The Wattis Institute Presents Void California: 1975-1989

Originally published in the Marina Times San Francisco in April 2016

Through April 9, The Wattis Institute presents a survey of punk-inflected media. Curated by California College of the Art’s Graduate Program in Curatorial Practice Class of 2016, Void California takes a look at a parody of culture that created an alternative history of an era. Collage, zines, drawing, painting, photography, video montage, documentary film and sound collage shape the unconventional art history produced by the underground during this tumultuous period.

In the United States, California had a front row seat to social turbulence during the post-Vietnam war era, the era that begins this exhibit. From the Manson family to the SLA to the Jonestown Massacre, California had experienced violence that was unprecedented, and, under the governorship of Reagan, a taste of the neoconservative onslaught against social liberties that would later inform his presidency.

This bleakness formed the “Void” of Void California. But as America’s pendulum was swinging toward the right, artists, writers and musicians used satire to deconstruct mass media control over communication by manipulating popular culture in the form of video, newspapers and audio recordings. Art became anthropology and new meanings were created from the cut-ups of established news sources. In Ruby Ray’s photo, World Governments Resign (De DeTroit UXA), 1978, a newspaper headline suggests that governments of the world would resign if banks fail. A world is imagined where politics and ethics can coexist — or, at least in the context of this satirical headline. Her documentation of punk bands and artists associated with San Francisco’s subculture became an important component of the zine, generating imagery that helped define the spirit and the style of the scene.

The archival material from this alternative community traces the trajectory of American culture during the 70’s and 80’s. Artists included in this exhibit include Melody Sumner Carnahan, Randy Hussong, Cameron Jamie, Negativland, NOMAG (Los Angeles), Raymond Pettibon, Ruby Ray, Search and Destroy (San Francisco), Greta Snider, Matt Heckert of Survival Research Laboratories, Joe Rees/TargetVideo77, Vile(San Francisco) and We Got Power (Los Angeles).

An accompanying publication reproduces work from the exhibit and supplementary ephemeral material used in the making of several pieces along with a curatorial project inspired by Melody Sumner Carnahan’s The Form (1979). Also, don’t miss related events that include a panel discussion on April 1 and a catalogue launch on April 8.

Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts is a nonprofit exhibition venue and research institute dedicated to contemporary art. It was founded in 1998 at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Admission is free.

CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
360 Kansas Street (between 16th and 17th Streets)
San Francisco

Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Friday noon- 7pm; Saturday noon – 5pm. Information: 415-355-9673,,

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