To the Futurefarmers—a San Francisco-based international collective of artists, activists, and a slew of other practical and creative thinkers from bakers to architects—objects, processes, and ideas are works of art.
Their new show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), Futurefarmers: Out of Place, In Place, which opened Friday April 20, is both a retrospective of past projects and the collaborative creation of a new piece inspired by San Francisco's ever-present fog.
Assembly is an overarching theme of the works presented in the show. In "Seed Journey," the group explores and disrupts global systems of production, particularly the agricultural industry, in a display that includes heirloom seeds rescued from history and industrial processes. In "For Want of a Nail," they analyze the destructive power of technology and geological time via an interoffice memo from Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atom bomb, requesting a nail to hang his hat.
Two donkey-costume-clad workers wander among the gallery goers representing analog machines carrying out a set of specific instructions including activating tea kettles and taking smoke breaks. Each has a different persona—one is something of a bully, mocking his companion, while the other innocently mimics his pal.
It is a "space where poetry and poetic engagement with others meets this very technocratic culture. Everything is slowed down...and then they put very gentle and almost loving interjections into the narrative of art," says exhibit curator and YBCA's director of visual arts, Lucía Sanromán.
But it's the public programs paired with the gallery exhibition where a wide ranging new piece—part performance art, part scientific experimentation, part mechanical assembly—engages with San Francisco's fog-shrouded heart. Throughout the spring and summer of 2018, the YBCA will hold in-house and off-site events that invite visitors to engage in the creation of a speculative fog machine, though what a "speculative fog machine" is, even the artists aren't sure at this stage. "We don't know exactly what this speculative machine will be or what it will do," Futurefarmer Michael Swain said in a conversation with Sanromán, printed for the exhibit. "It is proposed as a "fog harvesting" mechanism, but perhaps more metaphorically."
Wherever the artistic conversation ends up, it will include electricity, canvas boat sails, and a massive sewing machine. On May 17th, the public can watch the sewing machine, an antique Singer 5-9, disassembled in preparation for the fog harvest. Visitors are invited to become fog harvesters themselves in a playful live event on June 21st, and to continue that harvest and experiment with electromagnetic frequencies on July 19th. The fog harvest ends on August 4th with a procession from the YBCA to Mount Sutro meant to embody the movement of fog across the city.
// Futurefarmers: Out of Place, In Place, through Aug. 12, at YBCA, 701 Mission St. (SoMa), ybca.org.
The exhibit culminates in Sea to Sutro on Aug. 4, a performance art procession in which participants themselves become a metaphorical body of fog. (Courtesy of YBCA)