“How can you use the tender light of cinema to touch the heart of an audience?”—Nathaniel Dorsky
On any given day, on the foggy edge of Golden Gate Park, Nathaniel Dorsky is surely working away. One of North America’s most important experimental filmmakers, Nick has been living in San Francisco since he moved from New York with his partner Jerome Hiler in 1971, in the midst of one of San Francisco’s most vibrant and creative chapters. Since then, the two have held down the metaphorical fort for the city’s dwindling art community and spent their lives safeguarding the aesthetic and cultural importance of experimental art. Nick’s work, most famously in the form of silent 16mm films shot on a Bolex camera, exposes our world from a dream-like perspective: a face through the lines of a tree branch, a golden pendant in a shop window reflected in a sea of colors, Nick’s own wide smile behind the heavy barrier of the camera when the moment has been secured.
Through the interplay of reflection, light, and shadow, Nick’s films create a form of visual poetry that have moved me since I first saw them as a little girl. He translates San Francisco to the screen through an intimate understanding of its most unique qualities and a deep appreciation for its beauty. Despite the city’s fundamentally transient history, Nick has remained an observer, telling the story of San Francisco through its enduring details. Throughout my life, Nick has taught me and so many others that the key to making meaningful art is to commit to the practice of awareness. Nick’s work speaks to the unspeakable, to the remarkable beauty of life’s subtleties.
Glass Rice is proud to present Through the Semblance of Normalcy, Adrian Kay Wong’s debut solo exhibition with the gallery and co-curated with Sydney Pfaff of Legion Projects. Through the Semblance of Normalcy is a visual journey surrounding familiar isolation, continuation and incidences of beauty in the everyday, conceived and made entirely during shelter in place. Wong creates moments made up of shapes that when isolated, are abstract, and when looked at as a whole, become representational. By bringing these two elements together, Wong builds a unique visual language that allows both the primary subject and contextual elements to exist in a stylistically flat, yet dimensional world as equals.
In this body of work, Wong spotlights personal yet universal scenes of quiet, still and mundane moments spent at home as a means to lead into a greater narrative that is – normalcy. Wong implores his viewers to question what ‘normalcy’ implies and what it means for our future as many parts of our world currently continue to await its ineffectual return.
In posing this question as an undercurrent in his show, Wong uses space to guide his viewers through narration by portraying scenes of where the viewer might stand, areas where figures inhabit a space and scenes of doorways and archways where the viewer might peer or pass through to a place unknown; a place beyond what his subjects have experienced. This gradual movement from A, to B, to C and reverse can be seen in the progression of Hours to Days, Days to Weeks and Weeks to Months. In this triptych, Wong paints the same scene in three iterations. In Hours to Days, a figure is seated inside a home, reading quietly as illuminated arched windows in the background light the stage. As the viewer moves to Days to Weeks, the same figure is seated in the same position, however the book is now lain on a table nearby and the clock shows a different time. As the viewer moves through this narration to the final scene, Weeks to Months, the figure and book have not moved, yet the tone of the final painting feels heavier, melancholic even, as the color palette is now a few shades darker and the passage of time is reflected in the passing of daylight through the room.
Through the Semblance of Normalcy is a portrayal of familiar spaces and interiors we as humans occupy and use, allowing viewers’ personal experiences to navigate them through layers of depth. Wong highlights overlooked and banal moments in an effort to encourage viewers to reconsider what ‘noteworthy’ can be defined as and what ‘normalcy’ can hinder.
Join us Saturday, November 7th from 11 am – 7 pm for the opening reception. In accordance with local measures to keep us safe, our gallery will be open with very limited capacity. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a time to see the exhibition. Masks absolutely required and hand sanitizer on entry.
“Between [depression and acceptance],” writes LA-based artist Patty Chang, in a short letter inviting visitors to her multi-media exhibition Que Sera Sera, “I would add in no fixed order: repositioning, integrating, shapeshifting, imagination, enchantment, trance, transmogrification, invocation, mystification, and bewilderment.” Pain is a single rupture, she seems to say, but healing is a thousand little threads quilting repair.
