Space Brainz— Yerba Buena 3000 @ YBCA in San Francisco, CA

Space Brainz— Yerba Buena 3000 @Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA

Space Brainz–Yerba Buena 3000 features work by Damon Rich and Jae Shin, partners in the design studio Hector, an urban design, planning & civic arts collaborative. The exhibition seeks to explore power and its various manifestations in the built environment, and is the second installment of The City Initiative, which highlights architects, designers, planners, and artists creating provocative work in urban environments. Upon ascending the main staircase of YBCA you are greeted by a series of posters that double as diagrams and a meeting place to discuss topics such as subsidized housing, landfills and incinerators, and waste management. These Lo-Fi hyperreal color posters lead you to the main gallery space where you discover the Space Brainz installation prefaced by a quote from Gale Cincotta of National People’s Action Housing Training and Information Center stating that, “no one is going to push us out, whether it be government, realtors, or the big money combines who think they are controlling our lives. Changing neighborhoods and deteriorating cities are not natural. It’s a plan and somebody is making money out of changing neighborhoods.”

Space Brainz as defined by Hector is “a model of a place where almost all the time & everywhere people argue, plot, cooperate & conspire about how to build it.” And this model is a cascading flow of projects “from shopping centers to office towers, considered in relation to art, morals & legislation” weaving their way through the tight upstairs gallery space at YBCA, a 2X1 colorful grid that shapes the exhibition through layers of these varied projects examining topics ranging from foreclosed houses, urban renewal areas, public hearings, and a general vision that seeks to explore the public domain as a site of contested architecture and planning. In particular, though, we quickly find ourselves grounded and sited within the city of Newark, New Jersey, on the outskirts of New York City, a forgotten urban-center battling with many of the similar problems that other less than center cities in America are struggling with in an attempt to recapture a semblance of prior organization, fiscal independence and meaning.  Aesthetically the work is built such seminal artists and architects as Constant, Archigram, and Superstudio, as Hector gives us glimpses into their process and thoughts through drawings, mock-ups, models, and photographs. Whether these projects were realized or not, they seek to draw us into the elaborate and messy world of politics and the built environment.

A playground of potentials and possibilites reveal themselves throughout the exhibition as the models, maquettes, and photographs are embedded within the brightly painted grid-like lightweight space-frame of Space Brainz. At certain times we are looking into the windows of the city itself while at other times we are surrounded by the recreated city. There are physical models of city blocks pinned with researched buildings hanging from a playground chain where swings would normally catapult you up into the sky alongside photographs, diagrams, games and drawings that sketch out the complicated and multi-layered process of community building and engagement whilst on the ground with these designers. They’ve built within the gallery a mini-city itself that harkens back to the jungle gym and one could imagine just that, children and youth climbing within this space and structure contributing their dirty hand prints on the exhibition as a whole, for the process of design here is treated as something not necessarily pristine and clean as many architects and planners might conjure, but instead it delves into the gritty reality of disenfranchised communities and their plight for recognition and visibility while often living in a semi-erased state of existence. Throughout we are greated by the real faces of people and their engaged activities which are ripe with a tangible sense of interactivity and community input. By exuding an almost sketchlike state of being the work revels in a do it yourself attitude and amalgamation of simple materials clarified throughout with playful exuberance and joy. Additionally, there are artistic artifacts, creations of local Newark artists echoing the sentiment of the hand made community ethos. This playful but realistic approach connects the various projects on display throughout the gallery in imaginative and speculative ways that strike to the core of the difficulties presented in the built world.

Space Brainz –Yerba Buena 3000 is on display at YBCA from June 30 – January 28, 2018.