San Diego's Best Practice Gallery Turns To The USPS
Art and galleries are in a contradiction: isolated and closed, but at the same time more public and accessible than ever
Best Practice knows a thing or two about transitions and transformations. The exhibition space started out as a single glass-encased bulletin board, the type often filled with workplace regulations. Founders Joe Yorty and Allie Mundt posted art and some event notices for performance art pieces in the glass case, hung in the hallway outside Yorty's office at USD. Next, they moved to a video installation set in the exterior wall of the now-defunct Helmuth Projects; by nature, both were transitory spaces. Eventually they opened their current home in Barrio Logan just over a year ago.
With a new exhibition set to open this weekend, Yorty, Mundt and guest curator Brianna Rigg knew something had to change, but they didn't want to just call off the show. "Vibratory Efforts" would be Best Practice's first group show, featuring the work of Mas G (Masresha Girmachew), Christina Tsui and Ellie Vanden Busch.
Moving the exhibition online seemed an easy solution but the group wanted more: to deepen the collaboration beyond just hanging work side-by-side on the same gallery walls or even just live-streaming content from afar. And it involves the Postal Service.
"It was important to involve a physical component in the process and for a part of the show to move slower, which points to the loss that happens when things move onto social media," said Tsui. "Importantly, the show is now collaborative, and I don't know if it would have been had it been in person."
Each artist will initiate one of three Priority Mail boxes, filling it with a collection of works and small objects and sending it to the next artist, until each box has passed through each artist, sort of like a version of the surrealist "exquisite corpse" drawing game.
"We’ll all be getting inspired by what the other person put in the box and seeing how we can contribute to that kind of visual conversation,” said Mas G.
Ultimately, at the end date of the exhibition in mid June, the contents of the boxes will be turned into a zine, another format of low-tech connectivity that predates social media.
"Zines were used before online platforms to connect people of marginalized groups," said Rigg, adding that there's something powerful about being able to deliver something directly to someone's hands, sometimes without their permission. "There's a higher level of intentionality with the audience you choose with mail art," she said, versus an online platform.
The artists will also tackle social media and the modern, high-tech quarantine style of art sharing. Throughout the month of May, each of the three artists will take turns inhabiting Best Practice's Instagram account. While the posting will be individual, the artists say that the dispatches of the other artists will inform what they share, too.
The act of exhibiting art during quarantine raises a question: what does it mean when art and galleries are in a contradiction: isolated and closed, but at the same time more public and accessible than ever?
"What does your work open to when you become its sole viewer, when the whole exchange of making, living, viewing becomes hyper-local, perhaps taking place entirely in one's bedroom?" Tsui asked about the isolation.
And Mas G pointed to the greater potential for new audiences. "When the art leaves the studio and it goes to the gallery, it’s going to be viewed only through that sort of lens, through the lens of the gallery owners, the people who pay to enter the gallery, the institutions that deal with it and that make contact with the gallery," she said. The increased access triggered by the pandemic could have a permanent impact on the industry.
Rigg, the curator, thinks the work of the artists — each studied at UC San Diego — is particularly suited for a season of quarantine. "I think they’re each finding ways of structuring their own experience and that structure has a lot to do with creating space for solitude," Rigg said.
Mas G uses a technique called "automatic painting," a free-form style that relies on process rather than planning or preparation. It's almost as if she channels a painting. For the exhibition, she's focusing her work on time, something highly charged as the quarantine ravages our sense of routine and schedule.
"The theme of time, how it’s an illusion," Mas G explained. "I'll be focusing on picking out art works that made me think of that, or art that said something about my idea of time."
Rigg described Tsui's work as incredibly practiced, with a "virtuosic" sense of repetition. "I see Christina as an artist who is very, very engaged with the mark," said Rigg, defining "mark making" as both an artistic meditation and physical characteristic. Her repetitions extend into imagery. "She'll use the snake, the mountain and the river repeatedly," Rigg said. "She’s exploring these things as one would maybe like a part of a song. And sort of re-composing them."
In Ellie Vanden Busch's paintings, Rigg finds a new way of understanding the world. "When I go out into the scenery in San Diego, I recognize Ellie's work in the world around me. I'm now able to better know the sunset because of what she's taught me about it," said Rigg. "I think all of these artists are adventurers."
"Vibratory Efforts" kicks off on Best Practice's Instagram account this weekend. The Priority Mail component will culminate mid-June.