12 artists collaborate at Gray Area to immerse you in the environment

 

Gray Area is a politically-minded nonprofit arts venue focused on dissolving boundaries between art and technology, performance and life. The End Of You, open through March 1, is an exemplar of their mission.

The immersive art exhibition, designed to take around an hour and experienced with a staggered stream of other people, is the product of 12 artists' work in Gray Area’s incubator, the Experiential Space Research Lab, a collaboration between Gray Area and Gaian Systems, a planetary cognition lab. Artists took leading roles on different installations. The result is a collection that functions as a chaotic, yet cohesive, whole exploring humanity’s abusive and inextricable relationship with the environment.

When you first enter, there is no clear path to follow, no indication of what you can and can’t touch. There’s information available—a fold-out pamphlet distributed at the door, a seated exhibition guide to answer questions—but the power of The End of You comes from the process and uncertainty of slowly discovering the space and unraveling your relationship and responsibility to nature through it.

Your first or last stop in the exhibition is likely the “RegisTree,” by lead artist Romie Littrell, a mutated bio-abstraction of a tree set off from the other two rooms. The “RegisTree” provides a photo of yourself blended with your choice of microscopic matter, a fun visual kickoff or cap-off that makes the overarching theme of the journey explicit. Past the tree, you find “The Room of Revelations,” by lead artist Kelly Skye, which is small and sterile, featuring a bizarre but entrancing mix of animal portraits, floating video panels with flowing images of wilderness, and printed legal news of efforts and successes to win protections and personhood for nature.

The main room begins with “The Luxuriant Prolific Undying,” by lead artist Yulia Pinkusevich, a slice of white-rock shore beneath red, fruit-like orbs hanging from the ceiling. It’s an otherworldly surface with two hunks of tree and roots suspended in the air. Grab a headset and sit down on a shaved stump, run the salt rocks through your fingers, and gaze out on the twisted colors and hallucinatory imagery of “The Uncanny Forest,” by lead artist Stephen Standridge. Experience large panels of abstract, psychedelic color like flowing lava. You’re led on a quasi-meditation by a strange ethereal voice, “Thoughts do not exist without bacteria.” The voice is omniscient and judgmental but nurturing. We’re reminded of our “stardust” beginnings, invited to re-examine the wasteful reality we participate in, and then are offered the freeing solace of considering our ultimate insignificance in the history of the universe.

On the other side of the room “The Archive of Human Nature,” by lead artists Celeste Martore and Jonathon Keats, is a collection of tagged inventory from the whole spectrum of human usage—from moisturizers to mopeds to presidential campaign buttons, there are a playground-sized children’s slide and an aluminum duct hanging from the ceiling, everything open for touch and examination. There is a messy but eerily stark quality to their arrangement, the products we live by separated from their context and power.

After considering our cosmic origins and viewing the refuse of our daily life, we turn to absorb the horrors of active, specific environmental injustices. “This Hammer” by lead artists Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye, is a smaller and more personal installation, but no less abstract. It explores the botched cleanup of the Hunters Point Shipyard Superfund site. Dangling from the ceiling are flickering tubes of large rolled-up newspaper headlines from the San Francisco Bayview, unheeded warnings and coverage of the fraudulent cleanup. The installation conveys a murder-scene feel, flashing emergency lights, the ghosts of marginalized human lives and poisoned nature.

“Terminal Blurring” by lead artist Orestis Herodotou is experienced by lying under a patchwork tent of connected triangles displaying organic textures, from recognizable foliage to spores of inverted colors all running and cycling at different speeds. Once the novelty of lying on the floor watching trippy images fades, the videos begin to hypnotize and disorient as you lose yourself in their seemingly endless loop.

At the end of the main room, the final installation “An Immersive Game of Life,” by lead artist Stephanie Andrews, is modeled after Conway’s Game of Life, a game from the seventies created by Mathematician John Horton Conway in which a player selects a formation of cells and watches without further input as they grow and evolve—illustrating how complex systems can develop from simple rules.

In the modern interpretation of the game, one stands in an empty U-shaped space, surrounded and grounded in a projected world. You’re small, looking up at fungi of varying heights, scattered patches of digital plant growth. The landscape reacts to people and configurations—more people and movement and the growth emerges, existing life twitches to new heights, weather changes, colors grow more vibrant. When there’s too many people, the ecosystem is overwhelmed, it darkens, life recedes. The balance of this system is not readily apparent and it’s tellingly difficult to understand your role and impact. For the installation and for our planet, a little patience and self-reflection is essential.

Artists Featured: Brenda (Bz) Zhang, Celeste Martore, Jonathon Keats, Kelly Skye, Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye, Orestis Herodotou, Rena Tom, Romie Littrell, Stephanie Andrews, Stephen Standridge, Yulia Pinkusevich