Artist Bloc No. 1, Is Art Labor?

The Artist Bloc No. 1 zine is in circulation! This publication takes up the question of whether or not art is labor, and considers the contribution of artists to the current Occupy movement and social justice movements in general. It features contributions from Christian L. Frock, Joseph del Pesco (Open Space columnist), Julia Bryan-Wilson, Mary Christmas, Elizabeth Sims, Adrienne Skye Roberts, The Beehive Collective, Welly Fletcher, Morgan R. Levy, Hannah Gustavvson, Paulina M. Nowicka, Zeph Fishlyn, Leslie Dryer, and the Art Workers’ Coalition. Design and layout by Paulina M. Nowicka. You can check it out online here. Read, print, copy, and redistribute!

The Lunch Break Times


Artist Sharon Lockhart reflects on the presence of the individual in the context of industrial labor through film, photography, and printed matter. For Lunch Break (2008), she spent a year at a naval shipbuilding plant in Maine, and the exhibition — now on view — examines the workers’ activities during their time off from production. SFMOMA is also distributing Lockhart’s newspaper, The Lunch Break Times, which relates stories about labor and lunch breaks. Every Wednesday, at NOON, we’re posting one of the articles here.………………………….



William Wong

My father, Gee Ghee Gheng, also known as Gee Seow Hong, arrived in the United States from China as a teenager in 1912, 99 years ago. He lived a productive life until his death in 1961 in Oakland, California, where he settled.

His particular immigration history — enveloped by the Chinese Exclusion Act era (1882–1943) — is probably only noteworthy to me, my older sisters, and our families. His story is but one of countless millions, reflecting the journeys of people who uprooted their lives somewhere else to come to America for a chance at a better life.

Bereft of a full education, either in China or the United States (he completed eighth grade in Oakland), Pop, as I called him, worked variously in service jobs (for merchants, peddling vegetables from a truck) in Oakland’s highly segregated Chinatown, until he became a small businessman.

The term “small businessman” masks the illegality of one of his enterprises. Like other Chinatown denizens of his day, he ran an illicit lottery-ticket operation, strictly small potatoes, but a survival strategy nonetheless. He had set up a false grocery storefront, selling lottery tickets in the back. That was in the late 1930s, when he and my mother had six daughters and not a lot of money. (I came along in the summer of 1941.)

(Left to right) Gee Ghee Gheng, William Wong, Victoria Lew (first grandchild of Gee Ghee Geng), and Gee Suey Ting (wife of Gee Ghee Gheng), in the family’s Great China Restaurant, Oakland, Calif., around 1945–46. Photo: courtesy Henry Lew.

Pop’s gambling business and his membership in a Chinatown tong almost cost him his life. In 1940 a business colleague shot him four times over some financial dispute; luckily, he survived.

When the U.S. geared up for World War II, Pop worked as a welder in a military shipyard not far from Chinatown. That job lasted until he and mother opened a restaurant, the Great China, in Chinatown in 1943. The restaurant helped turn around our family’s fortune.

Pop had borrowed $3,000 from a relative to start the business, and according to number two daughter Li Keng Wong, he paid it back within months because business boomed, thanks to the shipyard workers who streamed into Chinatown for cheap meals. And in 1948 my parents paid $16,000 in cash for a five-bedroom home two miles outside of Chinatown in a formerly all-white neighborhood.

There wasn’t much down time for my father during the frenetic war years — the restaurant was open seven days a week, dawn to late at night. In the postwar 1950s he reduced the restaurant’s hours and closed it on Wednesdays. On that day we had family meals together, a rarity when the Great China was open.

Illness forced Pop to close the restaurant in 1961; he died shortly thereafter.

One more thing: Pop was likely an “illegal immigrant,” even though he gained legal entry as a “son of a native.” The story of his probable illegal status and how he skirted restrictive U.S. immigration policies is too complicated for this account, but the arc of his working-class and entrepreneurial life, replete with productive descendants, provides a lesson for our country’s continuing debates over immigration.


