Calling all David Ireland neighbors, colleagues, students, collaborators, family, and friends! This month marks 45 years since “The punch press was dragged away,” and David Ireland purchased his house at 500 Capp Street.
On November 5, 1975, accordion maker and previous owner Paul Greub dragged his punch press out the front door, leaving a gouge along the way. This plaque, added years later by Ireland, commemorates the transfer of ownership and a legacy of cross-generational collaborations. To celebrate this anniversary, we invite you to call 1-833-621-3479 and leave a voicemail about David Ireland and your time at 500 Capp Street.
Perhaps you remember Ireland waxing poetic about the ship captain who first built the house. Or you had a casual conversation while passing by as he swept the sidewalk. We are looking forward to learning about brief interactions and decades-long friendships—dinners that lasted into the wee hours of the night, and afternoon teas under the propane chandelier.
Share your memories in five minutes or less by callingFOXY 1-833-621-3479. When leaving your message, please include your name, call back number, and the year the story takes place. Your message will be archived, and a selection will be featured on The Cabinet, our new web-based publication. We are excitedly waiting for your stories!
“Delving means touching too deeply. Pressing your hand instead of using that lovely light flickering touch you just showed me. It sometimes happens unintentionally, when dream-givers become too interested in what they are touching. When they start to like it too much.”
There is a terrible heaviness of life in all things animate and inanimate. The inanimate are voyeurs of the animate, catalysts for memory and imagination, and triggers for the conscious beings who collide with them.
The house is one of these vessels for memory and time, encouraging a delving into yourself that pulls your imagination to the surface. You can allow your touch to be “light and flickering” or you can be a “pressing of your hand.”2 Inside of every home, in whatever form of shelter, lives the essence of the person that inhabits it.
Our first home is the beginning of our collection of images as memories. Everyone inclines to specific parts of a house reminiscent of their childhood home. Perhaps there was a particular window of a bedroom that collected condensation at the edges and dampened the sill, a translucent portal that transformed your blank reflection of the night into the collection of tangled branches on the backyard tree by the morning. Or maybe you had a wall that curved in a peculiar way, the feel of its cold skin under your fingertips and the habit you had of dragging your hand over it as you passed. This delicate gesture made it seem as though it was rising to your touch like a timid animal.
This collection of memories entwined with inanimate objects and space is interpreted as “values of inhabited space,” by Gaston Bachelard. It describes the way memories give value to inanimate objects within occupied space. In his book Poetics of Space, Bachelard describes his musing and theories on the “values of inhabited space” within the home. According to him, the house is full of memories. These memories fit in certain intimate spaces, as big as the attic and basement, or as small as inside of cupboards or wardrobes. The difference in size relates to the scale of intimacy created within them. As naturally sentimental and intimate beings, we discover in our first homes how inhabiting these semi-private spaces allow for comfort and creation of self.
This concept is most commonly tackled in literature because, I believe, we are conditioned to think in words instead of pictures and feelings. More likely, we are conditioned to translate our thoughts from feeling and images into words automatically. But all memories are wells of feeling we find ourselves falling into. We are pushed into the vast depths by an image confronting us, sometimes brutally taking away our breath and enfolding our minds, and sometimes as gently as a caress. At times it is a light touch, and at others it is a pressing of a hand. This idea of memories triggered by specific interactions in space can also present itself in visual art. In image-based art, pictures can be talked about as languages, similar to symbols but more universal. Different pictorial descriptions and materials trigger different memories as states of feeling for the viewer. Sometimes the feelings are so vivid they spark a specific memory. Sometimes they produce just a tickle of remembrance, the way Andrew Wyeth’s paintings reminds me of the feeling I get at my grandma’s farm. This triggering of memories through interaction with specific pictures in visual art becomes a language of memories. David Ireland used this language of memories to enfold the viewer in an intimate reverie.
