By Kelly Inouye
Interface Gallery, a new alternative art space in Oakland’s Temescal Alley curated by Suzanne L’Heureux, is dedicated to exhibiting work that explores the human relationship to our environment in varied and sometimes unexpected ways. I recently spoke with Suzanne about her programming, community engagement, and why using the word “activism” in relation to her gallery makes her a little uncomfortable.
Kelly Inouye: How did Interface Gallery come about? What motivated you to start the gallery?
Suzanne L’Heureux: I’ve always loved looking at, thinking about and talking about art. I have a master’s degree in art history and I’ve been teaching at the Academy of Art for a number of years now. I’m also very engaged in community building in my neighborhood. I live in a co-housing community right up the street from the gallery and I’ve been organizing the Temescal Street Cinema for the last five years, which is a free outdoor movie night that runs every summer. While Temescal Street Cinema highlights the work of Bay Area artists, it really developed first out of a desire to bring people together within the community. My desire to open a gallery really evolved out of this dual interest in building community and how much I value the way that reflecting on art, responding to it, and conversing about art with others, has the potential to deepen our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the world. So what a better way to build community than by using art as a sort of starting point.
Exhibitions at Interface seem to feature a broad range of events geared towards elaborating on work in the shows and engaging the community. Can you talk about how you curate the programming?
Well, I’m only in the third show now, so curating shows and creating exhibition programs is a new thing for me, but it’s definitely part of my mission to try to take the themes deeper through additional interactive programming and to provide different points of access for people. The programming has taken a variety of forms so far, and I see it as being something that will be an integral part of future shows. I like to think about the events as being part of the narrative arc of the “exhibition program.” So far, with the group shows that I’ve planned, there’s a way that the artists and work are fitting into the overarching theme, and part of that is also filled out by the events that are offered.
In the inaugural show, in·ter·face, works in the gallery related to the theme of interface from a variety of perspectives. Helga Hizer’s “Apparatus 1: For the Exchange of Undivided Attention,” for example, provided a literal interface for communication. The free Breema session that was offered as one of the gallery events in conjunction with the show, enabled the idea of touch to be explored. So even though the Breema event was sort of an aside, on the other hand, it brought in an integral aspect of the theme of interface. And, even for those who did not participate in the workshop, knowing it was offered became an engaging aspect of the show’s “story.”
With the current Food Shift exhibit, which is exploring food waste and food systems, the events have been extremely integral to the exhibition, which takes more of a social practice approach. In addition to a film screening and some talks, there was a preserve making demo with fruit that was foraged from the neighborhood, and a dinner in which we used food byproducts of the meal, like carrot tops, fig and cabbage leaves, and onion skins, to dye fabrics.
What you’re talking about ties into this relationship between art and activism that I see happening in the exhibitions at Interface, and I’m wondering if you could talk a little about that.
It’s funny because the word “activism” has come up a number of times and I get why, but it makes me a little uncomfortable. Building community is important to me, but rather than thinking about it in the broader sense of activism where the goal would be to change the world or make a political impact, I feel like what I’m doing is more intimate. I want to emphasize what I see as an inherent aspect of art, which is its potential to deepen and enrich our lives. Sometimes that gets squeezed out or obfuscated because of the way art gets comodified, which is unfortunate.
Also, because art is this mechanism for expressing and initiating experiences and ideas it then becomes a great way to build community because it’s a starting point for conversation. If that leads to some kind of difference in the world that’s great, but it’s not a political intent of mine or anything like that. If anything it stems more from my personal desires.
There will be shows like Food Shift that have more of an activist quality because the theme is more issue driven and sometimes there will be work that has a partcularly political power. I’m definitely interested in art that is exploring the human relationship to our environment in a variety fo ways, but I by no means want to be just showing political art.
Your approach seems both straightforward and ambitious and I can see that you want to hit a variety of notes with your programming. I’m curious, what are some of your favorite local art venues?
That’s a hard question. There’s so much going on in the Bay Area and plenty to occupy my time right here in Oakland. There are places that interest me that I haven’t even had the chance to check out yet (Real Time and Space being one of them). Obviously the uptown neighborhood has some really great spots.
And right here in the Temescal neighborhood there are really interesting things happening. There’s MacArthur b Arthur and The Royal Nonesuch Gallery. Both just great really thoughtful spaces. There’s Smokey’s Tangle, which does a lot of fun interactive stuff. The Arbor Café regularly has artwork on display and often invites artists to respond to their physical environment. It’s interesting to see a café showing not-your-standard-kind-of-café-art-work. Pretty engaging. They’re all within blocks of Interface Gallery.
Now at the Arbor they’re also doing an experimental film night every First Thursday, hosted by Gilbert Guerrero and Kathleen Quillian (www.shapeshifterscinema.com). Kathleen and Gilbert are also involved with Temescal Street Cinema and Kathleen is a director at the Royal Nonesuch Gallery.
It’s been really fun because when we started Temescal Street Cinema five years ago there wasn’t a whole lot of that kind of stuff going on in the neighborhood.
There seems to be a collaborative spirit going on in Oakland, and Temescal in particular, that is really pretty inspiring.
Yeah, thanks. It’s fun. I feel very lucky to be a part of this community.
What can we look forward to seeing at Interface in the future?
There’s a lot going on. I’m very excited about something I’m doing in January. Lydia Greer is going to help me set up the gallery as an animation studio, and I’m going to work on a project I’ve wanted to do for a while now – which is using a mantra from a retreat I took last Spring. So, I’ll be working on that in the space, but I’m also planning to invite people to contribute drawings and ideas throughout the month.
A collaborative temporary animation studio?
Yes, I think it will be a great way to enter into the new year because the theme of the animation I’ll be working on is really about being more present and self-connected. I think Lydia Greer is also going to offer an animation workshop sometime during the month.
In February I’ve got a solo show with Alicia Escott planned.
In March I’ll host Masako Miki, Crystal Morey and Michael McConnell, who are all friends and are doing work that is somewhat related. They’re going to do a collaborative installation in the gallery that will have an interactive component. That should be neat. I’m talking with Elisheva Biernoff about having her do a site specific, collaborative project with her friend Jennifer Smith sometime in the Spring or Summer. So there are a lot of different kinds of things happening.
I know you are working on adding an educational component to your program. Can you talk a little about that?
Yes, I’ve been thinking about ways to reach a broader audience as well as adding a youth arts education component. If I’m trying to build community, I want to expand who can be a part of that community and who can have access to these conversations. I recently won a grant from the Potrero Nuevo Foundation for the Food Shift exhibit, and we’re using funds from that to bring some of our programming experiences to students at Oakland International High School, right here in the neighborhood. I’m really excited about the partnership and hope to have an ongoing relationship with the school and further opportunities in general to broaden the audience.
That’s great. Thank you for talking with me.