The David Ireland House in San Francisco’s Mission District holds dual rank as the artist’s residence for more than 30 years and his most ambitious artistic project. Walking through the home’s interior doesn’t feel as much like taking a tour of a building, but performing an autopsy — the gash in the foyer floorboards is one of the many scars that texture both the physical space and the space it holds within collective memory.
Libby Black toys with this notion of collective memory and how it is bound to physical space in her latest exhibition, “The Way Things Also Are,” which opened Sept. 10 and runs through Oct. 8. In keeping with this commitment to collective (not only individual) memory, Black also features the work of three of her San Francisco State University art students, Maryam Safanasab, AJ Serrano and Nicole Shaffer, on the first floor of the house, in what used to be a storefront for an accordion repair business, and later was David Ireland’s home studio.
Black’s past work is intensely preoccupied with objecthood, as well as how objects structure existence and frame our nonmonetary experiences within a marketplace. In the past, this marketplace was literal: Her early work features painted cardboard replicas of designer clothing and various other accouterments of status and prestige.
“I wanted to have this critique,” Black said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “But I also was seduced by these objects.”
Now Black is more interested in different kinds of objects — ones more personal, specific and mundane. On the topic of seductive objects, she gestured to a replica broom (one of many) propped against a wall.
“The shape of that broom is kind of nice in this way …” she said, laughing a little.
The point here is that objects with the most potential to affect are not those available for purchase at Saks Fifth Avenue, but those on bedside tables and under sinks.
“Now I feel like I make these things to try to figure out where I’m at in the world and to have conversations to slow things down,” she said.
Black stood in a room on the second floor, adjacent to the guest bedroom. The only furniture adorning the space were a chair and desk, the latter cluttered with her sentimental replicas, all strewn together to generate a composite of a life and its influences. A cardboard copy of Patti Smith’s “Just Kids” flanked a bottle of Smirnoff in a brown paper bag, a letter to an art collector from the Guerilla Girls and a card from Black’s partner.
“This seems like a full life,” Black said, looking at the painted talismans laid out.
Also present within the tableau, and helping to situate it at the confluence of past and present, were some of David Ireland’s conceptual works. The Ireland works were often starkly oppositional, composed of concrete and wire. The contrast of Black’s kitschy palette with Ireland’s earthen stoicism goes beyond mere juxtaposition. A self professed “literalist,” Black isn’t evasive or subtle about the fact that she is endeavoring to fill Ireland’s space, or chart a new art history.
“I wanted to have you walk in and see these three contemporary voices along with some of David’s stuff … and then come upstairs and see my work in conversation with David,” she said. “So there’s a lineage and a history, and then also like that, it’s not just one secular point of view which sometimes David’s work has.”
Black’s approach to unfurling alternative history is threefold: contextualizing her own art against Ireland’s (sometimes literally laying it on top), transforming the “Libby Black Solo Show” into “The Libby Black and Co. Show” and unearthing lost objects from Ireland’s own collection — which is to say, unearthing the women from Ireland’s collection.
David Ireland, as many artists do early in their careers, produced nude figure drawings, two of which Black displays prominently in the second floor hallway. The two works (which look eerily like they could be sold en masse by a feminist Etsy storefront) hang across from an enclave where Black includes her recreations of works in the house’s archives from a photographic perspective. One of the more striking recreations is not of any particular work, but rather simply, of file folders labeled by Ireland “Female nudes.”
Also buried beneath the artistic and literal detritus (Ireland actually collected and saved the dust from the house’s window frames to display in jars) is the very idea of the domestic. This is another dimension Black seeks to forefront.
“I think we’re in a class society where we just overlook things,” Black said in reference to these domestic objects, one of which is a copy of a cleaning bucket belonging to the house’s longtime housekeeper, Xochtil.
One of the most exciting prospects the exhibition at the Ireland house offered, according to Black, is a nongallery gallery.
“I think that was exciting for me … not to put a show in a white-walled gallery.” Black said.
But what’s also compelling about forgoing the gallery, is the restoration of context and creation of a continuum, whether it’s organic or manufactured. To quote curator Lian Ladia: “There’s definitely room for fiction in this house.”