In using recognizable materials in his sculptures in concrete, wire, wax, and household objects, he has created a dictionary of this memory language that delves the viewer into remembrances so light that they barely tickle the fronts of the viewer’s mind. Instead, these feelings sit within them as small breaths of air, familiar enough to create a comfortable state of awareness. (Ireland) “favored working with these ordinary materials because they were inexpensive and universal and most important, because their character was homely and artless”3 described by Karen Tsujimoto in the catalog accompanying his 2003 retrospective exhibition “The Way Things Are.” Ireland’s use of these familiar materials creates an almost immediate intimacy with the viewer. As a result, these objects demand value within any space they occupy. Though they are too vague to trigger specific memories, the use of these images activate states of feeling that send the viewer into a complex network of their own memory language.
One of Ireland’s most important and influential works was his San Francisco Mission District home at 500 Capp Street. It is his studio, gallery, and home, filled with his sculptures and paintings, and in-and-of-itself a sculptural and performative living artwork.
“All really inhabited space bears and the essence and notion of home… an entire part comes to dwell in a new home… In this remote region (the house) memory and imagination remain associated, each one working for their mutual deepening,”4 writes Bachelard. He goes on to say, “Space contains compressed time, that is what space is for.”5 So what if someone were to compress the space even further? Force the time within the space, the memories and experiences, together in a small container requiring them to touch one another, to rub against each other and causing them to engage in consistent dialogue? Ireland was a collector of intimacy. Within his large Victorian home sits hundreds of glass jars, filled with memories democratized by these glass enclosures ranging from remnants of birthdays past to dust from his front stoop. To Ireland, it seems every moment was worth experiencing. He put his experiences into jars and put the jars into cabinets. With these jars, he achieves the ability of inhabiting a space while working with imagination and memory to create a feeling that intimately touches the visitor. When we live in a house, we leave marks of our physical existence on the walls and floors, and the essence of ourselves in the space inbetween. Similar to a luminous slimy trail of a slug or snail these experiences and feelings that, though they fade over time, will always exist within the space, and for Ireland he placed the artifacts from these experiences into jars.
These jars are sequences of memories preserved in glass, like jams or pickles. The glass capsules allow the visitor to consume it’s contents without having to break the seal, though leaving much to speculation for few of them are labeled, and the cylindrical shape leaves the core concealed. None of the jars have ever been opened. If one were to break the seal, would the memory slide out, tentatively touching the things around it unsure where to go after decades of being shut in and marinating in its intimacy? Would it be a Pandora’s box of emotions and memory exuding out of the freshly broken seal that our sentimental minds would engorge with delight, or would it simply whisper past us barely brushing our ears as it disperses into the nothingness of air? Maybe it would simply just join the essence of aliveness in the house transforming into a new way of being.
The David Ireland House at 500 Capp Street is a preserved collection and reflects Ireland’s way of inhabiting space. It is the snail’s trail delicately contained within a glass jar, but not just a preservation of the way he lived for the benefit of future generations, the house is a jar itself.
Lois Lowry, Gossamer (New York, NY: Randomhouse, 2006). 24 [↩]
Lois Lowry, Gossamer (New York, NY: Randomhouse, 2006). 24 [↩]
Karen Tsujimoto and Jennifer R. Gross, The Way Things Are: the Art of David Ireland (Berkley: University of California Press, 2003), 11. [↩]
Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), 27. [↩]
Almost tripping, I read the plaque on the sidewalk outside of The David Ireland House, “Art lets us make observations of things that were always there.”1 Walking up and down Twentieth Street a few months before moving to the Bay Area, I was visiting Oakland to help install the second leg of Basic Essentials, an exchange exhibition examining the way we attach our public and private selves to everyday objects. Think about this: a Gerber daisy, a milk jug, a ready-to-hand object. These everyday materials hold power to provide us with either a sense of belonging or isolation. In my bedroom, I wake up to a print from a show by artist Brandon Forrest Frederick. It is a photograph of the artist and Frederick’s partner, Olivia Clanton whose arm is extended out before a perfect midwestern sunset bursting like a b-roll background of pinks and lilacs. She is gently clutching an empty ice cream bucket that reads Family Size.2. In the gallery, this image lived in a frame Frederick crafted to backlight the image from the inside out. Rather than justifying our need to care for ourselves, Frederick’s work is an affirmation and a tender kind of fanaticism.
