October 22, 2013

SECA 2012: Zarouhie Abdalian on Occasional Music

For the first time in the history of SFMOMA’s biennial award program honoring Bay Area artists, the museum has commissioned the four recipients of the 2012 SECA Art Award to create work outside the traditional gallery context. Their site-responsive projects appear in a number of locations around the Bay Area; Zarouhie Abdalian‘s work can be heard daily in Frank Ogawa Plaza in Downtown Oakland.  A schedule is available here.

SFMOMA’s Interpretive Media team drove over to Oakland to visit Zarouhie Abdalian in her studio: a sunny workspace in a bright industrial building surrounded by vibrant pink bougainvilleas. A lot of the production and fabrication for her piece in Frank Ogawa Plaza happened offsite, but we were able to see one of the five brass bells now installed in Downtown Oakland during our visit.

What struck me about Zarouhie is the activist passion behind the subtle strength of her art practice. Much of her work consists of a nearly invisible touch, designed to slightly shift perception of the spaces where she intervenes. Her connection to Downtown Oakland began when she moved to the city in 2010. Her interest in the communal space around Frank Ogawa Plaza stems in large part from its recent history as a site of gathering and activism. I asked about the value of altering our experience of place in such a delicate way. “Well, it’s challenging,” she said. “You don’t accept a site as is. It’s something that’s active and living and changing. And that always seems good, to have some sort of resistance, or have an artwork act as just enough of a shift that you re-notice things that are already happening.” Zarouhie’s bells don’t change the space around the Plaza so much as highlight an existing dimension.

Follow our SECA 2012 series here. See Zarouhie Abdalian and the other SECA artists November 13 – November 17 as they talk with Michelle Tea at SFJAZZ. Abdalian will also be hosting a reception with teens at the Oakland Schools for the Arts. Learn more at sfmoma.org/liveprojects

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