This essay was included in Images Nr. 3, a catalog published by San Francisco art collector, Steven Leiber and was written to accompany contributions by four local artists.
In recent contemporary art practices, the notion of the public is increasingly prominent. No longer solely the audience for the action and production of artists, the public is conceived of as participants, collaborators, as well as a space in which to frame one’s practice. The term “the public” holds political implications referring to the totality of the people or “the masses.” While it is true that working outside the gallery allows contemporary artists to more directly engage with current political issues, it perhaps does artists a disservice to assume that by working publicly they can bring about social change for the masses. Social theorist, Michael Warner draws a distinction between “the public” and “a public” in which social space is created through the circulation of a reflexive discourse that creates relationships among participants. If we dislodge the notion of the public from the level of the masses, there is the potential to create multiple publics through site-specific activities, thus effecting change and initiating dialogue at a local level. Within the recent work of San Francisco Bay Area based artists, Elisheva Biernoff, Travis Mienolf, Matthew David Rana and Amber Hasselbring publics are utilized as a space and a mode of production. The projects of these four artists create multiple publics through ongoing exchanges in which both ephemeral and longer-term relationships between the artists, participants, passersby and neighborhoods are developed.
From September 2009 through February 2010, Elisheva Biernoff was selected to participate in San Francisco’s Art In Storefronts program, sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery and the Office of the Mayor. Biernoff was assigned to create a project for an empty storefront in the Bayview district, a predominately African-American neighborhood on the southeastern side of San Francisco. Through her project, “Living Room,” Biernoff borrowed personal photographs from the neighborhood’s residents and recreated these photographs through small-scale paintings on plywood. These images were then re-presented to the neighborhood through a window installation that was organized as a kind of community photo album—a formal black and white studio portrait of a woman from the 1940s hangs beside another family’s informal portrait taken in color that hangs above an image of a man holding a toddler inside a corner store. At the end of the storefront exhibition, residents will receive both their original photograph and the painting by Biernoff.