A Condemned Building Gets a Last Breath of Life Through Sacramento Artists: Faith J. McKinnie, Liv Moe, Molly Stroud, and Genesis “The Mayor” Torres Interviewed

The Pacific Satellite Connect building in Sacramento, CA. Photo: Cara Thompson with OMNI Creative.

Though I only live ninety miles away, I haven’t been to Sacramento since I was a small child, visiting family. It unsurprisingly follows that my understanding of the city’s art ecosystem is paltry at best. Hearing about the exhibition Coordinates: Ice Pac inspired a long overdue day trip to the state capitol. 

Driving down the beautifully tree-lined S Street, I quickly spotted the exhibition site, its façade emblazoned with its GPS coordinates in bold black numbers running along the top of an unassuming, single-story office building. Previously the home of the Pacific Satellite Connect (PacSat) headquarters, the city-block-sized building occupies just under one acre in Sacramento’s rapidly gentrifying Ice Blocks District. 

For Coordinates: Ice Pac, thirty-five artists in the Sacramento area were invited to activate the vacant space with site-specific installations. The diversity of materials, conceptual concerns, and aesthetic approaches included speaks to an artistic community that values experimentation and varied perspectives. This monumental undertaking—”our love letter to Sacramento,” as curator Faith J. McKinnie describes it—is only on view for three weeks (until March 26) before the building is demolished in mid-April.

The following interview took place via email with the exhibition’s four curators: Faith J. McKinnie, Liv Moe, Molly Stroud, and Genesis “The Mayor” Torres. —Allie Haeusslein

Allie Haeusslein To start, how would you generally describe the arts community in Sacramento? 

Liv Moe Sacramento has a really large artist community, but a relatively small foundation for support. There are only a handful of commercial galleries in the central city, and even fewer that support emerging and contemporary art, which made Faith’s eponymous gallery essential. I think Julia Couzens’s statement accompanying her installation aptly relates the current conditions for Sacramento artists: “a weedy lot, working without the nourishment of critical dialogue, robust collectors, and a thriving gallery scene.”

AH How do you think area schools—like University of California at Davis and California State Sacramento, for instance—have helped to shape the artist community in Sacramento? 

LM Despite the overall lack of venues, there are so many academic art departments in Sacramento—between the universities and community colleges—so a wide array of disciplines are represented in the community. Recently, I have noticed an uptick in graduates choosing to remain in Sacramento rather than immediately relocating following graduation. I think that trend is a real endorsement for where emerging artists see this region headed artistically. 

AH I’m curious about the exhibition’s name. What is the significance of “Coordinates” and “Ice Pac”?

Molly Stroud Coordinates are site-specific, transitory exhibitions that bring attendees into vacant, underutilized spaces for creative inquiry rather than the art world’s traditional white cube institutions.

The term “coordinates” suggests considering all aspects of the site. We wanted artists to respond to the exhibition site’s existing structure, but to think about the history of the land and its previous occupants. Like so many parcels in a growing city, its use and occupants have changed over time and highlighting the exact longitude and latitude of the building is our way of honoring place—past, present, and future. For example, PacSat Antenna (all works 2022) the sculpture I created for the entryway of the exhibition, is an homage to the most recent use of the space, Pacific Satellite Connection (also known as PacSat). One day, while exploring the building’s rooftop, I discovered a 12-foot-high TV antenna, caked with dirt, rusting in some places, and clearly unused for quite some time. With the help of a friend, I wrested the spiny object from the rooftop, spray painted it silver, and sawed off enough length so it could fit inside the building’s entryway; the resulting work is displayed as if impaling its white pedestal. 

The curatorial team created another tribute to this parcel’s heritage by filling the floor of an interior alcove with three inches of dirt and hanging a small plaque on the wall at the far end of the soil plot. The text reads, “This is not your land” in gold lettering so small the viewer must walk across the dirt, lean forward, and squint to decipher the words, an intentionally awkward and uncomfortable maneuver. The installation is dedicated to the Nisenan, the Indigenous Peoples of this land, who have lived here for millenia. 

On a white pedestal, against a ruby blue wall and floor, two satellite antennas lean backwards and point toward the sky.
Molly Stroud, PacSat Antenna, 2022. Photo: Cara Thompson and Ski Taylor with OMNI Creative.

