By Tomiko Jones, Curator-in-Residence January 6, 2016

I’m honored to step into the role of Visiting Artist and Curator-in- Residence during Deirdre Visser’s yearlong leave of absence.

This year offers the opportunity to integrate my artistic research and exhibition passions, with an eye to engaging both the students in the MFA programs and the broader community in discourse and action.

Like so many members of the CIIS community, I feel the escalating urgency of our current global ecological crises. As Curator-in-Residence, I am building an exhibition arc focused on the environment through the lens of water, exhibiting artists who see their work as both educational and a catalyst for change.

In our image-saturated world, they utilize various strategies to engage and disrupt, creating works of art that ask us to pause, reflect, and reconsider.

Through the year we’ll see works that describe narratives of drought, contamination, rising sea levels, and reclamation; we’ll also engage water as metaphor, site of cultural practice, and locus of spiritual belief.

In my parallel role as Visiting Artist, I am making new work to be exhibited at the end of Spring semester 2016. The overarching thread running through my work is an examination of our relationship to place, a loose mapping of the landscape that echoes the internal terrain of thought.

In line with the interdisciplinary focus of the MFA programs at CIIS, I integrate photography, video, installation, and performance, often working collaboratively and in public space. Two recent video projects illustrate this process: Canal, with the Salt River Project, speaks to the complex politics of water in the West, and Uncovering the West Tributary draws attention to a devastated urban salmon stream.

Both projects involved collaborating with biologists and city planners, and explored the intersectional and intricate ecologies of water and our stewardship of the environment.

The Fall season at the Arts at CIIS opens with an introduction of my work Rattlesnake Lake, in conversation with artist Kei Ito’s Sungazing, for which Ito uses the pure light of the sun to create 108 cameraless images, directly exposing each sheet of photographic paper to the sun for the length of a single breath.

This project evokes the power of intergenerational pain and loss; in 1945, Ito’s grandfather was witness to that terrible day in Hiroshima, when “hundreds of suns lit up the sky.” Rattlesnake Lake, site of an ongoing investigation for me, was once an indigenous site before it was deforested and a town was built, which was later destroyed by flooding, and today it provides a source of drinking water.

A lone figure moves through a place of layered, untold histories. I created the series with a camera reminiscent of precious metals hand-coated onto paper and exposed to intense ultraviolet light.

Together these two bodies of work explore the seeming dualities of fire and water, and destruction and restoration, and invite us into a contemplation of place and history. It’s a natural progression for me, as a newcomer to San Francisco, to engage with the local landscape, discovering elements both visible and unseen.

Through courses at the MFA programs, I invite students to consider similar issues and to create new work. In our research, we will be giving attention to intersections with broader institutional commitments linking sustainability and social justice.

All exhibits will be shown in CIIS’ Desai||Matta Gallery on the first floor of 1453 Mission Street.

Arts at CIIS, Arts at CIIS News, San Francisco

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