Dissecting the white noise of everyday life further draws attention to how we aestheticize objects beyond their use-value. When we are tired we may look behind the shells of what we find essential and share in a moment of grace and goof. Walking through David’s house, I think about this and how these two artists share ideas across the generational divide in how they ask us to seek meaning embedded in our surroundings. For instance, when looking at the dollar bill hung out to dry above the kitchen sink (to launder the money), or when I walk through the back hallway and mistake my reflection for something else, something otherworldly swims in the pools of light.
Dedication to the contin- uum of the culture might be folly.3
Directly across from the copper window is a jar, amongst other jars, sitting on a shelf in the left corner of the room as one enters from the stairwell. Most of the jars contain questionable material left unexplained by a guide if there isn’t a question from a visitor. There is a sheet of looseleaf typewriter paper In one particular jar on which is a translation of an Arthur Rimbaud poem from his hallucinatory memoir, A Season in Hell.
“At four in the morning, in summertime, Love’s drowsiness still lasts… The bushes blow away the odor Of the night’s feast. Beyond the bright Hesperides, Within the western workshop of the Sun, Carpenters scramble – in shirtsleeves – Work is begun. And in desolate, moss-grown isles They raise their precious panels Where the city Will paint a hollow sky For these charming dabblers in the arts Who labor for a King in Babylon, Venus! Leave for a moment Lovers’ haloed hearts. O Queen of Shepherds! Carry the purest eau-de-vie To these workmen while they rest And take their bath at noonday, in the sea”4
Arthur Rimbaud wrote this at the age of nineteen in a caravan of trickstery pinning butterflies to his pants and shouting from the rooftops. Rimbaud always left a reader with the notion that artists must search within themselves to become seers. This happens “through a long, immense, and reasoned derangement of all the senses.”5 As a writer, he took on the task of stealing fire whereas David would play with scale and the heat of things. I have never been to The David Ireland House before ten o’clock in the morning, but with fog rolling around the house, I like to imagine it as hazy, between dream logic and waking reason. Standing in the arch that bisects the front parlor room I had a dizzying daydream that started to fill the space. David has just lit the chandelier, the two cobalt blue propane tanks kiss and out of thin air Arthur Rimbaud is back from the dead. Arthur starts to dance around the two leather chairs, singing a story about climbing trees. David starts to build, and as he does, Arthur tosses him pieces of kindling that he catches with one hand behind his back. When the fires built, the two sat down, and slowly Arthur sprouted wings, and he levitated up to the ceiling and circled the chandelier.
David Ireland is not often considered a colorist. In his work, Ireland used muted subdued tones meant to play with light, and sometimes would add a vibrant pop of red or blue. One such color, Battleship grey, coats the house’s exterior façade and is so innocuous that passersby could miss the structure nestled on the corner of Capp and Twentieth streets in the Mission district of San Francisco. Battleship grey becomes an unassuming nod to Ireland’s concerns regarding the hazy boundary between art and lived life. Institutional Green is another color present, in all of its lackluster glory, throughout Ireland’s home at 500 Capp Street, with stunning displays in the kitchen, the downstairs hallway, and the westward-facing view of the upstairs hall.
Institutional Green is a color you have seen elsewhere, most likely on the walls of medical institutions, used to ease “after-imaging” of surgeons who have spent hours in the red guts of their patients.1 “After-imaging” is a real phenomenon that describes what happens when you stare at a color for extended periods and then when looking away you see its complement. Hence, staring at the green wall of the surgical suite allows for quicker adjustment of the surgeons eyes back into “normal” vision. The color became so ever-present and overused due to misinterpretation and misuse of its practical applications, that designers have moved away from Institutional Green and conducted studies about colors best used in healthcare settings.2 It begs the question: how often have you seen this color, whether in film, photo, or the very real space of the institution?
