“Sometimes I make a work of art because it facilitates my thinking at the time and the hope is that I get from this to that. I feel strongly in saying that I feel very invisible in this place. And I’m creating a work that says ‘look at my presence here’.” –Truong Tran
A really interesting artist has been brought to my attention and it’s almost as if he’s “targeted” himself. Take a look at this interesting short by Slow Clap that let’s visual artist Truong Tran’s solo exhibition, Framed Targets, be explained. He speaks on the gentrification and erasure of history in his current San Francisco.
We got a small interview with him… here’s our Q&A.
You can see his work up at the The California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS) from March 6 – April 11.
1. I love that your frustrations with SF came through in your art. Explain to me the SF you love and the SF you hate each with 5 things…
What are the 5 things you love about SF?
I love the thrift stores. They are the very best. They are so much more than a treasure trove of objects. So often I will find an object that holds the memory of this place. They remind me of the San Francisco I fell in love with. They also hold the stories of my love affair with this city. During my first week in SF nearly 24 years ago, I was in Community Thrift looking through old records. An older gay gentleman walked through the door and asked the kid behind the counter, “Got any Gay Porn?” and without missing a beat, the kid behind the counter responded, “Yeah but it’s all Beta.” He held up a box of Beta tapes. The older gentleman paused then said, “No. That’s not going to work.” He walked out the door. To this day, I still consider that to be my greatest find in a thrift store. Not the beta tapes but the story of that interaction. It’s like a scene from a movie that keeps on playing in my head.
I love the sense of history and culture that permeated this city. I remember meeting Lawrence Ferlinghetti for the first time in City Lights Books. He was actually shelving books and I had the audacity to ask him if he worked there. I did not know he was Lawrence Ferlinghetti until I saw his face on the cover of Poetry Flash.
I love my community misfits and dreamers. We all came to San Francisco in search of a connection—a sense of community– and found it. The San Francisco I used to know made us the artists, writers and creators that we are today.
I love the dumplings. I love Kingdom of Dumplings where you can only order once in a meal. There is no going back for seconds.
I love that I have a friend who is 70+ years of age. Her name is Alice. She collects random pictures of random acts of public nudity. She has hundreds of pictures of naked people.
What are the 5 things you hate about SF?
I hate the Ellis Act evictions taking place all around this city. Greed. Pure unadulterated greed. This city needs affordable housing. It needs to cater to a real community, people from a diverse set of cultural backgrounds, careers, religions and sexual identities.
I hate the condo complexes that try to pass themselves off as development endeavors working for the betterment of the community. When the slogan for the complex reads, “Amenities not Enemies,” there is something wrong with this world.
I hate the sense of entitlement and privilege many (not all) people feel with their tech jobs. I want to tell them: How are you really helping people? Sober up. It is not the next iphone app that will change the world. Its what you choose to do hear and now within a place, a community that can and will affect change for good or bad. Be real with yourself. What are you doing to make this world a better place?
I hate the dissipation of history, culture and connection. I want to believe this is just another phase. I’ll wake up one day and people will actually be looking, listening to and talking to each other face to face instead of on their iPhones. I’ll be walking down a street in the Mission and the old Bombay Creamery will still be there and it will be a buck fifty for a scoop of rosewater ice cream.
Then again this lamentation is not just about looking back on the past. What I hate most about SF is the reality of its future. I feel like I’m stuck in a Roland Emmerich disaster movie and I’m trying to warn a bus full of people not to drive directly into the eye of the storm but my voice is drowned out by a chorus of young men singing a song about how they’re young and they’ll set the world on fire.
2. Art is being replaced by tech companies. What I’m hearing is things feel like they’re getting a bit cookie cutter. Do you feel like there’ll be a strong rebellion against this in the art community?
I hope there is a rebellion. I would do my very best to contribute. But, this is much more than rebellion. We are a community and we need to connect. We need to reach out to our neighbors. Even if we fear a disconnect, we must try. We must try to understand each other.
And what is a society without art? Art is political. It is transformative. It is difficult and it is challenging. Art should make you think. My work on the surface feels playful and possibly aesthetically pleasing to some and as such, it creates a surface that the viewer’s consciousness can land on. Part of this thinking is to talk about the surface of things. I’ve created the surface but I am hoping, I am asking the viewer to look past that surface, to engage with the thinking that is beneath the exterior.
From the outside looking in, one might see San Francisco as a representation of prosperity sparked by the boom of the tech industry. What is not seen is the dismantling of the foundation that holds up a society’s culture. This comes in the wake of a hostile take over by way of evictions and unreasonable rent increases. I’m not just talking about the galleries and studio spaces that artists occupy. I’m talking about homes, mom & pop businesses and nonprofit spaces that that are the very foundation of our community.
All of this is at risk of being lost on our generation but even more importantly the future generation of misfits and dreamers who like myself who will go looking for a margin to call their home. This is about losing a culture, a family, a moral fiber. It is about losing our consciousness in a world that is so in need of it in this time. It is about losing a little bit of ourselves and a lot of humanity.
3. I really enjoy what you have to say about why you make your art. And in the video you say, “it gets you from one place to another”. Can you talk about that a bit more?
The act of making for me is no different than the act of thinking. I make in order to think. I make to process my anger and frustration. I make because the object becomes a vessel to hold my thinking, my anger, my hopes, desires and fear. I obsessively made targets this past year to the point of it becoming an absurd gesture. I saw targets in everything I found on the streets and in thrift stores. By reclaiming these throw away objects I was trying to reclaim a consciousness in the world. The gesture, the attempt and ultimately the outcome of such an endeavor is absurd but it is in that absurdity that perhaps real meaning emerges. It is a way of making sense of an absurd world where a teacher who was born, raised and working in her own community cannot afford to call the place her home. For good or bad, I exist in this city and this consciousness. It is a precarious position that I often find myself teetering on in this time. I am here at this point of intersection between desire and fear of both thriving and being erased as an artist in this city.