A retired journalist, William Wong is author of Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America (Temple University Press, 2001) and Images of America: Oakland’s Chinatown (Arcadia Publishing Co., 2004), and co-author of Images of America: Angel Island (Arcadia Publishing Co., 2007).

Collection Rotation: Bruno Fazzolari

Our regular feature, Collection Rotation. Each month I invite someone to organize a mini-“exhibition” from our collection works online. Today, please welcome artist and critic Bruno Fazzolari.

Robert Ryman, A painting of twelve strokes, measuring 11 1/4″ x 11 1/4″ signed at the bottom right corner, 1961

Alfred Jensen, Coordinative Thinking on the Square and Rectangle; Per, IV., 1974


John Coplans, Double Hand, Front, 1988

Minor White, 72 North Union Street, Rochester, New York, 1956

Robert Gober, Untitled, 1998

Richard Tuttle, W-Shaped Yellow Canvas, 1967

Gay Block, Mother, Before and After Stroke, 1987–89, printed 1999

Roy Lichtenstein, Mirror I, 1977

Sam Francis, Untitled, 1966–67

John Altoon, Untitled, from the portfolio About Women, 1966

shortest day,
longest darkness.
another year, gone;
new year coming.
beginnings again.


Bruno Fazzolari is an artist and critic whose work explores perception and the senses through nonrepresentational painting and, occasionally, scent and odor. His work has been collected by and exhibited at such venues as Feature Inc., Gallery Paule Anglim, the de Young Museum, and the Berkeley Art Museum. His writing appears in Art in America and

Open Space Face Lift!

Hey, what do you think of our new look? We’re in a beta frame of mind about this, so I hope some of you will give us feedback on the new look and the new functionality. Our main goals were to make it easier to access the  exceptional content our writers have been producing over the last four years, and to better highlight those writers and other contributors. We also wanted a cleaner, lighter, more, uh, “open” look. Details on some of the new features:

Recent Contributors: We’ll still have our rotating cohort of columnists each season. Rather than a static display of current columnists, however, our Contributors widget will now float the most recent contributor to the top of the list, so when alumni post in, you’ll know this at a glance.

Excerpts rather than full posts on landing pages and in search results: The biggest complaint we received about the old site were the long posts on landing pages, which made it difficult to see what was new or to scan  search results. We worked to design the excerpts as formatting-friendly and flexible for our columnists, but regularized enough to give readers an easier time finding what they want to read.

A more prominent Search Box! (up there, top right)

We cleaned up our sidebar. What was a big mess of categories and links has been consolidated into seven click-throughs in a table of contents, and two tidy drop-down lists for our extensive local and extra-local link lists.

Archive Widget: Randomly featureing a post from the archive whenever you refresh the page.

Contributors Page: We finally built one. An easy to read and search list of everyone who’s ever written or produced something for Open Space, with links to their work. Ever-growing.

Thanks so much to everyone who has worked so hard getting this together! Bosco Hernandez, Daniel Amara, and Jennifer Sonderby for design; Matt Glaser/Squonk Studios for the tech; and all of my SFMOMA colleagues for their genius (and patience) in thinking through the details with me. Special thanks to Chad Coerver, Dana Mitroff-Silvers, Andrew Delaney, Stella Lochman, Megan Brian, and Georgie Devereaux; and especially Dana Cohen, whose attention, inventiveness, and hard labor in the digital trenches have been invaluable. Let us know what you think! Form, function, plus content — is there anything you’d like to be seeing more, or less, of during the coming year?


The Lunch Break Times


Artist Sharon Lockhart reflects on the presence of the individual in the context of industrial labor through film, photography, and printed matter. For Lunch Break (2008), she spent a year at a naval shipbuilding plant in Maine, and the exhibition — now on view — examines the workers’ activities during their time off from production. SFMOMA is also distributing Lockhart’s newspaper, The Lunch Break Times, which relates stories about labor and lunch breaks. Every Wednesday, at NOON, we’re posting one of the articles here.………………………….