Faith J. McKinnie “Ice Pac” playfully references the exhibition’s physical location. PacSat owned and operated this building from 1992 through 2019. Before it was demolished in 2016, the Crystal Ice Building (built in 1921–22) was right next door, storing over 10,000 tons of ice for the region; it is now “The Ice Blocks,” a retail and residential development project.

AH What was the initial driving force behind Coordinates: Ice Pac? And what were your goals for the project? 

FJM From August 2021 through February 2022, I operated the Faith J. McKinnie Gallery in a part of the building where we installed Coordinates: Ice Pac (the 4,000-square-foot warehouse space where A.M. Architect’s Cynatica Conductor is currently installed). I approached the site’s developers, Sutter Capital Group, about using the entire space one final time for creative inquiry before the building’s scheduled demolition. My goal was to create a physical space where artists could experiment and, after two years of isolation, where our artist community could reconnect with each other.

AH What about this particular space inspired you to conceive an exhibition within its walls? What were the challenges of working in a space never intended for the display of art?

MS The building’s floor plan is a labyrinth of hallways, offices of varying sizes, and a large warehouse space, all of which offered options that seemed ideal for exhibiting over thirty unique installations by artists of different styles and mediums. The interior finishes of the building were comically 1990s, with dark redwood doors, walls painted maroon, mustard yellow, lime green, and powder blue, and a massive, chunky reception desk that looked straight out of the movie Office Space (1999). During the month of installation, we painted almost every single wall in the building, ripped up carpet, donated over twenty doors to Habitat for Humanity, and created a bar by repurposing the reception desk. The curatorial team and a few volunteers converted the space into an environment where art could properly be displayed; it was a true labor of love and I still can’t believe it all got done in four weeks.

AH Who is involved in your four-person curatorial team and what is each contributor’s relationship to the arts community? What has the experience of working as a curatorial team been like? 

MS Faith J. McKinnie is an independent curator and owner of Faith J. McKinnie Gallery. Liv Moe is an artist, curator, writer, and arts administrator who serves as the Founding Director of Verge Center for the Arts, a contemporary art center and artist residency in Sacramento. Genesis “The Mayor” Torres is an artist, curator, and student at Sacramento State University. Lastly, I am the owner of Edge Art Advisory, an art consulting and curatorial services firm that works with arts organizations, developers, businesses, and individuals to build thoughtful and sustainable collections.

After Faith proposed the exhibition idea, the team came together quite naturally. We all brought different knowledge and skills to the project, which was vital for organizing such a large exhibition in a limited amount of time.

We all wanted the same outcome: to assemble some of Sacramento’s most talented artists and challenge them to create work that responded to the site and pushed the boundaries of their individual practices. It was also important to us that we offered the community a transcendent experience that raised the bar—in terms of conceptual quality and diversity of mediums—beyond what is typically showcased in local galleries and museums. 

AH What guided your collective decision-making in determining who from your long list of artists would be invited to participate?

FJM We considered artists who may not have had an opportunity like this before and who we, as a group, felt could do something exciting in this kind of space and scale. We also considered the artists’ ability to fully execute in such a short timeframe; the diversity of the artists and their mediums; and which artists we either yearned to work with again or to collaborate with for the first time. 

AH The building’s various spaces are so distinctive, inviting viewer engagement in such decidedly different ways. How far in advance of installation did the participating artists know what spaces they would occupy? How did knowing their spaces within the exhibition site impact their plans for what to include?

FJM Each invited artist received an in-person tour of the site in mid-January and was then tasked with submitting an informal proposal within two weeks. The proposal included the concept, materials, and desired location of their installation. All the resulting works were specifically created for this exhibition.

The curatorial team worked closely with each artist; some proposals were discussed and accepted during the initial tour, others the artist and curators refined over several visits, or changed completely during installation. For instance, Jiayi Young initially proposed something different from what you see in Licking the Candy / “I wish I didn’t have to talk about Chinese food – I’m not just about the only thing you know about being Chinese.” At first, she proposed an installation that would have taken up most of the room’s space and penetrated the earth beneath it, which is very significantly different from the smaller, more intimately scaled piece we see. Due to the nature of these site-specific installations, things change often and at any time; in Young’s case, she pivoted to another concept in a short amount of time.

Before a hazy, subtracted backdrop, a tiny translucent sculpture of a building with a pointed dome shimmers.
Jiayi Young, Licking the Candy, 2022. Photo: Cara Thompson and Ski Taylor with OMNI Creative.

AH On an extraordinarily short timeline, you all created something remarkable. Talk me through the logistics of realizing Coordinates: Ice Pac.

