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Tucker Nichols at Mission 17

Colin Berry, Artweek, 2005,

Art has a way of keeping up with the world, even as the world conspires to throw it curves, and recent rash of catastrophes ? 9/11, the Iraqi war, Bush’s re-election, Asian tidal waves ? have inspired a slew of new works. For this we are lucky. Without art’s perspectives, many of us would feel overwhelmed, outnumbered, frightened, and voiceless as we witness such horrors. We do anyway, but art is our reality check; it keeps us sane.

        Mill Valley artist Tucker Nichol’s original concept for his January installation was a fanciful “earthquake prevention center” ? a combination think-tank/dreamscape where he could investigate the hopes, fears, and fates bound up in trying to control the impossible. A month before opening, however, the tsunamis hit, and suddenly Nichols’ playfully ludicrous show became inappropriate. He and gallery director Clark Buckner recast it into an engaging, evolving piece, Together We Can Prevent Earthquakes (TWCPE for short), which addressed a broad cross-section of regional, national, and global issues.

         The new concept was simple: Nichols tapped the gallery’s previous incarnation as a dot-com to create a meta-conference room where, over the course of thirty days, using tape, paint, Sharpies, and the artist’s neat, blocky calligraphy, he plotted his personal fears, associations, and allusions to disasters into a sort of room-sized brainstorm. In no particular order, he diagrammed topics from the changing of television anchormen and presidential inaugurations to the wars, earthquakes, and other assorted large/small, un/natural catastrophes. Disastrous in subject, TWCPE was solid in its delivery. Through a glass door labeled INSURANCE, the viewer stood in a white space, with EVERYTHING MUST MOVE painted across the back wall and BACK TO PANGEA across the windows. To the left Nichols had created a spattering of tick marks, like the scribblings of some prisoner; in the room’s center lay a worktable with the artist’s essential supplies. On the main wall, an entire mind’s worth of lines and text unfolded like a mad diary, busy with hand-drawn paths, graphs, arrows, and boxes, all interspersed with cryptic textual commentary ? I WAS GLAD YOU SKIPPED TRAFFIC SCHOOL, HOW IT LOOKED FROM OUTER SPACE, ALASKAN ELEPHANT ? that referred elliptically to news stories or snatches of overheard conversation. Ostensibly a way to get the associations out of his head, Nichols’ piece seemed to prove that our heads are insurmountably boggled.

         Besides the elaborate conspiracy-mapping pieces by the late New York artist Mark Lombardi, TWCPE nodded to a wide range of Bay Area influences, from Harrell Fletcher and Elizabeth Meyer’s superb Whipper Snapper Nerd exhibition at Yerba Buena in 1998 ? and specifically to Michael Loggins’ delightful Fears of Your Life ? to Jon Brumit and Marc Horowitz’s Sliv and Dulet Present the Summer Line, the crazed performance-art pageant New Langton Arts hosted two years ago. There was something of Margaret Kilgallen in the work as well; it was fresh and compelling, unpretentious and dynamic. For its closing, Nichols’ brother, Jon, performed live music in the studio (the two frequently collaborate), adding a sonic twist to the visual mix.

        In the end, TWCPE left its viewers with several things: a sense of cultural overwhelm, the necessity of community, the nagging feeling that even though we had toured one creative conscience, tomorrow would always be looming to fill it with more political and environmental concerns. It was unnerving, but it was okay. Nowhere is safe. In California, we await “The Big One”; the globe holds its breath anticipating the next disaster. Like the tick marks on Nichols’ wall, we’re just counting days between mishaps, trying to stay alive, relying on art to arm us against the weight of the world. Together We Can Prevent Earthquakes closed in February at Mission 17 gallery in San Francisco. Colin Berry is a contributing editor to Artweek.

Together We Can Prevent Earthquakes

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