(processing) digs into archives, tells new stories

Karen Chow/Staff

With the advent of the Internet, the rapid new world disconnects us as much as it connects us. With the increased capacity to record and communicate, we risk superficiality in our understanding of information.

The Worth Ryder Gallery’s latest exhibition, (processing) – Bay Area Artists and the Archive, scrutinizes the evolving landscape of data collection and documentation. It explores the impulse to archive. The 10 Bay Area artists featured in (processing) offer both critical and reparative understandings of the archive. At a juncture in history when information is so abstract, the works in (processing) use the archive as a means of storytelling. They emotionally and spiritually connect the viewer with what is so often deemed scientific.

“The idea of the archive … is something that artists have been dealing with for a while,” said curator and gallery director Farley Gwazda. “Artists are interested in collecting and this idea that life is short and art is long. Artists often think (about) what happens to their work after they pass.”

In Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang’s installation, candy wrappers, forks, bottle caps and other small plastic items are amassed in a large pile in the center of a table. Transparent tubes center the colorful mound, with plates surrounding its sides. Visitors are encouraged to touch and sort the objects. Categorization serves as an intuitive process that allows people to be critical of the different stories the assortment tells.

Likening themselves to archaeologists, the Langs have collected plastic items at Kehoe Beach since 1999. Their collection, “One Beach Plastic,” is vibrant and colorful yet exposes human wastefulness and carelessness. It is beautiful yet gestures toward the ills of a consumption-driven society.  

Tali Weinberg’s handwoven “Drought Portraitscomes closer to the idea of data collection as we understand it through scientific visualization. Weinberg’s pieces depict aspects of California’s climate, such as average annual temperature, annual precipitation and the Palmer Drought Severity Index.

Yet the series is unscientific, with no legend for guidance. Composed of rows of intersecting gray, blue, beige, burgundy and orange strips, the works look more like blankets than graphs. While emulating conventional graphs, the artist uses organic cotton and dyes to craft the data. The pieces wield great emotional potency and remind us of the humanity behind the information.  

“It’s called (processing) because it’s not only about how artists do research with archives, but it’s actually how they come to terms with those archives emotionally, intuitively and personally,” noted Gwazda.

Andrew Ananda Voogel’s beautiful “Kalapani” exists at the intersection of all three aspects while unveiling a dark, historical narrative. At first, the installation is easy to miss and can elicit confusion. Viewers must situate themselves in a pitch-black room shrouded by thick curtains. Even the slightest light can obstruct perception of the piece. After a few minutes in the dark, however, soft, white waves appear. With an entrancing rhythm, they crash against and illuminate a black rock.

The piece, a mesmerizing short film, meditates on the traumatic passage that Voogel’s great grandparents underwent from India to British Guiana as indentured servants. “Kalapani” is an Indian word that translates to “black water” and refers to the Hindu taboo of sea crossing. Voogel learned about his great-grandparents’ arrival through documents he found in Georgetown, British Guiana.

“Kalapani” sheds light on a dark, hidden aspect of both Voogel’s family history and human history. The form intertwines with the function. As viewers spend more time in the room, they will see the image more clearly. Through patience and time, people can see history through a more critical lens.

Thoughtful and magnetic, (processing) requires patience from those who wish to engage with its gorgeous pieces. The rewards are worth the wait. (processing) stays true to its name. It slows down a fast-paced world by using the very tools that sustain such a reality.

(processing) will be on display at UC Berkeley’s Worth Ryder Gallery in Kroeber Hall until Friday.

Stacey Nguyen covers visual art. Contact her at [email protected].