Picks This Month: Catch Them If You Can

by Jean Schiffman

Early summer is full of art-inspired delights. Here are a few.

Industrial sculptor Charles Gadeken has planted a steel “tree,” called SQUARED, on
Patricia’s Green in the midst of Hayes Valley. If you walk up Octavia Street from Oak Street
at night, the glowing, kinetic, 50-foot-tall apparition suddenly looms out of the dark.
The effect, with its sweeping patterns of color, is mesmerizing.

SQUARED is a new, yearlong public art installation, sponsored by the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Recreation and Park Department, and it’s one among many arts attractions on offer this summer in different city neighborhoods.

For example, downtown, Footloose Presents stages “San Francisco, I Love You!,” a collection of short pieces, by a variety of theater artists, that takes
an affectionate but clear-eyed look at our changing city.

And in the Mission District, Keith Hennessey reprises two of his dance-based solos, the 10-year-old “Crotch” and 2017’s “Sink.”

“Sink” and “Crotch”

Dancer, choreographer and performance artist Hennessey, who created his company Circo Zero in 2001, might describe himself as a sort of artistic cannibal. For “Crotch,” which he has staged worldwide for the past decade, he “cannibalized” some of the material of 20th-century German performance artist Joseph Beuys (the piece’s subtitle: “all the Joseph Beuys references in the world cannot heal the pain, confusion, regret, cruelty, betrayal or trauma…”), siphoning some of Beuys’ concepts and images to create his own very personal piece, as he explains in a blog.

Hennessey is nothing if not personal even as he’s intellectual and political. He calls “Crotch”—in which, yes, you will see his private parts—“a kind of emotional portrait… a personal archeology.” He offers the audience chocolates, reads a text about his painful divorce, explains what he’s about to do in the performance (which includes some unnerving audience participation). “Crotch,” of course, is not really about Beuys, whom Hennessey considers a “visionary freak”: “I used his material for a moment of collective sensation,” he says in a phone chat—an exploration of grieving as a shared experience, a ritual.

And he also uses the word “cannibalized” to describe how he mined his own archives for the politically of-the-moment “Sink,” going through costume boxes and pulling out items to “reprocess” them. “Sink” references the war on terror, Trump, the refugee crisis, mass shootings (the latter in the form of a keening lament for the places where gun violence has occurred; he’ll add onto that growing “grief list” for this reprisal). Included in the piece are aerial dance; curved, kangaroo-like jumping stilts (“I’m using them in this broken-down pagan ritual,” he says; the image evokes, for him, a stag, or a mythological man-animal creature); audience participation involving life jackets gathered by first responders from the beaches of Lesbos; a cathartic chant-along; poetry; repurposed so-called Nazi music and more. He named the piece “Sink” because he threw in every issue but, and because it’s also a verb indicating “this feeling of drowning under details of war, or sinking in the current political moment.”

For “Crotch,” he is updating a frenzied, mid-performance history lecture in order to reflect today’s post-Occupy, post-Standing Rock, post-Black Lives Matter tactics of resistance, but still sees the piece as “a kind of emotional portrait, a standalone, outside time.” However, “Sink” is so politically current that he thinks it may not exist 10 years hence.


June 1 & 2

Joe Goode Annex

401 Alabama St.,
San Francisco


June 7→ 9

The Lab

2948 16th St.,
San Francisco

San Francisco, I Love You!

Mary Alice Fry, the founder/artistic director of the performing arts organization Footloose Presents, took the name for this eclectic show—a 75-minute collection of playlets, plus music, song, spoken word and a few film shorts—from the 2006 French film “Paris,
je t’aime.” She considers it a love letter to our city, “warts (and gentrification) and all.” At a final dress
rehearsal, a friendly, Micky-and-Judy-putting-on-a-show atmosphere prevailed, including performers chatting up patrons in the basement-level bar of the Shelton Theatre’s downtown multiplex and ushering them into the adjacent tiny black-box theater.

The settings for each short segment cover a range of neighborhoods: a noir romantic encounter downtown on a foggy night (Dashiell Hammett actually lived nearby), written by local comic actor Ron Campbell; Bruce Yelaska’s reminiscence over coffee at North Beach’s Café Trieste; a preternaturally cheerful homeless woman renting out her hunk of sidewalk in the Mission District in Jeff Bedillion’s “Real State” and so on. In a gracefully choreographed wrestling match for the “soul of San Francisco” by dancers Xedex and Cesar A. Herrera, a landlord, complete with red mask and horns, and introduced as El Gentrifico, faces off against a heroic tenant—and, of course, triumphs.


Through June 28, Thursdays only

Shelton Theatre

533 Sutter St., San Francisco 838-3006


The towering beacon that is Gadeken’s sculpture was first created for the Coachella Valley Music and Art Festival; it took two weeks and a 60-foot lift to install here. The tallest piece that Gadeken has made, it consists of a black steel square tube frame with 786 white plastic cubes in clusters, each one with 12 to 24 “individually addressable LEDs programmed to generate millions of colors and thousands of patterns.” The custom software, explains Gadeken on the phone, is “not computer-generated, not algorithmic, more human: You’re painting with light and recording it and playing it back…. We can layer up to 10 patterns simultaneously.” But really, millions of colors? Yes, asserts Gadeken—thousands of shades for each color. He especially loves the oranges and browns.

For him, SQUARED is “a trans-nature object, an object beyond nature, a square tree… a tree for the moon!” It was created with a team of engineers, mostly in the Box Shop, Gadeken’s studio workspace for artists (, and won a 2015 Structural Engineers Association of Northern California award.

If you get up close and peer through holes in the black steel base, you can glimpse the inner workings, but SQUARED is most magical when viewed from afar—from down the street, perhaps on a misty night, glowing, other-worldly.