Genesis “the Mayor” Torres For an installation of this scale, the exhibition site would typically be identified many months, maybe even years, in advance; we brought Coordinates: Ice Pac to life in two months. And I believe this extremely short timeline is a huge part of its magic. January was dedicated to our development of the curatorial and logistical foundations of the exhibition. February—which I’d like to point out is the shortest month of the year—was devoted to installation and filled with paint-stained clothes, tears, and severe exhaustion. Even though that experience left my body in so much distress, I couldn’t have been happier because I have never witnessed a project where the curators and artists worked so intimately together to create an unforgettable experience for their community. The intensity of collaborating with thirty-five artists while transforming a massive space in twenty-eight days will forever change the way I perceive what can be accomplished. 

AH Do you think this project’s site-specificity and timeline encouraged artists to work differently than if they were exhibiting in a more traditional space with a longer lead time?

G(TM)T This exhibition created a unique opportunity for artists to extend their studio practices onto the floors, walls, and ceilings of their installation spaces. They felt empowered to be more experimental with materials, techniques, or concepts, such as Lily Mott’s hanging sculpture, The Shuttering Magpie, or Joha Harrison’s Critical Racial Theory mural, Untitled. A real advantage of this project was having on-site access to a community of other artists and curators who were available to give real-time critiques and assist in problem solving. 

Unlike the time-intensive nature of developing a body of work, this exhibition’s quick timeline demanded each artist be very clear about their concept and how they might accomplish their installation; there was little time to revise or doubt their abilities. Many artists created installations they had dreamt about executing for years, but had never been given the space to do so. Then, there were artists who responded directly to the site, which led them in entirely new directions. For example, Joha, who I mentioned earlier, is known for creating beautiful, vibrant-colored collages; here, he created an uncharacteristic monochromatic installation. I cannot explain the amount of pride I feel to have worked with so many of these artists through this transformative process.

In a tiny, cramped room, countless sheets of paper, covered in small print, smothers every available empty space.
Joha Harrison, Untitled, 2022. Photo: Cara Thompson and Ski Taylor with OMNI Creative.
Adjacent a bright, floor to ceiling window, a red pillow chair slouches against the wall, facing the opposite wall—on which a tapestry grid of images of a person crying on a bed hangs.
Robin Hill, Safety Pillow Support Room, 2022. Photo: Cara Thompson and Ski Taylor with OMNI Creative.

AH In what ways are the underlying conceptual concerns presented in these works distinctly local? And in what ways are they engaging more universal issues?

G(TM)T The selected artworks respond to Sacramento’s landscape, make use of the building’s existing structures, and demonstrate how each artist’s practice translates as an immersive experience. The soon-to-be demolished site inspired many of the artists to grapple with similar kinds of issues—such as racial and environmental injustices, anxiety, and emotional loss—while presenting their own distinctive points of view and artistic approaches.

MS Atlas Lab’s Once Was Forrest touches on the way climate change has impacted Sacramento’s urban landscape. Viewers enter a dark room where thick slabs of redwood are stacked at varying heights, lit by spotlights at the base of these deconstructed trees. A foot path winds through groupings of the  trees, the air is thick with the earthy scent of wood. The installation is a monument to Sacramento’s lost redwoods—our canopy can no longer sustain their high water needs in our constant regional drought.

Robin Hill’s Safety Pillow Support Room engages more widespread issues. During the worst of Covid, when most people in the US  were sheltering in place, Hill created a giant, orange “safety pillow” from parachute silk as a visual reminder of our collective need for care and protection. When Hill’s father passed away during this time, the pillow became her giant grieving support raft. For the installation, her pillow is placed across from large, cyanotype self-portraits that document her interaction with the support pillow as she grieved the loss of her father. 

AH Can you imagine pursuing like-minded projects in other spaces in Sacramento in the future? 

MS We fully intend to iterate on Coordinates in other spaces in Sacramento and the team is already in talks with a developer about a few prospective sites for 2023. Stay tuned!  


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Author: Allie Haeusslein

Allie Haeusslein is the Director of Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco, the largest space dedicated to photography in North America. Her exhibition Looking Back: Ten Years of Pier 24 Photography will open later this year. She conceived and edited the publication Photographers Looking at Photographs: 75 Pictures from the Pilara Foundation Collection (2019). Her writing has appeared in Aperture, British Journal of Photography, ART21 Magazine, and Foam Magazine, among others.