Institutional Green gnaws on sense memory through its familiar vagueness, like a word that lingers on the tip of your tongue, never fully spoken. Within the house, doors, frames, and chairs are enlivened with this color by paradoxically drawing on its drab pervasiveness. Green is the color most perceived by the human eye, often in vibrant natural hues. However dissimilar to uses in hospitals, Institutional Green as used by Ireland plays on the sensory reception and perception of color returned to us within a space or site-specific work. The mundane ubiquity of Institutional Green calls attention to mechanisms of power inherent in the design and architecture of institutional space. Mechanisms that Ireland exploits in other projects using chairs, or concrete, or fiberglass effigies,3 that implore the viewer to question how they locate themselves within the walls of the work.
Saying color operates as a universal signifier or operative agent does a disservice to the power color has on individuals and their associations. Color has power, one we oftentimes fear because of deeply embedded significatory historical associations. For instance, in Western culture, the associations of black with evil and white with good, or in Eastern traditions, the association of red with marriage and happiness. The connection for Ireland to ‘Institutional Green’ draws on the power architectural space holds over the individual. In Ireland’s case, architecture had immense priority in his practice and daily life. Institutional Green, seen in this light, represents Ireland’s attachment to and use of the color employing the structures of belief built up around it.
Unlike his Battleship grey, which was a cheap mix of leftover colors, Institutional Green was particular. The color was present in the home before Ireland acquired it, with remnants of older applications still present throughout. It captures the power of color as an institutional tool to transform a space and respond to the actors within it. When applied throughout the house, this green responds to the polyurethane-coated walls and floors, refracting the drabness of its hue in a way that glows. It makes present concerns of how space allows for perceptions of power to shift. In this instance, it softens and creates warmth; a perfect example is the westward-facing view of the upstairs hallway bathed in afternoon light. The yellow of the walls and golden floors sing in harmony with the solemn warmth of the doors, their frames, and the molding. It transports you to a place of curiosity, especially in the green of the untitled chair painting hung on the wall or the chair with newspapers bolted to its back.
These green chairs ask us to linger and reflect on the power that an object holds when it holds the body. They perform through inaction and absence. A body is not present but calls our attention to that fact through a semiotic relationship to the object that signs and signifies chair; think Kosuth One and Three Chairs, or Magritte’s The Treachery of Images. They ask us, like many of the chairs present, to question the use of the object in relation to the body and how these chairs perform as mediator for and within the experience. It exploits “the dialectic of wayward subjectivity and impersonal rootedness” of Ireland’s art that seems to encapsulate his oeuvre and asks us to question the transient nature of art and life.4
Not only present throughout 500 Capp Street, Institutional Green exists in other site-specific works that Ireland created throughout his life. One instance is in Washington D.C. at Jade Garden, which was an artist’s apartment that he and Robert Wilhite designed and produced in conjunction with the Washington Project for the Arts under the direction of Jock Reynolds.5 The unique feature of this location was not so much the Institutional Green covered walls. Instead, it was the walls of corrugated metal, one of which was curved. Within Jade Garden, Institutional Green operates on a different frequency than the humming glow at The David Ireland House at 500 Capp Street.
Corrugated metal and fluorescents draw out the blue within to produce a cool ambience and aura quite different from that of the house. It reflects the refracted light of the metal, imbuing a blue hue, cave like and inviting; in a way recalling rest or slumber that fits for a home. The institutional monochrome that is the wall requires stillness and asks us to spend time getting lost in it. Inversely, however, it is so mundane that this Institutional Green wall as a painting could easily get looked over and hum in the background of the monotony of day-to-day existence within this space. The color does not overpower, and it imbues stillness, perhaps in the same way that a color like “drunk tank pink” has on the over-intoxicated. This use of color reveals the poetics within Ireland’s work that require us to sit with the minimal use of a material to its maximum effects and affects, a skillful gesture that carries through Ireland’s oeuvre like the molding throughout the house.
