Home Work

An ambitious, groundbreaking show on a theme close to the heart

The Big Ballyhoo is a local collective whose members describe themselves as "seven queer feminist artists committed to using art to call public attention to environmental and social injustice." The group's first show, prompted by the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, was an installation in the bathrooms of the Lexington Club on the theme of biological warfare. Soon after that display opened, Big Ballyhoo put out a call to women artists for an exhibit built around the theme of "home" -- works that would, in the words of the exhibit statement, "dismantle" and explore definitions of domestic life and, by extension, a host of living spaces (including nests, bodies, desks, beds, and prison cells), related themes (like eviction, exile, safety, and confinement), and activities (such as birth, meals, washing, and sewing).

The collective selected works by 70 artists and crafters -- local, North American, and international. Its members have curated an ambitious, groundbreaking show titled "Inside of Inside," currently on view in the Mission District at the Lab, the Bay Area's oldest nonprofit gallery and performance space, as part of its 20th-anniversary celebrations. For the viewer, it's a challenging ensemble by established and emerging artists representing diverse media: handmade furniture and textile art, video installations, photography, painting, sculpture, and zines, occupying the Lab's entire ground floor. The challenge is not only in how the exhibit redefines, collectively and individually, the meaning of home in our lives, but also in its deliberate juxtaposition of fine art with homemaker crafts, of individual, professional art with amateur, collaborative work by women in prison. The interactive character of many of the pieces invites us to explore our own relation to domestic spaces and to decide how they define our mental interiors, a conceit suggested by the show's title, taken from a line in Kathleen Fraser's poem "La La at the Cirque Fernando, Paris" (its title taken from a Degas painting):

I sink down

She's Man Enough: Tammy Rae Carland as 
her construction-worker father.
Tammy Rae Carland
She's Man Enough: Tammy Rae Carland as her construction-worker father.


Through Feb. 4

Admission is free



A live event with artists takes place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 5, at Theatre Rhinoceros (2926 16th St. at South Van Ness, 861-5079); admission is $5-10 sliding scale.

The Lab, 2948 16th St. (at Capp), S.F.

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between ice and lightning; go inside

of inside (echo & over),

forget to be "me" drifting sugar

in wide bitter sea

One work that explores interior spaces is Betsy Boyle's collaborative installation with Lissy Ivy Tiegel, Put It Back Where You Found It, which features a teenage girl's wooden desk belonging to a fictional character named Ada. At first glance, it seems a deceptively familiar emblem of adolescent life: The desk is an assemblage of keepsakes, found objects, snapshots, schoolwork, and record covers -- a poem of disorder crammed into drawers and onto surfaces and bulletin boards. But its contents are arranged into a disconnected narrative of Ada's world, with each object defined and cataloged by identification tags. Above her desk is a coin collector's board titled "The Life Cycle of a Penny"; appended to each indentation for a missing coin is a tag that recounts the penny's history: where it was minted, how it came into the pocket of a relative, how it was spent, etc., a seemingly aleatory narrative that might also represent chapters in Ada's accidental life. A yearbook-size photo of a classmate is labeled "Several months from now, Ada will discover that Peggy is a compulsive liar." By invitation, we further invade Ada's private world by opening drawers, reading her correspondence, and checking out a freshman English assignment -- a box decorated to show how Ada believes she is perceived by others. Removing the lid, we discover a leaflet on bisexuality and a page on Spanish verb conjugations. Yet the further we penetrate her milieu, the more mystery her identity assumes. "The truth is Ada is obsessed by pennies," reads a tag attached to a roll of them inside her desk drawer. We wonder why and how, like a parent clandestinely reading a child's diary, seeking links among the detritus of a life we don't really understand.

"Your father is a motherfucker," Bernadine Mellis recalls being told in the six-minute color film Born, a bittersweet narrative of the moviemaker's home birth on her parents' bed. It is a story of adultery, evoking the cruelty, mystery, and humor of a delivery that Mellis claims to remember, attended by her mother and father and his mistress. She recalls it as if she were both inside and outside the event, sees her mother's "eyes like hammers, many Russian hammers," confronting her father's infidelity; Mellis recollects how she burst from the womb like a charging lion, and how the amniotic sac was peeled off her "like a talisman." So acute is her memory, she would have us believe, that as she turns over cards from a tarot deck she claims she can recall her previous incarnation as a man who died of a broken heart. Indeed, she's haunted by the question "Am I really special?" and "burns with annoyance at her father for not paying attention."

If Born explores the primal transition from a comfortable internal space to a dysfunctional home, artist and writer Dori Midnight evokes the makeshift domesticity of a traveling life. Her assemblage (Untitled) is constructed of pine poles, ribbon, thread, and fabric with a pallet of dirt and straw underneath. Similar to Born, Midnight's teepeelike structure plays with notions of inside and outside: Its skin is covered in silk lingerie and panties. "In transience," writes Midnight, "home is carried like a secret treasure that is unfurled each night."

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