In A.i.A.'s April issue, San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts assistant curator Ceci Moss writes about the work of Oakland-based artist Rhonda Holberton. The two share an interest in the societal effects of technology and government surveillance. Moss is currently organizing an exhibition series on the topic called "Control: Technology and Culture." She took a break from installing the latest in the series—Shana Moulton's exhibition "Picture Puzzle Pattern Door" (Apr. 16-Aug. 2)—to speak with A.i.A. via telephone.
WENDY VOGEL How did you first encounter the work of Rhonda Holberton?
CECI MOSS Holberton did her MFA at Stanford and has lived in the Bay Area for quite a few years. The first time I saw her work was at CULT Exhibitions in San Francisco. She was showing her crater pieces from the series called "Displaced Holes" in a small exhibition. These are castings of holes that she dug outside of nuclear research facilities, like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Lockheed Martin.
When I first encountered her work it reminded me of Trevor Paglen's practice. Both artists find ways to approximate themselves to things that seem totally immense and unapproachable, like the military-industrial complex. But Holberton is attentive to the body in a way that's strikingly different from Paglen's work.
VOGEL Her practice sounds very related to the "Control: Technology and Culture" series of exhibitions you've been curating.
MOSS I've worked at YBCA for two and a half years. One of the things that really drew me back to the Bay Area after living in New York for quite some time was my interest in technology, in a city where the tech sector dominates. I saw an opportunity to organize exhibitions that critically and provocatively explore the role that technology has in culture. I intentionally designed this series to be relatively open-ended and artist-driven. Each exhibition is a solo show and almost all include a new commission. Overall, I'm hopeful that these shows and the artists they showcase create a conversation beyond, "Technology is good. Innovation is good," which seems to rule the mindset in San Francisco. There's a greater dialogue to be had, with very real political stakes.
The first show featured Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon, who now lives in L.A. but was based in the Bay Area for over a decade. Her work examines sound, architecture and the body, and how sound informs one's sense of subjectivity in space. Other artists that have been included in the series are Nate Boyce and Lucy Raven. Right now we're opening a show with Shana Moulton entitled "Picture Puzzle Pattern Door."
VOGEL What does that exhibition include?
MOSS We've commissioned a number of sculptures, videos and collages related to a new video that Shana has created called MindPlace ThoughtStream (2014). In the video, Shana's character Cynthia uses a biofeedback machine to cure her ailments, both spiritual and physical. Within the exhibition, too, we built a couch with embedded biofeedback machines so that visitors can plug in themselves. Biofeedback is an alternative healing practice; the concept is that your mind can heal your bodily functions through feedback. A censor measures the electrical conductivity of your skin and responds by producing sounds. As you learn to breathe and relax, these sounds change, directing greater attention towards your body and theoretically aiding the healing process.
Moulton thoughtfully considers how a very Americanized type of consumerism filters through the promises of the New Age movement and New Age spirituality, a subject that is quite relevant to the Bay Area given its own history within the self-help movement.
VOGEL Would you say this exhibition has an especially local, Californian focus?
MOSS Yes. Shana grew up in Oakhurst, attended UC Berkeley and her practice reflects her personal connection to the region on many levels. The show at YBCA is her most extensive solo exhibition in California to date, which I'm thrilled about and feel is overdue.
VOGEL Activism also has a long history in the Bay Area, and "Alien She," the touring exhibition you co-curated about the influence of the feminist riot grrrl movement, touches on that.
MOSS I co-curated "Alien She" with the independent curator Astria Suparak. We both grew up in California and were involved in riot grrrl as teenagers. As we've grown older, we've seen what a positive influence this punk feminist movement has had on so many people, particularly visual artists. This exhibition focuses on seven people whose visual arts practices were informed by their contact with riot grrrl, including Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Tammy Rae Carland, Miranda July, Faythe Levine, Allyson Mitchell, L.J. Roberts and Stephanie Syjuco. The show is currently up at the Orange County Museum of Art. This fall it will tour to the Portland's PNCA Feldman Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Craft. We're considering some locations after that but nothing has been confirmed.
VOGEL What's next at YBCA?
MOSS I'm opening an exhibition in November called "Office Space" that looks at how artists subvert the aesthetics of the office in order to comment on the shifting terrain for 21st century labor, specifically the rise of immaterial and affective labor. Some of the confirmed artists so far include Andrew Norman Wilson, Pilvi Takala, Mika Tajima, Harun Farocki, Pil and Galia Kollectiv, Josh Kline, Idle Screenings, Bea Fremderman, and Ignacio Uriarte.
I'm also working on a small group show that opens in August and runs until December about the environmental impact of technological innovation. It's a meditation on how the sped-up, unyielding and non-sustainable cycles of production for tech affects our greater ecology, from the mining of rare earth metals to the dumping of e-waste. We've confirmed work by Leslie Shows, an amazing Californian artist, and Kevin McElvaney, a well-regarded photojournalist, among others.