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Off Site: Claudia Tennyson
In a decaying house on L Street, the Fresno Metropolitan Museum's new exhibit is beginning to take shape. Off Site is a series of five contemporary art projects taking place in unique locations around Fresno while the Met's main exhibition space is closed for renovations. The Met hopes the series will give artists the chance to interact with community groups and explore the Fresno landscape. San Francisco artist Claudia Tennyson inaugurates the series with her "Repair Work" on the 1743 L Street house.
Badly burned in a fire, boarded up and infested with spiders, the L Street craftsman house seems an unlikely place for an art project. The dark interior hides the mold and soot. Paint has bubbled and popped, creating rich textural patterns in some places, and swaths of naked wall in others. If ever there was a house in need of repair, this is it.
But Tennyson's repair work won't involve industrial cleaning supplies or fresh coats of paint. Her work focuses on instilling a new sense of value in derelict objects, embellishing the banal ephemera of everyday life. In this case she will take simple materials- items found in a utility drawer or sewing basket- and use them to bring new meaning to facets of the hollowed-out house.
Visitors to the November 10th opening saw the house before Claudia set to work. A week later, small, delicate touches began to take shape. An oval-shaped hole in the wall was being outlined with seam binding, and the rough, jagged edge of broken sheet rock has been given a white wool trim.
"When I fist got here, I started to clean," Tennyson said. But she soon realized it was an impossible project, and decided to respect what was already there. Simple actions, like clearing out a circle of dust on a white kitchen shelf, create arresting imagery.
She points to ropes of spider webs crossing a window pane. "Sometimes it's hard to know what to take down and what to leave."
In the enclosed sun room at the back of the house, Tennyson has started a mosaic of tape pieces on the many windows. The white and cream bits of tape mirror the peeling paint on the ceiling, which seems to be unraveling like a mummy's bandages.
"I hope people have a reflective experience," she explained. One plan for the house is to create a giant knit "cozy" for the exterior. A pile of crocheted afghans and doilies sit in a pile. Already one green crocheted circle is stapled near the back door. A skien of blue yarn, found shoved in a closet, has rust-colored burn marks on it. Tennyson is using it to build a curtain for the sturdy closet door.
Community members are invited and encouraged to participate in the project, by sending old crocheted items or thick yarn to the house. Last year's half-finished scarf could end up in one of Fresno's most ambitious installations. People are also encouraged to send mail to the house. Postcards, pictures, letters, or poems that focus on care and repair will be included in the final project.
Tennyson's treatment of something as simple as a dusty, dirty shelf affords the viewer a renewed appreciation for that which is old, and less than perfect. Of all her hours spent in the dark house, Tennyson jokingly says, "There are feral cats that live in underneath the house, sometimes I feel like I'm doing it for them."
The Met will hold five Off Site contemporary art projects. One of those projects has been designated for an artist or group from Fresno County. Artists are encouraged to devise innovative and interdisciplinary strategies for a site-specific project which engages Fresno's locality and community. Applications and more information can be found on the Met's website. Applications are due December 9th, 2005.
This Off Site will run through December 3rd. Operating hours are noon to 5pm, Thursday through Saturday, at 1743 L Street. The Met will hold an open house (with repairs) on ArtHop, December 1st from 5pm to 9pm. Mail may be sent to 1743 L Street, Fresno, CA, 93721. Crochet items may be dropped of during operating hours.