The exhibition is situated in four particular places around the fourth floor. If I had come up the elevator, I probably would have found everything more easily. At the top of the stairs, I spied a wall case at the very back of the room. Inside were photographs of composed photographs, each a still life. Even without knowing what they were, the photos created a beautiful and intriguing impression.
Some were larger, alone, others were smaller, in folders with text. Actually, each is both. The folders include the history of the objects as a list of names and descriptions, with poetry or prose fragments interspersed. In this particular project, titled "Passato Prossimo," Patricia and Lyall asked people to donate an "object of nostalgia" to them, which they arranged and photographed and assembled into the folios. This one is called "Hands," and some of the text says: Rebecca: mother's grid paper for drawing / Alberta: buttons / centimeters measured and cut / a card of buttons / for his cotton shirt. Suddenly, through the words, the objects come alive--not just to the previous owner, but to the viewer. The simple presentation, without adjectives or sentiment, is touching. The viewer imagines herself using the objects or interacting with the people represented.
The three-dimensional bookworks are displayed in a lovely round room to the left of the wall cases. Perhaps it was because of the light, but all the books seemed luminous, like good watercolor paintings. The works are thoughtful, meticulously crafted, and made with heart. A collaboration can (but doesn't always) take the audience into account: each artist's first viewer is the other, like a gift. Perhaps because both Lyall and Patricia have overlapping interests and concerns that are larger than themselves (i.e. immigration, motherhood, loss), they can communicate with the larger audience, in this case the viewers. At some point they chose to cover a range of topics, to make each book convey message and meaning about a different concern. That is part of their combined gift to us.
Attention to detail is everywhere. The books are solidly made. The materials all chosen with care and appropriate to the messages.
The Dreamer, The Doer
A Still Point
In the tri-fold catalogue for the exhibition (which is available for free at the library), they talk about their process:
Each project begins with one of us determining starting materials…such as a photograph or a literary quote or reference. The originating artist passes these onto the other who then brought the work (in an edition of 2) to a "halfway" point; the two bookworks were then given back to the originating artist who finished them.
Without Fault: Sans Défauts
Sometimes, the books take the form of a game. The game below is about finding a matching organ donor. Surprise!
Check the Box
There is also a video on hand that shows how this game of life and the "Mysteries of the Universe" is played.
They employ letterpress printing, hand cutting, found materials, photography, and a variety of book structures.
Inlet & Island
Flanking the elevator lobby, also on the fourth floor, are two wall cases displaying parts of the amazing project, Paper Boats. On one side, the paper boats themselves. Lyall told me how she had received the box of starting materials from Patricia, which included a hundred(s?) of small papers, her first thought was, "What am I going to do with this?" Patricia was then surprised to receive a big box filled with paper boats.
Patricia then stood on the street corner and asked people if they wouldn't mind having their hands photographed holding a paper boat. She also asked them, in as neutral way as possible, how they felt about immigration. A few quotes are included in the final book. (These are my photos through glass with reflections, which is a bit different than the way they are meant to be seen.)
Beauty and meaning intertwine in an elegant form. My friend, an art historian, said that Lyall and Patricia had "aestheticized" the immigrant experience, showing it in a way that the public can feel it. This is not easy to do. People understand documentaries, but this is poetry. It speaks to us on multiple levels. Here are these particular people, right here. And here, too, are we.
In addition to creating wonderful work, both Lyall and Patricia are thoughtful, caring, and good people, and I've only just met them.
You can find more and better photos and descriptions at Lyall's website. The exhibition is at the main San Francisco Public Library at Civic Center, floor 4 through September 14, 2017. There will be an Artists' Panel Discussion Saturday, September 9, 2pm in the Latino/Hispanic Meeting Room.