This Tornado Never Happened

In art, sometimes concept trumps the finished product. Andy Warhol’s famed first film, Sleep, for example, shows the poet John Giorno sleeping for six hours, a great idea ruined by Giorno sleeping for six hours. Photographer Sean McFarland, however, fascinates both by his process and what eventually hangs on the walls. He starts by taking thousands of pictures of stuff and adding it to his collection of stuff from the Web, old textbooks, field guides, and so forth. Then he makes collages. Finally — and here’s the part that would make us want to use our art theory, if we had any — he photographs the results, blurring the evidence of his tinkering. He ends up with otherworldly photos that subtly toy with the laws of nature, memory, and, in particular, San Francisco. In the past, he focused mostly on urban landscapes, and the city never looked better. For his exhibit “Pictures of the Earth,” he has switched tack, focusing on the natural world and erasing all evidence of collage, so his looming, mysterious images of waves, sand, landforms, and tornados look absolutely legit but somehow … off. He also uses a Polaroid camera to photograph the collage, a device known for WYSIWYG pictures. But this is definitely not WYSIWYG art.
April 2-May 23, 2009

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