Angelica Muro

February 22nd, 2016

Angelica MuroAngelica Muro is an integrated artist, curator, and art educator with a strong interest in cultural criticism. Originally from the Central Valley agricultural community of Hopeton, California, Muro grew up on an apple orchard. As a child she became interested in photography, media imagery and popular culture. Muro served as Gallery Coordinator for WORKS/San José for five years, and as Educational Programmer for Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA, San José, California) for three years. She has a B.A. in photography from San José State University, and an MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California. She is currently Director and Chair of Visual and Public Art at California State University, Monterey where she teaches courses in photography, integrated media and media culture.

Her newest project, created with Juan Luna-Avin, Club Lido: Wild Eyes & Occasional Dreams opened February 12 at Empire Seven Studios in San José. We chatted over tea in early January, at Angelica’s Japantown (San José) bungalow. Reina Sofía, Angelica’s eight-year-old rescue pup, sat on her lap.

Whirligig: How did you come to be an artist?

Angelica: I’ve been interested in art since I was a child, but I was never really good at making—I suppose my vision never matched my actual skill set, it still doesn’t. I remember always trying to make things such as sculptures and drawings, but never having the dexterity. Photography came into my life very early—my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Dixon, had a pile of National Geographic magazines I was pointed to whenever I finished my assignment early—this was the first time I was truly able to look at images, photographs, people. Since then, it’s become my primary area of interest, socially and culturally.

Whirligig: The first time you were able to look at images or that you became aware of the power of images?

Angelica: Aware of the power, of ways of seeing, of actually looking. We are so visually saturated, so much so that we are not actually seeing. I read recently that the brain is on a need-to-know basis. Our brains store the information in our environment and we don’t actually see it, even as we know it is there.

I very vividly remember looking through these National Geographics and seeing, seeing things that I had never seen before. It was new information. This is why travel is so exciting, it’s overwhelming new information for us that we are absorbing in a completely different way, and we take that absorption as being creative influences.

Whirligig: Much of your work exploits and reveals the tensions between consumer celebrity culture and the realities of working class and immigrant lives in contemporary America, perhaps even specifically California. Who do you see as your audience for this work and what do you hope it achieves?

Angelica: I don’t often think about audience in the traditional sense; although as an educator, I often address ethical concerns involving audience with my students. I happen to live and work in California, so my work deals with the complexities of this eco-system—the spectrum of productivity, exploitation, and the distribution of wealth—and often explores issues of gender, race, and class. I’m interested in social issues, and I find that visual tension inspires me to create.

I think there’s several ways to think about audience—I remember being in graduate school, a time that allowed me to experiment with ideas with a critical, yet limited audience. Suddenly, I had a body of work about being Latina, being a woman, being the daughter of a farmworker, and navigating social constructs. And then my audience became people who where interested in issues of identity. However, my work deals with larger social issues of equalization, socialization, conditioning, and the various codes of gender identification. It’s a dialogue with my community, my artist cohort, scholars, thinkers, curators, and activists who are interested in issues of positionality and privilege. I suppose that in the simplest and most complicated sense, my audience is one interested in issues of difference, otherness, and diasporic culture. I question ideological frameworks of meritocracy, social mobility, and distribution of wealth, because I want to, in small part, be in dialogue with someone, anyone, interested in discourse about the complicated social structure we live in.

Angelica Muro

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MicroClimate Collective

May 1st, 2015

Victoria Heilweil & Glenna Cole Allee of MicroClimate Collective

Glenna Cole Allee (right) and Victoria Mara Heilweil (left) make up the collaborative curatorial project known as MicroClimate Collective. The exhibitions they produce are thematic (Hypnagogia, Wabi Sabi, Night Light, Chance Operations, Unseen Unsaid, Everything Must Go!, Eidolon, Perfect Place/No Place, X Libris, A.D.D.) with strong considerations for the nuances of layered meanings within the language of the title, and appear to seek unexpected, if not surprising, interpretations across creative genres.

MicroClimate has a focus of interdisciplinary visual and performing arts programming which provides a context for cross-pollination between diverse circles of Bay Area artists. Their mission is to foster experimentation, collaboration, and risk-taking in an atmosphere free of commercial pressures.

Within this entity they have curated eleven multi-disciplinary exhibitions during the last seven years. They are currently preparing their twelfth, Obsidere which opens at Alter Space Gallery (San Francisco) on May 9.

Glenna and Victoria are both exhibiting visual artists, often working with photography. We chatted in late January in Victoria’s Mission District flat.

Whirligig: Individually, how did you come to be an artist?

Victoria: I started off doing film and video work while I was in high school and majored in that in college. While in college I also took quite a few photography classes, which is where I discovered that I loved all media that utilized a frame. I made an experimental film in college, and also did some less than traditional photography. I think I knew then that I wanted to be an artist, but feared that I wouldn’t be able to support myself and so didn’t immediately call myself that, or move in that direction. Out of college I worked first in the feature film industry in editing, and then in the commercial photo industry as a photo assistant and studio manager. While working I was still doing my own personal photography work, and it became apparent that I wasn’t cut out to be a commercial photographer. At that point I committed to getting my MFA and being an artist. I would say that it’s only been the last ten years that I have been really actively showing my work and moving my art career forward.

