In our continuing effort to highlight the incredibly talented people who contribute their energy to Revolver and Voyager, we bring you an interview with our very own Taj Robinson. Taj is a world travelling lady who landed in San Francisco by way of Texas, New York and Thailand. Having resided here a few years now, she's made hay while the sun shines, creating and collaborating upon several venues for experiencing art while making art of her own and working on a soon to be released publication. She was super gracious to provide some information on her efforts and tell us about her voyaging and what she loves about SF.
I first came to San Francisco in January of 2008. This is going to sound a bit corny, but I was looking for a new start. I visited one of my best friends who was living here at the time and just knew that I had found what I was looking for. I had just moved back to Texas from living abroad, and the city really spoke to the pace I was looking for. Not quite as calm at Thailand, not as familiar as Texas, and not as concentrated and busy as New York. It felt fresh and clean which excited me. I also found a schooling program that allowed me to focus my studies in a way that had been missing prior.
In truth there was one moment that happened when I knew that this was the place I wanted to be; we took the the scenic 49 mile drive and I fell in love with the climate here. The plants are so cool, straight out of Dr. Seuss.
In Thailand I was studying in a small fishing town and going up to Bangkok on the weekends to visit my boyfriend and dj here and there. He was working on a project called Bangkok International Art Festival and through this I interacted with a bit of the art scene in Bangkok. Those interactions definitely had a lingering effect on both my personal work and collaborative projects. Personally, I learned how to take photos while walking around the streets by myself as a foreigner, and still try to look at things in that way, like everything is new. Then with Unmarked Exhibitions we hope to work with a collective in Bangkok called Be Our Friend in the coming year, as well as a few friends that are still working in the art scene there currently.
You came to the Bay Area as a student, but you've been prolific in your output in the art community in SF. Can you tell us about the kind of projects you've worked/are working on? Kitsch, your upcoming book, etc.?
eeee. Thanks, prolific is a very nice word. Let's see. During school I met two other women, Nikki Mirsaeid and Myrina Tunberg. We were living together in a two bedroom apartment, taking turns with who stayed in the living room, and we all had this aha moment, that what we were doing was silly and if we just tried a little bit more we could have a much better situation and be having much more fun. We started looking for warehouses and people who would help us build out the space and create a community to live in it. We met those two people in the form of Dave Huebner and Johnny Abrahams, found the space located at the corner of 17th and Capp, and gathered a group of five other friends and artist to live and work in the space. Kitsch lasted for two years, housed a total of 22 artists in its 5,000 square feet, showed the work of 70 artists, and had regular music performances and screenings. But as is the nature of spaces like this, it came to an end. We started to get more attention for the entertainment commission because of a lack of sound permits, the crowds became a little too big, and our landlord decided against renewing our lease. However, from this experience two other projects were spawned: ALTAR and Examined/Active. ALTAR is a non-stationary curitoral project between Nikki Misraeid, Liane Al-Ghusain, and me that will come to climax for the first time on January 4th, 2013, with our debut church show, and Examined/Active is documentary project focusing on the current realm of active art spaces and artists working in the field of investigative living as well as operational land art. For me, I feel that both are a reaction to Kitsch. Examined/Active stemmed from a desire to have our space documented along with the efforts of art spaces that were located on the same block (primarily The Lab, Secret Alley, and Engine Works.) I felt that there was a community that very few people were actually experiencing but that was creating pretty great thoughts and ideas on living, producing, and experiencing art. I also felt a need for it to be recognized as coming out of, but as separate from, the alternative space movement, for the ideals and ethos are not the same. Then there is ALTAR and the fact that it is not located in any one spot. This is part by choice and part by necessity. It is heartbreaking to see the space you create in only last two years, so for now being non-stationary is our current solution as to not be heartbroken again.
The first section of Examined/Active was a trip to the High Desert completed by Jean Yaste and myself. We went to Joshua Tree, Phoenix, Tucson, Bisbee, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Marfa, and Terlingua. The first book will come out as a grouping and directory of these spaces in the High Desert. Some of them that really stood out to me are A-Z West and High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree, Marfa Book Company and Crowley Theater in Marfa, Texas, and the Central School in Bisbee, Arizona. When we were at each spot we met and talked with the stewards for a while, took photos of the space, and sometimes got to take part in an event. You can see all the spots that we visited on the website examinedactive.us and we will hopefully have the book available soon at Revolver and Voyager.
When we were working on Kitsch, I had a hard time when asked what it was that we were or what we did. The only name that seemed to fit was “alternative space”. But I didn't feel like that fit what we were doing, or what any of the other people I knew were doing. I had read about the alternative space movement in the 70's, seen videos of happenings, watched it evolve through documentation into what it was that we were doing, and understood why some of the titles created then still seemed appropriate. However, I feel that the concerns that these spaces face in contemporary culture, the roles they play, and the common subjects of the work are quite different. It feels like a bit of a brush under the rug to call it the same thing as something that happened forty years ago. They are similar, one is a continuation of the other, but one of the goals of the project is to talk to people who are living it now, around the country, and see what it is that they call their work. What is it that they think they are doing? Through doing this I think we can collectively redefine and reexamine what it means to be an “alternative art space” in the current art realm.
San Francisco is a good place to make and see art. However, there are things that seem to be stopping it from being a great place to make and see art.
To focus on the positive first: The Bay Area is very supportive of its artists. There are grant projects such as Alternative Exposure through Southern Exposure, you can find plenty of space and fiscal sponsorship through the efforts of places like Intersection for the Arts, there are great residencies such as The Headlands, MoMa SF does a wonderful job at including San Francisco based artists in its events and collection, and pretty much anyone is willing to work with you on anything. The city is full of people who want to being doing things, and are doing things. People who mix the genres of fine art, tech art, music, food, publications, design, retail, you name it, to create a hybrid art community. All of this creates a very supportive environment to create and view art in.
On the other side of that, there does seem to be a glass ceiling over the heads of San Francisco artists. I feel that this is a result of a few issues. There is a lack of documentation of the arts, a lack a critical discussion of shows and the accessibility of this information when it does happen, and a lack of international emerging representation. In short, San Francisco needs a new PR team. There are efforts of many here to connect with the outside art scene, to bring in internationally emerging artist, and to write about what is happening here so that it can be experienced by more than just the few that physically attend the events. However there needs to be more, much much more. I would highlight the efforts of Kadist and Art Practical.
As I mentioned in my rant above, San Francisco is a very hybrid community. I feel that Revolver and Voyager are as well. I first started at the store because of people that I had met while interacting with Kitsch. Then other people that I had worked with here and there on creative projects joined the family, and slowly more and more people from the community came to get involved. Revolver has become, in a way, its own little art space. I enjoy the fact that we carry jewelry and clothing lines in the store by people who I have had lasting friendships with and have collaborated with, people who I saw cutting their fabric patterns at Engine Works. I love that we host events like the Mission Night Market where other friends present their work and at which I had a great time creating an installation. While I was traveling for Examined/Active I was able to stay in touch through the blog and show people some of the cool projects we were finding on the road. And most recently I am excited about creating some photographs for a potential pop up under the theme Sex in the Woods. I've also been busy knitting scarf tubes under the name Let’s Talk About Gloves that are now available at Voyager and I can personally be found in the stores Monday through Thursday with the half chihuahua, half mini husky named pee wee. He’s becoming quite famous.