For instance one thinks of Ireland’s 1996 piece entitled Angel-Go-Round that employs fiberglass angels, one of which is suspended in the air above and rotates using a lawnmower engine. Viewed here in a 2016 video by SFAI in conjunction with the exhibition David Ireland in the Walter and Mcbean Galleries and the public opening of The David Ireland House at 500 Capp Street. [↩]
Kenneth Baker “David Ireland: Nothing Ventured” in David Ireland: Sculptures, Paintings, Drawings (London: Ridinghouse, 2008), 7. [↩]
The Accordion Room at The David Ireland House is a working hybrid. It preserves the past in marks and evidence of prior inhabitants while also making space for new projects, installations, and perspectives. I’m dreaming of a space like this room as I have been living under quarantine as a result of Covid-19. I’ve learned from Ireland’s practice that the home can be a source of inspiration for making work and that the actions of our daily lives indoors can inform our practice in wonderful and unexpected ways.
On the outside of the room’s window a gold leaf advertisement reading “Accordions- P. Grueb” stands in for the prior owner. During Greub’s time, this room was actually two. It bares the bones of Ireland’s previous studio practice with paint splattered on the ancient linoleum flooring. A break in the material of the floor points to the past division of this space. In the open room, Greub had one corner for his shop where customers would enter and another for his work of repairing accordions. Customers would enter the side door on Twentieth Street to conduct their business, much like visitors to the house do now.
Another interesting and uncommon feature of this room is the fireplace. A rare find with it’s original steel plate intact, seeing as most fireplaces from this period were melted down to build weapons and munitions during WWII. Ashes from past fires remain contained within, a discovery I once made after accidentally bumping the back plate from its hold. A projector hangs from the middle of the room surrounded by a crown molding medallion that has been moved onto the ceiling from a place that once held a light fixture.
A liminal space, the Accordion Room acts as a palate cleanser from the outside world and allows for a fresh and open experience for the work inside the home. It is fitting for the first room that visitors enter today. Ireland kept this room as a private studio and it’s inclusion in the house at 500 Capp Street was a deciding factor in his subsequent purchase of the home. Currently, and in previous ownership by Greub, the room functioned as an entrance, storefront and lobby. Acting now also as a white walled exhibition space commonly used by visiting artists, it offers the first taste of the revolving installations throughout the home.
The white walls in here differ from most in the rest of the house’s warm amber polyurethane-colored walls. They are an inviting first entrance for investigation and experience. The Accordion Room leads visitors to their first task: to look carefully and critically at the marks and traces of the past while appreciating the new works and perspectives that it holds within.
To have the ability as Ireland did to use his house beyond the application of a studio and transform it into a living work of art is a desire I have held onto for some time, though out of my reach right now. Residing in a small apartment, I am learning to adapt my practice to be manageable indoors.
These days I’m drawing in the later hours of the evening as the bedroom of my apartment slowly shifts to a pixelated and grainy black. Transitioning to 2-D and digital forms of artmaking is my move in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. In the darkness, I trace forms that I can barely see, letting the electric pulses of my brain illuminate their shape as I generate meaning and memories out of the illusive images taking shape on paper. I consider this practice to be a form of mining images, similar in a way to David’s practice of excavating the dirt underneath his house at 500 Capp Street in a pursuit of material and meaning.
“Draw a line everyday,” exclaimed 500 Capp Street Foundation board member Jane Reed. She brought this to our attention as an exercise of creativity in our artistic practice during recent shelter in place orders due to COVID-19. A simple and fundamental practice in making, each line becomes a subtle variation of the last. Some start and stop sooner than others, much like the unforeseeable future in our current pandemic, but each has a beginning and an end. Amongst the lines and forms taking shape as we traverse these unclear terrains, the linearity of time and our sense of place begins to become muddled. Ultimately, we will reach a point beyond our present dilemmas where things are relative to where they were prior, post pandemic. A prolonged pause with the promise of returning to a wholeness now too far gone perhaps a circling back, if you will.
Circularity is a common theme in Felipe Dulzaides’s work. Central to his practice is the realm of possibilities that the circle symbolizes and embodies. Particularly evident in his series Full Circle. Each of the three pieces exhibited in There is no such thing as a perfect circle has a varying number of metal rings creating a unique shape that overlaps and intersects, which makes light a key component in his work. Using four elements to create each piece, graphite, nail, pencil, and metal rings, the linear process traces are evident in the graphite lines and shapes made on the wall. The metal rings balanced on pencils cast distorted shadows, furthering this abstraction. Using found, circular forms and utilitarian objects to produce these fragile works, Dulzaides constructs these intimate pieces that capture various moments within the artist’s life. The circles are not solely a representation of the artist. Rather, these works contain the prospect of the self.
