Forces of Change
COMING TO CALIFORNIA: HISTORY GALLERY SECTION 12
The 1960s and 70s were a period of tumultuous developments in American society, giving rise to the "counterculture." After a decade and a half of divisiveness over the war in Vietnam, the possible impeachment of a President—and his subsequent resignation—forever shifted the political landscape. FORCES OF CHANGE is a rotating exhibit space that looks at the California in the sixties (defined as 1960–75) through the diverse experiences of individual Californians.
For titles, House Industries' Badhouse had the right amount of natural distressing to convey hand-lettered protest signs, yet still consistent and readable characters.
Each of the 24 "Story Niches" in the space is curated by a different person whose experience illuminates the ways Californians both shaped and responded to the social changes of the period. They measure 32" x 24" x 24" are recessed into the walls and faced with plexiglass.
Suggesting the well-recognized styling of the Billboard Top 100 chart, this large format display lists one hundred important events during the years 1960–75 in chronological order. These events place the personal recollections of the Story Niches proper in context. The final design for this piece was completed by Amanda Boesen under my direction, and is available in the museum store as a poster.
Each Story Niche is unique to the participant, and in most cases was conceived, designed, and executed in collaboration with a designer on staff. Auburn Leigh and preparator Steven Sciscenti worked on the design and installation of the initial two dozens Niches in 2010.
story niche ROTATIONS
In 2014, five new participants were selected for the first scheduled rotation of the Niches. I served as the creative lead on the project, leading concept workshops and personally collaborating with each participant to realize the visual and spatial presentation of their stories. Preparators Andy Zevallos and Alicia Goode styled, fabricated, and detailed the structures, props, and other three dimensional objects in these Story Niches.
Cathy was a Civil Rights activist in the South during the 1960s. She later moved to Northern California, came out as a lesbian, and became both a photographer and mother. In the Bay Area she learned how to repair Volkswagens, and worked with the Black Panthers and other organizations in many areas of their outreach. Cathy selected artifacts, books, and photographs that were important to her story, and we augmented them with vintage props.
Custom graphics I designed include a poster of her activism "Greatest Hits" and a miniature vintage VW repair shop facade based on historical photographs.
Dave has been deaf his entire life, and his story is all about the revolution of closed captioning in the mid to late 1960s. This technology, along with a device that allowed the deaf to use the telephone, literally changed his life forever. Our solution was to have six miniature televisions showing events that Dave identified as important to him; The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1963), the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963–1968), The Moon Landing (1969), President Nixon's Resignation (1974), and the Evacuation of Saigon (1975). The televisions on the left were before closed captioning became widespread, and on the right, after. Until this development, all Dave saw was a silent, talking head.
It was a great pleasure to create the digital painting at the rear of the Story Niche that depicts sunrise in the suburbs where Dave lived; the dawn of a new era, silhouetted with rooftops and television antennas. The bird represents hope.
Leah was a child of the Baby Boom, and in the 1960s she had a decision to make; continue on the conventional path the way she was raised, and get married and settle down, or explore the other options becoming available at the time. She eventually did marry, but on her own terms. This progression is represented by a wedding cake that has been slid apart into separate levels, like a staircase. Here is her work with women's support groups, birth control classes at Planned Parenthood, and finally, deciding to marry and have children after 30.
While there aren't any particularly unique design elements here, the challenge was in collaborating with Leah to develop spatial metaphors for the story she was trying to tell. We spent more time prototyping her piece than any of the other Story Niches.
Mahesh was a typical person of his generation who benefited from immigration reform in the late 1960s, and he came from India to California to study computer science at UC Berkeley. The artifacts on the left demonstrate the culture shock he encountered in America, from unfamiliar ways to consume tea, to a lack of vegetarian cuisine (only grilled cheese sandwiches!) The artifacts on the right represent his career in Fortran programming and computer engineering during the early 1970s.
The interesting custom elements here are the sheets of continuous form paper which were ubiquitous in the era of dot matrix printing. I re-created them from vintage samples, and rendered relevant pieces of Fortran code in the correct typeface.
Sekio is from Samoa and grew up in San Francisco, often frequenting Playland at the Beach, a now defunct boardwalk amusement park. He shipped off to Vietnam in the late 60s, and later returned to the Bay Area to become an artist. His Story Niche features graphic reproductions of vintage sports cards, tapa patterns, and three of his artworks. The Playland panorama was taken from a vintage matchbook in the museum's collections.
It was fun creating the Playland ticket book reproductions, which are accurate down to the black cloth tape, backing board, and single staple that holds them together.