Monday, March 31, 2008

Seeing the (in)visible....

There is an old saw that a fish cannot describe water, because it's just what a fish lives in. So part of the surroundings that despite being in front of you, you ignore it. That sentiment captures how I felt after seeing Gabriele Basilico's photo exhibit From San Francisco to Silicon Valley at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA through June 15, 2008.

Basilico is trained as an architect and works as a photographer came to chronicle the role of change and how we are shaped by our surrounding. The Notes from the exhibit struck a chord as he plotted the places he wanted to photograph being guided by the " freeway and the culture it reflects. an exoskeleton that has an profound impact on how people live and travel in the area" in ways that one doesn't imagine. Despite the fullness of sprawl, Bailico captures the emptiness of the valley and how the roads shape a place of always going and never arriving. If unable to attend, seeing if a local library has a copy of the catalogue is well worth the effort, as is this passage from Nora Raggio in the catalogue:

"when one lives in a place too long, akin to living with the same person for years, one often starts to become less curious about the relationship with the person, with the place. one begins to take place for granted, to gloss over interesting details and transformations, to become blind to the environment one lives in."

The exhibit does what great art does, it changes your frame of reference. The larger prints (~1 m x 1 m) in person are far more compelling than the catalogue Human beings are adaptive creatures, once the environment immerses us like water to a fish we become blind to it. I realize that in Beijing, who seems abhorrent to us is no more than an shrug to those who live there. Blindness to that in front of us maybe worse than ignorance. the comic book author John Ostrander once wrote, "you can hide from the truth if you want, but you have to know it first."


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