Jacqueline Gordon inverts the look and sound of utopia
I happened upon the opening of "Our Best Machines are Made of Sunshine," a sound installation by Jacqueline Gordon at Queen's Nails Projects that has inspired noisy throngs both inside and outside the gallery's small walls. The work relays miked sound from the sidewalk and street outside QNP, ricocheting it through the gallery's innards via four white constructions of paneled vinyl and protruding, point-less (but sharp with meaning) pyramids. The result is a lot of fun; outsiders can create sound from outside the gallery's walls, while those inside are subject to an echo of cacophony. Inspired by anechoic chambers, John Cage, Brutalist architecture, the limitations of technology, utopia and dystopia, and, of course, sunshine, "Our Best Machines" is simultaneously intimidating and intimate, especially when visited alone. I recently sat down with QNP director Julio Cesar Morales and Gordon on the gallery's comfy floor cushions to get a sense of why this is, and what's so special about sunshine.
SFBG How did you arrive at the gap and tension between nature and machines?
Jacqueline Gordon I'm interested in the history of technology and how we create or not necessarily how we create, but why we create and the kind of tools that we create for ourselves. In particular, the tools and the ideas and machines created in pursuit of utopia, and how that approach can actually be a confining thing. So it's that push-pull between the search for an escape and then the confinement of that search. To me, this search is a universally human, psychological phenomenon.
SFBG Why or how does this search become confining?
JG It could become limiting because maybe you're only focused on one thing, and you kind of get stuck.
I started knitting when I was really depressed, which I think a lot of people do (laughs). And I was noticing that I couldn't not knit for eight hours a day. I got really into it. But then I started noticing that I wasn't progressing; I was just continuing on and I wasn't necessarily improving on certain aspects of my life. Instead, I was just totally obsessed with knitting.
SFBG It just became really repetitive.
JG Yeah, it was really soothing and comforting, but just total escape.
SFBG Would you say that "Our Best Machines are Made of Sunshine" is an attempt to elucidate or expose the push of technology and its tools toward a utopia, or an attempt to break out and disrupt that occurrence?
JG I'm investigating that occurrence by asking "What is that?" or "Why do we do these things, and how do we see them related to our lives?"
SFBG I've noticed that some of your earlier work, such as "Black Matters," takes its design direction from the natural world. And the title for this work obviously privileges sunshine (the natural) over the man-made (machine). How does this inform its form?
JG All the designs came from the natural environment. These patterns [the cone or stud-looking shapes that house the speakers] came from a building on the corner of Market and 11th streets. The vinyl pieces come from log cabin quilting patterns. It's very simple. All of it is from the world. I like to think of it as actually coming from reality.
SFBG So, architecturally speaking, you're interested in being "site-specific." What else?
JG In terms of architecture, in terms of inspiration, I was looking at a lot of Brutalist architecture.
SFBG How come?
JG I think that in a way it demonstrates a striving for progression. Brutalist architecture was a kind of symbol for, or the epitome of, progress. Yet the buildings are so derelict; they're not good to live in. But they are these emblems of power and structure they symbolize utopia.
SFBG Why did you choose to house the speakers in the Brutalist forms as opposed to the quilted patterns? Could it have been the other way around?
JG I wanted the sound to come out of something hard. I also wanted it to be a little, I don't know if "scary" is the word, but a little intimidating.
When I first started working with sound I got the idea that I wanted to make an anechoic chamber. I had read about John Cage's theory of the anechoic chamber and I eventually got to experience an installation of one in New Jersey. The walls' insides were patterned, and wedges come out in different directions.
SFBG Aside from the obvious "white cube" connection, why else did you choose white?
JG I'm interested in the manipulation of the senses and perception. I wanted to do something that was all white, but it's also a way of creating sensory deprivation. (Spencer Young)
OUR BEST MACHINES ARE MADE OF SUNSHINE
Through Nov. 20,
(music performance with Wobbly, Nate Boyce and Greg Zifcak, Thurs/12, 8 p.m.)
Queen's Nails Project
3191 Mission, SF