“Can you enter this black box and share your experience with us?” That’s what the Think Make Tank artist collective [TMT] asked of me recently as they were putting together one of the installations for their forthcoming show named “Origins”. Many an evening of my photographic life has been spent in darkrooms processing film and printing photographs: Piece of cake I thought! But being in pitch black with no bearings, nothing to do and on this occasion, by yourself in total silence. It was surprisingly meditative and intense at the same time. I could have stayed there for hours.
Aptly named “Primal Catastrophe”, I was curious to know where this piece [and others] stem from, both individually and collectively. Artist collectives are interesting. For these three very unique individuals, the notion of sharing, is key. One can’t help feeling the level of vulnerability, trust that Alex Nichols , Mushi Wooesong James, Magali Charmot and guest artist Suzan Volzer from Germany must have with one another. Their candor is both touching and inspiring, as are the experiences they set out to create. Primal Catastrophe is a perfect example: “For me it represents the womb. That dark space you exist in, this is the place in which you start, where many of your senses are muted. We begin in the womb.” Alex . “That feeling of going back into the black box where you had nothing. Another time it turned out to be something I didn’t expect, like jumping into the ocean.” Mushi. “I had this re-occurring dream where I was stuck in a room with a bottomless pit of nothingness. It was worse than hell. One day I pushed the door and as it opened, I realized I’d never tried to push the door. At which point I realized I could exist on my own.” Magali.
“We are able to be vulnerable because we are safe.”
There is an element of this exhibition that is cyclical. All these stories point to the origin of self: the self in relationship to nature; the self in relation to society and the self in the metaphysical notion of self. [Are you still here?!] As they explore concepts, there are numerous meetings, so many meetings, a lot of careful listening to each other, back and forth, note taking, a lot of which culminates in opening each other up and letting go of ideas to get to the bigger idea. Another critical component is humor: “It’s got to be fun!” Alex. When I ask if there’s friction, MUshi is quick to respond: “There’s tension, not friction. A lot of the work comes from tension. We feel safe with each other to become tense and that keeps the tension healthy and productive. Agreeing, disagreeing and coming together. It’s the fuel of things: when the string is about to break, but not. That’s when it’s at it’s strongest. You can hold onto ideas, but you cant cling to them. If we can’t all hold onto it, it has to go. There’s definitely a playfulness. If you can’t be playful and open, you can’t stay.
We are all interested in exploring ideas, but we want people to have experiences. Code and Canvas [CC] is a gift for us: it’s an experimental space and we are really enjoying exploring what is possible and how we can build, push and develop ideas. It happened here, in San Francisco. It might be different elsewhere. People are more likely to take care of a space like this once they’re lucky enough to find one. We keep adapting and evolving the rules to remain inclusive. It’s about an open, diverse human perception which often gets viewed from different angles. Everyone gets seen and no one is ignored.
“What is it that you see in me that I bring to this table?”
The Dinner series:
Think Make Tank also likes to eat, well! In fact it’s more than that: they like to host. Since their arrival at CC, a “Dinner Series” has emerged in different parts of the building and is connected to a forthcoming exhibition. They carefully tie in the theme of an idea and celebrate a long standing tradition of artists sharing ideas over a meal, coffee or tea. Initially they talked about an Artist Collective café and they’re minds were all linked. You have people coming together over one table: Mushi can handle preparing a 6 course diner for 30 people, Magali makes sure that we have a question for everyone and they all get involved in designing the overall experience. As a recent guest, I can share that the outcome is both a culinary voyage into the generous and creative pickings of TMT: from a salmon caught by a keen volunteer in Bodega Bay to macaroons made by a fellow artist. It’s not just a meeting of minds, there is some element of direction. The exhibition is directing the conversation. You get to wonder through the exhibition and chat with the artists and guests as you sip Alex’s elixir of the evening and then gather round a table to embark on wherever the conversation takes you. Delightful, insightful, curious, sharing, tasty, fragrant, textured, opinionated, humorous, thought provoking, awkward, not awkward, cultural, global, political, fuck it: it was a memorable San Francisco experience! It took me back to my London and Paris days where the shared and often difference of opinion is not taken as offensive, just valued because it is from a different perspective. Rare in a fast changing environment driven by things distant from creativity.
For most artists still cutting it in San Francisco, the challenges remain mostly around cost and sustainability. Artist Collectives [when they work] are an interesting path for sharing ideas, space, materials and mostly expanding communities. Serendipitous perhaps that TMT have ended up at Code and Canvas at a time when tech stepped in to save a creative community. Some might say nature vs nurture but that’s a cliché. Cliché or not though, the two are inexplicably feeding from each other and it’s generating more than just activity in a space that is adaptable beyond measure. Looking back on their journey of trust and above all, vulnerability, TMT are not your average fit. In fact, they are not a fit. They don’t fit. They are. Here. Now.
Ask yourself ‘Where do we begin?’ and go have an experience. Origins opens on September 13tth through November 5th 2018 at Code and Canvas.
Words and images by Jean-Philippe Defaut, Storyteller and Creative Director.
“In Conversation at Code and Canvas” is a weekly profile series focussing on the growing community that celebrates the essence of creativity and technology. firstname.lastname@example.org