Glenna: I certainly tried not to. This fact of who we are, as artists, seems to be a wider circle that persistently swallows whatever other circles we draw. I tried to do other things and deny it but it wouldn’t leave, this predicament, “artist.” I have become better at putting parentheses around the resistance and the doubt. Recently I’ve been inhabiting a certain excitement and deep joy in working consistently, as well as a daily sense of appreciation for being able to make, and give time to, my work.

Whirligig: How did you come to be MicroClimate Collective and how do you think of yourselves inside of this entity?

Victoria: I had a friend who was the Artistic Director for the Climate Theater on 9th and Folsom Street. It was a small theater that had been around a while, but when she took it over she had a vision of it having other programming than just theater. She invited me in to check out a space she thought could work for visual art and asked me to tell her what could be done there. I gave her some suggestions and then she asked if I would run it. I had been doing some curating as part of my teaching at City College of San Francisco, but was definitely interested in doing more curating outside of that arena so I said yes. Very quickly I realized I needed help with this and invited Glenna and another artist to join me.


I knew Glenna from showing her work in the student gallery at City College. There was also a music series and a film series at the theater. The three of us joined forces with the three film series curators to put on one night shows that took over the whole floor. We showed all different media including music, performance and spoken word. It was exciting, but very tiring and eventually the other curators left to go on to other pursuits leaving just Glenna and I. We had decided after a few years that we wanted to start looking for other spaces to curate our thematic shows, and to have them last more than one night. Right about that time the Climate Theater lost their lease and closed, which forced us to move on.

I think of myself as one of the co-founders and primary co-curators of MicroClimate Collective. Glenna and I each have different strengths and wear different hats, although we can switch off if needed.

Glenna: I was just finished with an MFA and there was Victoria, beckoning. The MFA experience I’d just finished had been transformative–the constant company and critique of others who understood art as the main focus, having everything needed right there. I wanted to actively sustain dialogue and community, and this curatorial project seemed like a possible way. It was very interesting, to create a project together to try to foster creative community–the multi-genre shows might become a conversation between artists. That was one main motivation that drew me–the notion that MicroClimate might initiate work, and even collaboration between artists. It’s been a very satisfying thing, that we have inspired others in this way a little bit.

How I think of myself within MicroClimate: as an artist, with all my personal aesthetics and sensibilities, working intentionally to be a creative collaborator. Which entails seeking to meet halfway, and to be receptive/inviting to the third thing in the room, to what would not be created alone.

I often am in the role of filtering our ideas into language, of pushing to articulate our themes, and sometimes raveling them into little knots and back out again. I find this interesting; actually enjoy it.
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Beau Beausoleil

February 28th, 2014

Beau Beausoleil is a San Francisco-based poet and the proprietor of the Great Overland Book Company, which is located in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood. Beausoleil has written more than ten books of poetry. His most recent collection, Ways to Reach the Open Boat, was published by Barley Books, UK in 2013.

Beau Beausoleil at the Great Overland Book Company

In 2007 Beausoleil read an article in The New York Times about a car bombing on al-Mutanabbi Street, the historic bookseller’s street in Bagdad. This incident inspired the creation of the al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition, a project which currently has five distinct components: 130 letterpress printed broadsides; 260 artists’ books; a publication of poetry and prose titled Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here; the coordination of poetry readings around the world each year on the March 5th anniversary of the bombing; and most recently Absence and Presence, a call to 260 printmakers for the creation of fine art prints.

The project involves hundreds of artists who have created work specifically as a response to the 2007 bombing; and extensive local and international exhibition schedules, much of which Beausoleil coordinates himself. Complete editions of the visual art responses will ultimately be donated to the Iraqi National Library in Bagdad.

We met in early February over a cup of tea at Beau’s kitchen table.

Whirligig: What is poetry?

Beau: What is poetry? At one point in my life I stood on the corner of Powell and Geary, it was real close to Union Square not that far from Macy’s, and I had a little box next to me on the ground that had a sign that read “Support your local poet.” I would give out multiple copies of a poem that I had printed out to anyone who would take them. They didn’t know that they were poetry. My secret hope was that some patron would appear out of nowhere with a wallet, but of course that never happened.

I usually made enough to print out the next batch of poems. Some people would avoid me. They would go out into the street thinking that I was handing out a religious tract or a political tract of one kind or another. Some people would take them. I’d see them read them. I’d see them crumple them up after half a block and throw them away. But every now and then something would happen. I remember this one guy who took a poem. I watched him walk down Powell and I could see that he was reading the poem. He got about three quarters down the block. He turned around and walked back to me and said in this agitated voice, “I don’t know what this means, but this one line, that speaks to my life.” That’s poetry.

One time I was part of a group that was visiting Folsom Prison where there was a writer’s workshop. The visitors would read and then the prisoners would read. During the break this guy came up to me and said, “Are you Beau Beausoleil?” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “Did you have a poem in . . .” and he named this small magazine, and I said, “Yes.” He said. “Did it go like this. . .” and he recited my poem back to me. I was pretty stunned. He said, “I just wanted to tell you that that is the poem that started me writing.” That’s poetry.