Bath Iron Works worker Gary D. Gilpatrick passed away on June 1, 2011, in Togus, Maine. He was 65.

Gary was born on December 12, 1945, in Gardiner, Maine. He was one of the sons of the late Kenneth and Eleanor Gilpatrick. He has three daughters: Michele Horne of Penacook, New Hampshire; Bridgette Moody of Litchfield, Maine; and Tanya Poissonnier, of Augusta, Maine. He is also survived by several grandchildren.

Gary worked at Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, for over 38 years as a pipe insulator. He was a member of the American Legion Post 132 in Richmond, Maine, and he also enjoyed coin collecting.

Sharon Lockhart, Gary Gilpatrick, Insulator, 2008 © Sharon Lockhart

Gary was one of the BIW workers who collaborated with Sharon Lockhart on the Lunch Break project. Sharon was smitten by the black lunch box he brought to work every day. Adorned with a sticker representing every ship he’s help build at BIW, the lunch box documents his entire career at the shipyard. Sharon’s “portrait” of Gary consists of three photographs of the lunch box. In one, you can see a copy of the Times Record, a Maine newspaper Gary liked to read during his lunch break. After his death, Gary kindly left his lunch box to Sharon. We miss you, Gary.

Chris Vitiello on Adrien Majewski

Adrien Majewski, Hand of Miss Majewski (digital effluvia), ca. 1898; photograph | gelatin silver print

Images have always had as much to do with the hand as with the eye. This photograph is elegant proof of image-making as an inherently physical, haptic act.

Although, is this what we call an image? It’s not the result of someone holding her hand in front of a camera for an exposure. “Digital effluvia” comes from pressing — the hand of the attributed photographer’s relative, in this case — into the toxic gelatin silver of the wet negative paper or plate. “Effluvia” meaning an invisible emanation, a lightless image made rather than captured, a by-product of a process meant to produce a different photographic output. And “digital” meaning fingers and thumb.

In his effort to debunk psychics, Houdini likely testified before Congress against digital effluvia. Images made by this means were sometimes called “spirit photographs,” used by spiritualists as faux-scientific evidence of both the existence of ghosts and a medium’s ability to communicate with them.

Certainly there’s an other-sideness about Miss Majewski’s handprint, recalling an embryonic hand pressed into a third-trimester belly. Not so much a gesture from the afterlife as a gesture from before life, a negative number of digits. A reaching out either to request that we pull her through to our side or to warn us to go away.

Waxing aside, this is a handprint in photosensitive goo, made in darkness and then developed — an image of a process as much as a human form, both of which come together in gesture, from which every image originates.

With hairy fingers and thumbs, early humans foraged minerals and harvested bone marrow to smear scenic petroglyphs onto cave walls. Painters ground pigment, blended oils, and wielded brushes between deft fingertips to produce Renaissance masterpieces. Abraham Zapruder’s sweaty finger jammed down upon the trigger of his spring-driven Bell and Howell 8mm in Dealey Plaza. Cindy Sherman brushed her palms over the shoulders of garments on thrift store racks, feeling the textures of weaves and seams in choosing costumes for her film stills. Even digital photography requires the pushing of a button, the connecting of a USB cable, the downloading, clicking and dragging, cropping and posting. “Digital,” here, meaning binary data that reduces outliers and variance, the effluvial bits of an electronic non-eye.

“Digit” and “diction” share a Greek root meaning “to show.” The simplest language act of ostension, or pointing at the referent of an uttered word, conflates finger and eye. Seeing might be nothing more than touching extended out the end of the arm and hand. The look is a grasp. Touch may, in this, be our only sense.

In a late essay entitled “Right in the Eyes,” which deals with photographs and anxiety, Roland Barthes identified three ways that science theorizes looking, or “the gaze.” One of them is “in terms of possession (by the gaze, I touch, I attain, I seize, I am seized.)” But when gazing upon a photograph, it gets messy.

It is really our gaze? A photograph presumably images its photographer’s gaze. We’re displacing his or her vantage. And what exactly are we gazing at? The photograph is different from its subject, as different as pointing is from what’s pointed at.