After defecting from Cuba to Rome in 1991, Dulzaides returned on a class trip in 1999 while enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute. This trip was instrumental and acted as a catalyst for Dulzaides’ future artistic practice. Dulzaides is keenly aware of his multitudes, made evident when he first began attending SFAI. His experience was all too common. As a result of being an immigrant whose first language is not English and without a traditional background or base understanding of conceptual art, he did not speak up in class.1 However, Dulzaides continued to pursue his interests, pushing and experimenting within his art practice with encouragement from his professors and peers including fellow artists Tony Labatt, Paul Kos, and David Ireland. This duality inspired Dulzaides to experiment by turning the camera towards himself and framing his experience by using the language of metaphor, which is the ethos of his art practice. About twenty years later after his initial defection in 1991, Dulzaides returned to Rome for a year-long residency at the American Academy and was the recipient of a Rome Prize. This experience allowed Dulzaides to revisit locations that served then as a backdrop for his life-changing experience and resulted in work created for the aptly titled Full Circle series.2 After finding repeated circular forms originating from the retention wires of detached hubcaps of cars across the city, Dulzaides began playing around with these objects, relating them to light, balance, and place.
Dulzaides’s Full Circle series invites the viewer to imagine the artist’s narrative of return within and around the circular forms. The series acts as a group of geometric vessels subjected to further interpretation when understood as an intimate portrayal of the poignant crossroads faced in Dulzaides’s life and journey. Communicating through the abstraction of the circular form, Dulzaides departs from linguistic boundaries, highlighting the universality of simple geometric figures. As minimal ready-mades, his work emphasizes the importance of space, seen in the dimensionality of the pieces. The pencils leave traces as lines on the wall and create a space between that the work relies to retain a delicate balance and create various interconnecting shadows. This gap separates the work from being passive and flat on the wall to active, suggesting space beyond the wall. This depth allows the shadows to extend beyond their fixed size dependent on the light source. These artworks are delicate as are the images cast upon the wall.
In Splits End, two metal circles are positioned in the shape of a symmetrical Venn diagram. However, the two pencil lines drawn on the wall leading up to the pencils are disproportionate. Slightly shifting the sense of symmetry in the piece, Dulzaides creates a split between the two sides. This dual nature replicates the back and forth Dulzaides experiences between Cuba and the United States. Ni de aquí, ni de allá refers to the notion of being from neither here nor there and existing within those intersections while expanding the potential beyond the two.3 The use of fragile materials combined with the action of equilibrium underscore the tension of existing within these multiple identities; a navigating of the thin line between, like a trapeze artist.
As the exhibition title There is no such thing as a perfect circle suggests and acknowledges, the pursuit of perfection is a flawed endeavor in and outside of geometric shapes. For instance, the return-to or the circling back is a precarious predicament that recognizes the deviation from and the point of return in the present moment. Felipe Dulzaides understands his return to these sites throughout his career, be it Cuba, Rome, or San Francisco, comes with reconciling the evanescent nature of these places. How can one return to something that is no longer there or no longer the same? This moment is where we are now. This departure from our past-present within this interim quarantine of sorts is the deviation, a circling back. Now, as far as where that is or what that looks like is far beyond me. Until we return I’ll keep sketching lines, circles, and other forms until I can place myself within these ever shifting times.
SFAIofficial, director. Felipe Dulzaides: Selected Works 1999-2013. Https://Vimeo.com/Sanfranciscoartinstitute, 26 June 2020, vimeo.com/76574136. [↩]
SFAIofficial, director. Felipe Dulzaides: Selected Works 1999-2013. Https://Vimeo.com/Sanfranciscoartinstitute, 26 June 2020, vimeo.com/76574136. [↩]