Lorca, the Spanish poet, tells a story about duende. Duende is the inexpressible in art, in beauty. It’s there and you can feel it. Some people can recognize it. It’s an important part of the life of any artist who is really at that point. He tells a story to illustrate it.

There was a flamenco contest in this basement in Spain. All these young women are assembled. They are all in their 20s and beautiful. They are getting ready to go on the stage to perform before these three judges. Suddenly the door opens. A woman in her late 50s walks in, walks straight up to the stage, throws her arms in the air and the judges declare the contest over because they could see that she had duende. That’s poetry.

Poetry is something that gives you back part of your own life. It allows you to see your own life in another form, another way. That’s what poetry is.
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Paul Davies

March 10th, 2013

Composer, music educator, and concert pianist Paul Davies recently completed his first full length opera based on the life of Charlotte of Belgium who was Empress Carlota of Mexico during the period in Mexican history known as the French Intervention.

Davies received a Ph.D in music from the University of California at San Diego. He currently teaches composition, music appreciation, music theory, and a course on the Beatles at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California. Davies has also appeared as soloist with the Foothill Wind Ensemble, the Winchester Orchestra, and the South Valley Symphony.

Paul Davies at the piano

Whirligig: You recently completed the writing of an opera, Carlota. What inspired you to write an opera?

Paul: I had been invited to give a talk about my music and present a new composition, an instrumental ensemble piece, at the Ernest Bloch New Music Festival in Newport, Oregon, in July of 1999. I was at one of the festival concerts where another composer premiered a new chamber opera of his when the idea of doing an opera myself flew into my head. I had been thinking of the tragedy of Empress Carlota for quite a few years before this, but never with the idea of doing an opera on the subject.

I suppose another impetus was that I’ve always been fascinated by history and of the possibility of traveling back in time. So doing an opera on Carlota is the closest I’ll ever get to time-travel, so to speak. I realized that my research would involve reading every major book on the subject I could get my hands on and also traveling to Mexico City to visit Chapultepec Castle, where Carlota and the Emperor Maximilian lived during their short reign. I very much looked forward to this.

Whirligig: What path did your research for this project take you on?

Paul: Since I was intent on doing the text myself, I spent a lot of time researching how to do a good libretto, and I also consulted with two dramaturges who gave me much invaluable advice. I analyzed quite a few librettos to gain further insight. Also, I came across very interesting photographs of the time period. I remember being at the library of San Diego State University and finding a photograph of the moment Maximilian and Carlota enter Mexico City in June of 1864.

Every time I read about an historical event, there’s always at the back of my mind this very small sense of myth, a sense of maybe what I’m reading about didn’t happen since I wasn’t there to actually see it. It’s not that I don’t believe the event happened, or that the historical figure in question never existed, It’s just that tiny feeling of “unreality” since I didn’t experience it myself. But when I saw this photograph I almost jumped and said to myself, “Wow, this really did happen.” I get the same kind of feeling when I look at a life mask of Beethoven, or some other figure for whom the only visual representations are idealized paintings. If I hadn’t been a composer, I probably would have been an historian.

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Diane Cassidy

October 13th, 2012

Diane Cassidy After Manet's dejeuner sur L'herbe

Bay Area photographer and artist Diane Cassidy celebrates her 82nd birthday this month with the showing of a new series of photographs at the annual San Francisco Altered Barbie show, and the launch of her first website. Cassidy studied photography at San Jose State University in the late 1980’s, and continues to take classes with respected photographers through various peninsula venues. A monograph of Cassidy’s work is scheduled for publication by Hunger Button Books in 2013.

Whirligig: How did you come to be an artist?

Diane: For me, becoming an artist was an indulgence. Throughout my formative years I was equally interested in making art and natural science. An unfortunate marriage ending in divorce left me, at a very early age, completely responsible for myself and my two children.

My first plan in preparing myself for a well-paying job was to get a degree in Art Education. Being young and impatient, I just couldn’t tolerate the necessary Mickey Mouse curricula; those how to educate courses were so so boring. I had trouble staying awake. One day while conversing with fellow classmates I learned that with a degree in a related science I could qualify for an internship in Medical Technology. I made the switch. How I relished those difficult chemistry and physics classes. A welcome relief.

During my 20 year stint as a Medical Technologist I was always taking art classes and workshops. Art was my hobby. Then one day in the 70’s while on vacation I stopped at the Script’s Institute. I noticed some images of shore life displayed on their walls that I really liked. Upon asking I learned that they were hi-contrast photographs. Thus began my foray into photography.

One day I attended a photo workshop in portraiture with Margo Davis at the Palo Alto Cultural Center. While she went over her bio she mentioned that though she had a BA in French from San Jose State, she returned to get a MA in photography. I had gotten a BA in Biology from San Jose State years ago; maybe I could return to get a MA in photography. Which I did. I retired as early as I could from Valley Medical Center and concentrated on photography in earnest.
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