Miss Majewski’s hand makes matters even messier. This is an image that’s not of anything. It just is. We’re gazing at the pointing finger like a pet does. This photograph takes on the spiritualist sense of Barthes’s “possession.” By looking upon this evidence of an event, we are inhabited by it. Its negative capability animates our own hands. Miss Majewski’s invisible hand radiates vital energy.

She was there. We don’t need her image. We are touching each other.

When we finally ruin the Earth, and our eyes dry up, we will feel our way.

Chris Vitiello is a freelance writer, teacher, and poet based in Durham, N.C. He writes about performance, books, hockey, and the visual arts, earning a 2011 AltWeekly Award nomination for arts criticism. His books of poetry include Nouns Swarm a Verb (Xurban, 1999), Irresponsibility (Ahsahta, 2008), and the forthcoming Obedience (Ahsahta, 2012).

Our One on One series features artists, writers, poets, curators, and others from around the country, responding to works in SFMOMA’s collection. You can follow it here.

Kentucky-Fried Art

Commodified Cinema: Art, Advertising, and Commodities in Film, plays at noon on December 6 as the free Tuesday program. Museum and program admission are free.

Some years ago, I tipsily cornered Peter Kubelka at a small gathering being held in his honor. Here was my opportunity to grill him regarding his stunning Schwechater, surely the greatest one-minute-long work of projected celluloid art ever made. It had launched a grenade within the depths of my psyche upon a first youthful viewing: here was a work of proto-Punk/Industrial art, made in Austria in 1958, which foretold the run of such cultural projects as Throbbing Gristle, for example. Wasn’t his film about the chaos lurking deep within the core of the nature of the universe? “You are a very observant young man,” he replied, with a charming, if slightly ironic Austrian grin. “But in point of fact, my film is about the exact opposite of all such notions — it is, in fact, concerned with the underlying order of the universe.”

For many, the very lofty tenor of this cosmically inflected conversation would be belied by knowing its subject to be a beer commercial. Commissioned by the Austrian brewer Schwechater to produce a promotional short, the young Kubelka delivered the damnedest such effort ever to be screened for a board of directors. Flash-cuts of X-ray-like images of tavern imbibing alternate with spurts of black and what might be distorted star-fields in motion. From my post-adolescent perspective, the film seemed to be bourgeois consciousness irradiated, then dissected. The Schwechater company must have had a similar understanding: Kubelka’s work was summarily rejected. His previous film, Adebar, had also been commissioned as a promotional short, in this case a two-minute ad for Vienna’s Cafe Adebar. The results must have been more happily received, and it’s not hard to see why: the film is composed of variations of positive and negative images of people dancing to a loop of Pygmy music. The effect is of quiet delight. Although ostensibly drawn into the field of advertising, Kubelka was obsessed with spiritual and formal concerns, eventually formulating what he termed “metric cinema,” a film language based on the juxtaposition of frames rather than shots. Adebar was his attempt to create “ecstatic time.” The basis of Schwechater was “light impulses.” “I wanted to make something which looks like burning fire, or changing clouds (which practically depicts the way the universe is functioning) out of (this) stupid beer-drinking material.” Kubelka once defined cinema as “feeling in time, of rhythmic and harmonic being.” Of a later commissioned work, he said, “I was after cinematographic ecstasy.”

Schwechater and Adebar both play this Tuesday at noon as part of SFMOMA’s show Commodified Cinema: Art, Advertising, and Commodities in Film, programmed and presented by filmmaker (and SFMOMA’s Wattis Theater’s head projectionist) Paul Clipson. Clipson is onto something here: from its inception, cinema has been seen by hoity toities as the commodified form par excellence, a cultural equivalent to advertising. As time rolls on, the bitter ironies of these notions become painfully evident: due to their relative fragility as art objects when run through a projector, celluloid artworks have never worked as collectible items of envy, and the ongoing currency of critique in contemporary art has rendered much of it advertising for shallow, if politically correct ideology. In recent years, the ascendency of digital moving image technologies in all their many forms has been embraced by those with un- or semi-conscious resentment toward the photochemical art which ruled the psyche of the 20th century. Nevertheless, there are still aficionados who find their sacred within the supposed profane. Clipson’s chosen works, selected from a 50-year time span of world cinema, tap into a hidden vein of ecstasy and poetry. Constructed in the form of a whiz-bang time travel tour, the show butts up films achronologically in order to illumine different facets of a multilayered theme.

