HAIRY EYEBALL The secret lives of teenagers aren't so secret. They're just password protected and might only be on view to a close circle of Facebook friends. Alternately, they might be lived via text message or on YouTube. Typically only the most sensational and tragic episodes involving wired teens seem to make the news pregnancy pacts, cyber bullying, suicides even if teenagers were having unprotected sex, harassing others and being harassed, or choosing to end their lives long before MySpace or smart phones.
"Teen Age: You Just Don't Understand," Catherine Clark Gallery's current group show, takes the opposite tack, honing in on how technology has become embedded in the everyday lives of adolescents. And contrary to the dismissive door-slam of its title, "Teen Age" actually gets its subject demographic right due to its collaborative nature: each piece was created by an adult visual artist working closely with a teen, or in some cases, multiple teens.
For their installation "A Conversational Portrait," Christopher Santiago typed up 16-year-old Alison Shively's phone conversations, the transcriptions spilling out from a laser printer onto the gallery's floor in a seemingly endless scroll. A funny visual metaphor for TMI, their piece also points to the representational challenges inherent to the premise of "Teen Age": how do you successfully integrate technology, especially interactive technology, into a gallery space? Not to mention the more basic concern of how do you represent a life?
Photography seems to be a common answer. The 140 photographs Leela Cyd Ross, 18, had a relative take of her since she was 14 cover an entire wall of the gallery's front room and document, over the course of a dizzying number of hair cuts and costume changes, in her words, "boyfriends, body, self-image, identity, fashion, and general teen craziness." In the back room, Kris Land's individual portraits of 16-year-old Virgil Taylor and his friends, illuminated only by the screens of their PDAs (the photos are also the subjects' current Facebook profile pics), come off visually striking but somewhat obvious.
Sam Wheeler, 16, and Whitney Lynn's couch fort sculpture, along with their documentation of similar installations, is the shows most resolutely lo-tech piece. But its very tactility and familiarity is what makes it so immediately evocative of being young and wanting, to paraphrase Brian Wilson, a world where you can go and tell your secrets to. That world may now be online, but Wheeler and Lynn's cave-like assemblage is a reminder that teenagers still can use a real pillow whether to cry on, punch, or hug from time to time.
"Teen Age" is one of the parallel programs tied to this year's San Jose Biennial, or 01SJ, which officially kicks off tomorrow. The biennial, organized by new media arts organization ZER01, is now one of the Bay Area's largest cultural events, and this year's participants were asked to "build your own world." That task comes naturally to teenagers, and to the artists who created these other worldly, must-experience Biennial entries:
"Possible Landscape (for Donald Judd)" Steve Roden's reflective sound installations are based in closely listening to his surroundings. For this midnight concert he combines field recordings made on and in sites around Judd's sculptures in Marfa, Texas with live improvisation to create a sonic landscape that is neither here nor there. (Fri/17, Trinity Cathedral)
A Season in Hell Randall Packer spares no punches in this damning multimedia spectacle that chronicles one artist's Dante-like journey through the Inferno of post-9/11 America.