Every now and then, an artist hits the bull’s eye, or nearly does. Such is the case with Kathy Shiroki’s “Living Room Window,” a visually rich, gently feminist project at Installation in downtown San Diego. The artist worked with 15 other women on the project.
A Zen koan-like text wraps around the large central gallery and defines the work’s theme in metaphor with words made of letters formed by forks, spoons, knives, carrot peelers, whisks, can openers, drain stoppers and measuring cups. “When she went on walks” the text reads, “all she took with her was the living room window. She carried it on her back and when she got tired she balanced it on top of her head. She walked for miles with her eyes tightly closed balancing the framed glass until her neck felt like it was sinking into her chest. Only then would she lower the window, prop it by her feet and stare through it to see where she was.”
In its way, this is a beautiful lament on the usual human condition, potentially both female and male, especially if office is substituted for living room and he for she .
A second element of the piece consists of hundreds of small blue plastic slide viewers of the type suitable for hanging on a key chain. These dangle from the ceiling on monofilament, forming a cloud of blue rectangles waist high to shoulder high in front of the text on the walls. A pathway leads through the middle of the cloud, allowing easy access to the single image within each viewer.
Here are photographs taken by fifteen women who are Shiroki’s acquaintances and collaborators, and whose lives are her subject. The images are variously personal, domestic or work-oriented in character. Scenes of kitchens and their details abound, as do pictures of children and of offices. All the photographs, at the artist’s request, were taken during a single day in these women’s lives. What we see is human life as it’s lived by most people: not all that great, not all that bad.
Finally, a group of framed, typewritten texts mounted near the entrance to the exhibit offers insight into who the 15 women involved in the project are. They’re between the ages of 23 and 60; are married, single, or divorced; have or don’t have children, and work as housewives or in various private or public sector jobs. Some of these women’s comments about their experiences with the project also appear.
For example, 26-year-old Megan, a bank teller who is divorced, wrote: “I’d like to believe that I lived each day relatively organized and simple. Taking 36 slides was difficult to do because of that. It also showed me I wasn’t as organized as I believed.”
In the context of the entire presentation, such a comment is filled with a poignancy that demonstrates the impact art can have on people not otherwise involved in its interests. It is this aspect of Shiroki’s effort that constitutes its greatest strength.
The one potential frustration with the project arises from the photographic naivete evident in the images in the little blue viewers. Even a bit of practice might have sufficiently developed the participants’ awareness of how to use a camera to a point where these images might have been more expressive and communicative. As it was, however, Shiroki gave each woman a simple camera, a roll of film and said, “Go to it.” Some people might consider this naive quality charming, even essential, but its cost to the impact of the work as a whole seems too high.
Two other installations are on view concurrently with Shiroki’s project. Mark Esquierdo and Kim Grady’s “Sad Song for Piano and Ears” looks more like a sad song indeed for the eyes; a dark room encircled with dark shapes suggesting a burnt landscape or urban scene and smelling richly of linseed oil and turpentine.
In Installation’s bookstore, John Kannofsky replaces several of the shelves with new ones bearing a text that tells a story of life and death, symbiosis and conflict. On some of these shelves are wooden cubes, with photos on the front and assemblages of objects within, that further explore this theme as it relates to a large fig tree. The work is overwhelmed, however, by its bookstore context, in which business as usual is conducted. Work this sensitive deserves its own place.
The exhibitions remain on view at Installation, 930 E St., through April 23, the last day of this year’s ArtWalk. For additional information, call 232-9915.