The house of infinite returns

David Ireland’s 500 Capp Street reopens as ambitious artist residency program

By Max Blue

Special to The Examiner

David Ireland was a fixture of the San Francisco art scene and the Mission for decades, his masterpiece being the home he lived in for 30 years at 500 Capp St. He treated the rickety, white Victorian as an ever-changing environmental artwork.

In 2016, seven years after his death, Ireland’s house opened to the public and to invited artists to show and produce work there. Following a period of COVID-related closure, The David Ireland House at 500 Capp reopened this spring, now offering free admission and launching an ambitious artists residency program. The exhibition currently on view, “Below the Lighthouse Is the Darkest Part of Night,” is the result of a month-long stay by the Tokyo and New York based media-arts duo Zakkubalan (Neo Sora and Albert Tholen).

The David Ireland Foundation invited Zakkubalan after curator Lian Ladia saw their video installation “async–volume–,” 2017, at the Singapore Biennale. The piece has been installed in the garage at 500 Capp, the room entirely blacked out to accentuate dozens of small video screens, each showing a different glimpse of the same apartment throughout a single day. Tholen said the driving question of the piece was, “What if you saw all the images and heard all the sounds of a film at one time?” Experiencing the six installation pieces spread throughout the house resonates similarly: It isn’t easy to look at them individually, but rather as elements of a cohesive experience.

The show’s title piece in the first-floor accordian room features ethereal images projected on a translucent screen, with several of Ireland’s own concrete sculptures incorporated into the installation. A low, rumbling soundtrack adds an element of disquiet to the meditative experience. “Something we really wanted to explore here was the ways in which cinema can be sculptural,” Tholen said. “I don’t think we would have ever arrived at that idea without living in the house of a sculptor.”

Technology contrasts with the lo-fi feel of the house, but Zakkubalan’s installations never feel out of place. Most of the works use camcorders, feeding directly into projectors, reminiscent of Nam June Paik, a scrappiness in the spirit of, and in conversation with, Ireland himself. “Prism,” 2021, occupies the second-floor front parlor room, video of the outside street scene projected onto a copper plate covering Ireland’s “Copper Window,” 1981.

Ireland was equal parts sculptor and performance artist, interested in what he called “maintenance actions”: the repetitive gestures of routine life. Zakkubalan’s “Everyday,” 2021, pays homage to this concept: Several CRT monitors show video of Zakkubalan turning off the lights in the house. “When we first stayed here nobody told us how to turn the lights off,” Tholen said. “It became a routine,” Sora said. “Turning off all these lights every night takes a long time, so we started filming that.”

During their stay, Zakkubalan shot and installed primarily at night. Because of the luminous quality of their work, the pieces had to be tweaked during the daytime. This process is also reflected in the viewing experience: I visited the house twice, both after dark and during the day, one visit unlike the other, as the changing light brought out different qualities in the work.

Tholen said that one of the greatest lessons learned from Ireland’s legacy is “that anything can be art if you treat it in a certain way.” At the opening night of “Below the Lighthouse,” I stepped onto the patio to get a drink and spotted a man in the next building over, playing piano. He wasn’t part of the exhibition — his presence hadn’t been planned or staged — but his practice had become performance. This vision felt like Ireland’s own gesture from beyond the grave: a playful reminder that anything can be art if you treat it that way.

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