak to topics in popular culture as well as the communication barriers that arise when living far from home.
Pernilla Andersson and Paula Perreira used to be loners. "Before we met (almost 10 years ago), we didn't like to work with other people," admits Perreira, a Brazilian photographer who, as a solo act, went by the name T.W. "Then, during a show in New York, where we were together working on our own projects, we discovered many things in common, and we saw there was a possibility to do something together. In the beginning, I was a little bit skeptical but Pernilla insisted, and here we are," she says.
However it was Andersson, a painter from Sweden who was going by the moniker Five, who became skeptical when Perreira presented her big idea: to create pieces of art using only colorful vinyl tape—you know, the kind you might buy at Cliff's Hardware to add a little something to your Pride decor or Burning Man costume. "[Paula] had used this material once for an art project, and she thought it was very sexy and glossy," Andersson recalls. So, they gave it a try.
Now, known together as t.w.five, the pair of women have made works in vinyl tape something of a signature—their pieces have shown in a number of local and international galleries, including San Francisco's Luna Rienne and the Luggage Store as well as a few art spaces in Norway. In 2015, t.w.five enjoyed a much sought-after residency at Sausalito's Headlands Center for the Arts. This month, some of the works they created at Headlands, as well as a new project, will be exhibited at State Gallery, which was opened by the founders of Framework PR, with the goal of celebrating local contemporary artists, in the Mission last spring.
Part of of t.w.five's Landscape series at State Gallery, these panels reflect California by day—a contrast to the darker opposing panels (not shown) depicting the artists' far-flung home countries.(Courtesy of State)
Titled Across from US, the exhibit will differ from past t.w.five showings thanks to a partial focus on landscapes. But anyone imagining soft focus paintings of nature must think again. Andersson and Perreira have combined their skills—the former is the taskmaster, the latter the perfectionist—to render the distant connection between their chosen California home with their not-forgotten homelands in a large-scale site-specific installation of two contrasting panels, each full of graphic shapes and color. It is a visual storytelling that explores the meaning of living abroad, where daytime here means nighttime for the family far away. One panel, a familiar California landscape, might evoke the bright blues and greens of the coast along Highway 1, while a darker panel, rendered in black and blue vinyl strips, is meant to suggest nighttime in the homes the women left behind.
"We are both foreigners, so time difference is very important to us," Perreira says. "When in California it's day, in our [home] countries it is evening and vice versa. This affects the way in which we communicate and relate to our families."
The landscape series was inspired by the duo's stay at Headlands Center, which, as the name suggests, resides within the incredible landscape of the Marin Headlands.
The work they actually created while at Headlands, however, takes an altogether different tack, with topical pop culture as a jumping-off point. The "Polaroid" series, which will also be on view at State Gallery, "explore[s] societal diversity by digging into the concept of togetherness," Andersson says, pointing to contrasting depictions of female prison inmates and retro-glamorous water-skiers. "The way in which those two groups of women touch each other is very similar, but the feeling is completely different," she says.
"Women skiers," from the Polaroid series, depicts women in a similar stance as the "Inmates" (top) but with a far different mood.
Each t.w.five project begins with a conversation among the two friends. "If we like [an idea] and we perceive that it can be interesting, we start looking for pictures and doing some research. Then we put everything into our work," says Andersson. The two women usually work on a panel at the same time, often starting at opposite corners and working their way in. Sometimes they step back, look at the picture, and switch positions.
To execute an installation on the scale of State Gallery, Perreira and Andersson met daily in their studio in Palo Alto (halfway between their San Francisco and San Jose homes, respectively). This all happens after their nine-to-fives—Andersson is the domain manager at Zazzle; Perreira teaches photography at SF State.
"Some days are more difficult than others because maybe we are tired, or we are not inspired, but working together is useful because we can push one another to get things done properly," Andersson says.
Drag Queens, The Polaroid series
And it's true, the nature of their art is very participatory. The artists hand-cut the vinyl tape into strips of various sizes and then painstakingly apply them to found images that they project onto an all-white panel. Absolutely nothing is drawn or painted; every image is made with only adhesive tape.
A detail of the artists' process
Don't miss the "Landscape" and "Polaroid" series on view at State Gallery beginning August 20th, and look for t.w.five to take on a coveted residency at the De Young Museum, September 7th through October 2nd, where they will teach visitors how to create their own cut vinyl pieces inspired by the museum's collection.
// Across from US, Aug. 20 through Sept. 30 (opening reception Aug. 20 6-9pm) at State Gallery, 1295 Alabama St. (Mission), statespacesf.com; twfive.net
t.w.five's Polaroid series, on view at Headlands Center for the Arts last year.(Courtesy of Headlands Center)