_Tomorrow's Sun_, Nagisa Oshima, 1959


The Lunch Break Times

Artist Sharon Lockhart reflects on the presence of the individual in the context of industrial labor through film, photography, and printed matter. For Lunch Break (2008), she spent a year at a naval shipbuilding plant in Maine, and the exhibition — now on view — examines the workers’ activities during their time off from production. SFMOMA is also distributing Lockhart’s newspaper, The Lunch Break Times, which relates stories about labor and lunch breaks. Every Wednesday, at NOON, we’re posting one of the articles here.………………………….


Laura Owens
When I worked at the Huron County Landfill in Ohio, my job was to weigh trucks in and out, keep a ledger for accounts receivable, and regulate and advise locals on the laws of dumping their trash. In my one and only government job, expectations of me were clean and clear, with an emphasis on stretching the tasks to fill the workday. Breaks were mandatory and extensive: a 9:15 a.m. break, an hour lunch break, and an afternoon break. In mirror fashion to my repetitive and routine job, I ate the same lunch every day: a Lean Cuisine beef teriyaki and rice frozen dinner that I would pop in the microwave on top of the fridge at work. Lean Cuisine is a division of Stouffer’s, the Ohio-based frozen food company that had big ideas in the 1980s. As a teenager, I had gone through several periods of only eating one food at a time — a three-month stint on raisin Rice Krispies treats comes to mind — so this self-imposed restriction wasn’t new. But it nicely completed a routine that was perfectly symmetrical day after day.

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2011

We ate in the mechanics’ room behind the shack where I weighed the trucks. The lead mechanic, the longest-serving government employee on-site and father to one of the other girls in the office, liked to freak me out by opening his coveted jar of pickled pigs feet and popping one in his mouth. Everyone but me seemed to come from a farm, so they were humored watching my face fill with horror.

Unlike any retail or service job I have had since, working at the landfill had a warm and familial atmosphere. We were there to represent the rules, do our jobs well, and conform to a slow pace so as to stretch the work out to the end of the day. I took care not to write too quickly and had the best penmanship of my life.

Sliding open the tiny office window above my desk, I would tell customers whose pickup trucks sat on the scales that they were not in compliance with the law and that I would call the state highway patrol to give them a ticket if they didn’t leave and come back with a tarp on their load.

I watched as people unloaded their trucks with bicycles and furniture, antique windows and doors, all in perfect condition. The Amish would ride up in buggies with their trash. We welcomed the same six guys who were the city trash collectors multiple times a day. A BFI driver we knew drove up with his whole hauler full of packages of Pepperidge Farm chocolate chip cookies straight from the factory. He opened the back of his load and we all took multiple packages while he relayed that they had too much salt. None of us could taste a difference. I was 17.

After many jobs working in retail and the service industry, where lunch was an escape to myself, and to thinking my own private thoughts, I am now alone with my thoughts the whole day. Working for myself in the studio, there is no limiting organization that dictates my hours. Lunch is not something to be savored, but an attempt to strategize what foods will give me the most energy and focus for the rest of the afternoon. It can be a place to rebel against my own tyrannical pressure to produce. More often it is an annoying distraction, something to conveniently forget about. At best, it is a time to regroup and come back to the studio with fresh eyes and ideas. Unlike the government job and my frozen meal that was so comforting and routine in its slow, methodical nature, my lunch break is now stressful, a debate every day of what to eat and how to avoid wasting time.


Laura Owens is an artist who lives in Los Angeles.