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Systems of Collecting

Kala Gallery presents Systems of Collecting, the second in our three-part 2011 series that explores various aspects of systems structures. This group exhibition visually explores organizational systems that are used in libraries, archives, private collections and natural history/anthropology museums. To seek, locate, acquire, organize, catalog, maintain and display – these actions comprise the very definition of collecting. Ranging from eccentric personal collections stored in labeled boxes in the basement to formally displayed natural history taxidermy collections, uniqueness and variation within a category appear as the predominant organizing principal of collecting. Yet beyond these activities, an essential aspect of collecting is about imposing order on the chaos of life. The ordering of the world around us seems to be guided by the need to simultaneously preserve and control. The work presented in Systems of Collecting examines both the light and dark sides of the collecting impulse.

A visit to the densely packed studio of Mari Andrews is essentially a visit to a privately maintained natural history museum. Known for her delicate sculptures created from stones, twigs, pods and lichen, Mari’s studio is filled with a complex array of makeshift tables, baskets, boxes and shelves overflowing with sorted natural materials awaiting their transformation into works of art. For the exhibition, Mari will be moving the contents of her studio to the Kala Gallery and presenting a veritable “periodic table” of 100 items taken from the sorted materials stored in her personal collection.

Internationally acclaimed photographer Binh Danhinvestigates his Vietnamese heritage and our collective memory of war, both in Viet Nam and Cambodia. Binh’s work in Systems of Collecting deals with the darkest possible approach to collecting – archived documentation of human extermination. The Khmer Rouge systematically photographed each man, woman and child prior to their “Killing Fields” executions for suspected crimes against the regime. These stark black and white portraits comprise a deeply moving collection that is displayed at Tuol Sleng (translated as Hill of Poisonous Trees or Strychnine Hill) Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. Binh has translated his experience of the Genocide Museum portrait collection into a series of luminous mirrorlike Daguerreotypes.

Matthew Troy Mullins is a recent MFA graduate from University of California, Berkeley whose work meshes his impressive skills as a realist watercolor painter with his longstanding fascination with public and private collections, archives, and storage facilities. Matthew’s selection of subject matter pairs densely packed information laden situations with a watercolor painting process that by its very nature, is both loose and fluid. His large-scale paintings on paper depict collections of objects that are tangible representations of a collective story. Matthew was the recent recipient of the Visions from the New California award that provided a two-month residency at Kala’s studio.

Photographer Jeanne O’Connor is best known for her large-scale architectural images that are rooted in her background as a painter. Her recent photographic series titled For the Birds, documents an extensive display of wild creatures encased within Oxford University Museum in England. Oxford’s spectacular “Cathedral of Science” with its neo-Gothic/Arts and Crafts architecture is a shrine to the concept of collecting and organizing the natural world behind glass. Jeanne presents photographs of seemingly endless rows of categorized and labeled birds, ducks, swans and geese. Even a Dodo Bird is held in the museum’s collection, leading one to the conclusion that there is nothing the British Empire doesn’t have on display in a museum.

Santa Barbara based artist Ethan Turpin works in combinations of photography, optics and installations. Much of his work explores “stereoviews”, the 3D photo cards that were popular from the 1870’s through the 1930’s. Stereoviews were one of the first mass medium collectibles that both educated and entertained audiences with virtual travel to the far reaches of the exotic yet colonized world. Armchair travelers were able to collect fabricated experiences without leaving the comfort of their homes. Ethan presents Stereocollision, a recreated Victorian parlor with stereoviewing devices that present his own digitally mixed images. These 3D images reveal subtly disorienting hybrids, which may seem plausible at first glance within the modern phenomena of accelerated global transit and cross cultural influence.

Kala is proud to present images from California Academy of Sciences’ Entomology Collection. A dazzling array of butterfly specimens is presented as continuously scrolling images on a monitor in the gallery.

Please join us for Panel Discussion on the topic of collecting and collections on Saturday, June 18 at 2:00 pm. The Panel Discussion will include exhibition artists and invited guest speakers. The event is open to the public and is free of charge. Further details listing the invited speakers will be available soon at www.kala.org.

Image of specimen collections courtesy of
California Academy of Sciences