DISSOLVING BORDERS //

Pixel Painting, 2016. Ryan Johnson. 

Pixel Painting, 2016. Ryan Johnson. 

Like many projects before it, the initial impetus for DISSOLVE came about at a neighborhood bar over beers. Our ambitions stoked by spirits and our minds full of the passion and the courage that several years of graduate study at an art school will give you, we thought, “Fuck, we can do this. We can make a publication! And it will contain all the things that we want to see, all the art we love, all the anger that we feel and it will be real!”

The art world is a double-edged sword: it encourages independent thought and experimentation, but is bound to pre-established hierarchical structures. To produce a publication such as DISSOLVE within this framework means following the rules while simultaneously trying to break them.

Our project might be suicidal, or more accurately, laughable at a time when all seem ready to call time of death for the San Francisco art community— “the end is he__er, near…”  We’re reminded that Art Forum started in San Francisco before they hightailed it to Los Angeles and then to New York—San Francisco was too small, too insular, too fragile for a publication with such lofty ambitions! Of course other publications continue to forge a path through the seemingly perpetual pessimism that plagues San Francisco’s artists and writers. Subtle reminders that within the cracks of the tech takeover, art persists—a pulse still beats.

What remains (although we can’t ever know with certainty what the pre-remains looked like) of the Bay Area artistic community is plagued by competition. At a recent conference I attended someone divulged their annoyance that, “art schools keep producing MAs and MFAs, even though there is no place for them.” She quickly followed her comment up with an apology, realizing I was one of those newly anointed MA graduates, but her point had already been made: I, and those like me, were unnecessary, overstock, academically-trained surplus.

Unexceptionally, the bohemian/alternative/groundbreaking San Francisco art community, has fallen at the feet of neoliberal exceptionalism. The previous generations have done a fine job of building borders between the artistic-haves and the artistic-have-nots. Organizations that were built on the mission to foster open collaboration, have become exclusive clubs where we, the hordes of art school graduates, are only permitted to enter so that the unpaid, highly educated intern at the door can tally our bodies with a click.

Just like the tech population that we collectively bemoan on a daily basis, the art world is immersed in Darwinian tendencies: survival of the most advantageous, the most connected, the most marketable, and so on and so forth. Success is defined by the failure of others, and in our darkest moments, it is a motto that motivates us to outdo the competition at all costs.

DISSOLVE is ultimately a publication(ish) from which we press on those everyday borders set forth by a neoliberal landscape that constrict the way we think/approach/engage/make/love art and dissolve them, even if only for brief moments. DISSOLVE is an experiment—fully accepted as such. We of course set borders for ourselves—we’re not this, we’re this—it’s a trap that we’re knowingly toying with.

For Issue 1., our self-titled “album,” we asked contributors to think about the idea of dissolution, or dissolving. The responses to this open-ended prompt ranged from essays about dissolving oneself before a work of art, to a poem that dissolves both visually and conceptually. Ultimately it is an exercise in thinking differently and dissolving some of our own expectations of what literary art criticism looks like in digital form. It’s an experiment and with any luck, it will stay that way.


Harper Brokaw-Falbo is an Oakland based curator, researcher and writer and is currently a Helena R. Rubinstein Fellow in Critical Studies at the Whitney Independent Study Program. She received a B.A. in Art History from the University of Oregon and an M.A. in the History and Theory of Contemporary Art from the San Francisco Art Institute.

Ryan Johnson lives in Oakland, but is originally from Montana then Idaho. He makes, he paints, he draws and he moves pixels. He also brews coffee.