Illness, now, enforces isolation. Many of our loved ones have visited hospitals alone, or even died, in quarantine. It’s heart wrenching to watch Chang stand beside a hospital bed in the video In Gait Remains (2017), holding her baby, singing to herself, the child, and to the resting body—her father on his death bed. You can see the pathos of the body, how it can be consumed, loved, or lost. How parts of it leave us all the time. Chang summons something akin to an image-memory, an impossible present. She reminds us of what life once was in a foreclosed other time, in the past.
The works on display in the two-venue show at San Francisco galleries Cushion Works and Friends Indeed were taken between 2001 and 2017. They wear 2020 well.
Nancy Lim, the shows’ curator, hesitates to say that this October was a good time to show Chang’s work—good being an inadequate word. What Lim means is that Chang’s bravery when looking directly at death, or grief, or fear, almost generates what Lim calls “an anticipatory grief.” The work suggests a way to grapple with loss in a year when so much death—by the police, by Covid-19—has happened so unfairly and avoidably. “Chang’s work prepares me for the deaths I myself will have to face,” Lim reflects.
A photograph from Chang’s 2017 series “Letdown,” which makes up a substantial portion of the shows, hangs perpendicular to In Gait Remains. Chang photographed cups of a thick, yogurt colored substance, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of the disheveled remains of food. Each image shows breast milk, which Chang pumped and was then forced to discard while traveling to the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan without her baby. Breast milk in a sardine can, breast milk colored by a saturated tea bag, breast milk next to a crumpled paper napkin.
Between the video feed of Chang singing to her father in the hospital and the photographs of milk, doomed to be discarded, you see a proximity of generations.
Living requires the body to constantly shed waste, Julia Kristeva writes in meditations on the abject. She defines the word not as a lack of cleanliness or health, but as that which “does not respect borders, positions, rules.” It is “the in-between, the ambiguous, the composite.” Chang’s work approaches abjection by refusing clear divisions. It’s mindful of the body, its fluids, but refuses to sterilize waste.
A street-facing window, like the one at Friends Indeed, has become essential. How else can we peer at art from the perceived safety of the outdoors? Through a sheet of glass, the demarcation between the spectator’s reflection and the photographs, also sheathed in an additional pane of glass, gets messy. Chang further troubles this layering by returning attention to reflections, the matrixial space of overlapping images she carefully attenuates, that unsettling in-betweenness.
A photograph can be a performance. Ariella Aïsha Azoulay characterized the camera not just as a technology, but the “invention of a new encounter.” For Azoulay, viewing an image with active attention can reanimate the moment it commits to permanent stasis. The photograph begins to move, discontinuities thaw, and the still past creeps into the present. In this way, Chang’s work extends beyond the moments she has collected and suggests continuous processing, inhabiting a cascading grief, and activating a path towards healing.
In On Love, 2013, superimposed videos of a man and a woman, both wearing the same starch white button down, play simultaneously. They speak over each other, but harmoniously. Chang’s mother, the woman, says “he is a good father, he repairs everything for the children.” The video bleeds into the man, Chang’s father, making an equation out of love: “introducing person A, person B, having B act upon A, A react to B.” They are intensely in their bodies, hyper-exposed in the act of being—for themselves, for each other, and for their daughter with the camera. It’s a portrait of companionship, the way it feels to pass time in the company of another person.
Chang’s work displays a longstanding preoccupation with the boundaries and trace appearances of the body. In Que Sera, Sera, she honors the materiality of family, motherhood, existence, and death. All the strings that bind one to others—through sight, taste, song, memory, and loss—are taut with feeling.
 Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror:An Essay on Abjection. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 4.
 Azoulay, Ariella Aïsha. The Civil Contract of Photography. (New York: Zone books, 2008), 89.