These few Santa Barbara innovations we all know: the hot tub (invented on Mountain Drive), ranch dressing (from the now-defunct Hidden Valley restaurant), and the Egg McMuffin (thanks to the late, great Herb Petersen). They may not be technologically epoch-making like Tang or Velcro, but they do dovetail nicely with the aging boomer sensibility. Who could not envision Bill Clinton indulging in all three simultaneously? But is that the sum of our city’s applied ingenuity?
Hardly, says Contemporary Art Forum’s Miki Garcia, who’s throwing an exhibition slash party to prove it. “As the director of CAF, I’m privy to a lot of information most people aren’t,” said Garcia by phone recently, “so I thought this would be a great way to get the word out.”
The show’s title is The Bellwether Effect: At the Forefront of Design, and it represents a big, democratic-as-possible design contest. “We were playing off the success of our Call for Entries show,” said Garcia, referring to CAF’s annual fine art ingathering held to bridge the gap between the gallery’s mission to exhibit the best available contemporary art and its commendable desire to show area artists. For Bellwether, CAF contacted numerous tri-county innovators, from solo designers like Richard Tullis to long-honored firms such as Montecito’s Forms and Surfaces. They made use of mailing lists, the Internet, and professional organizations. Seeking diversity, they included categories ranging from landscape to new media. They wanted it to be fair, too. “We made the application process online,” said Michael Porter, an architect splitting his time between S.B. and Orange County who was picked by Garcia to curate the show. “That way, everyone had an equal chance at the presentation.” They assembled a panel of judges including a former punk rock poster designer, architects, and artists.
“There’s a lot of complexity out there in the tri counties,” said Porter, who lives in a self-built, strikingly modern home on a cul de sac near La Cumbre Junior High. “Yet despite the odds, a thread came through all the designs we picked. What emerged was social responsibility and sustainability.”
The six winners include AB design studio, Inc., which won for its work on a children’s dental office, and LifeStyleDesign, which won for its SubFrame Dive Mask. Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects, an Oxnard firm, was honored for tackling the restoration of a run-down sculptor’s supply yard, while Studio XYZ-dna was chosen for architectural work that mitigated neighborhood problems and environmental impact. Craig Burdick and Hanne B,lling of Studio 1030 Architects won for the Acari House, a Brentwood residence that was built green while incorporating elegant modern principles, and Kim Yasuda, professor of art at UCSB, won for Open Container Studios, a gigantic collaborative effort using students and artists to explore used ship containers as places for families to cook food, sleep, and watch movies.
But it’s not just the politically correct, “recycle, reduce, reuse” way of thinking that propelled this show. “What’s interesting about the art world today,” said Porter, a former CAF board member, “is the convergence of design and art.” Porter cited artists like Jorge Pardo, the Cuba-born Los Angeles sculptor who builds houses.
UCSB’s Yasuda has taken the classroom, the studio, and the engineering lab, and brought them together conceptually and environmentally. “We present our work as students/artists who have creatively engaged in the spatial and imaginary realms of art, more so than problem-solvers of the practical and the utilitarian,” she wrote recently. Maybe it’s a postmodern or even a postcolonial thing, but CAF’s Garcia takes a long historical view of all this interplay. “I think we are in maybe the most hybridized of ages since the Age of Discovery,” she said. CAF is now officially part of that movement.
Less highfalutin’ theoretical pleasures lurk in the selection, too. Marc Tappeiner’s company LifeStyleDesign built a better diving mask at the behest of a SoCal company called Atomic Aquatics. Tappeiner-who attended Monroe, La Cumbre, Santa Barbara High, and City College-ingeniously fashioned a mask that, as he explained it, moved from an exoskeletal to an endoskeletal mode, becoming far more useful and durable. “It’s also beautiful,” said curator Porter.
Sandwiched between a car repair shop and a De la Vina car dealership, Craig Burdick shares a small, neat architecture office with his spouse Hanne B,lling, who was born in Denmark. Burdick’s father sold car batteries here. The son, who graduated from Dos Pueblos in 1975, designs contemporary homes all over Southern California. Graduating from UCSB’s studio arts department as a sculptor, Burdick moved to Los Angeles and went to work at the famed Morphosis architectural firm, where he met Hanne, then took a job with the people who designed the Getty. The project that garnered CAF recognition is being built on a crest above Sunset Boulevard in Brentwood. Burdick likes to invoke “Cartesian grids” and “open plans instead of Euclidean spaces.” But the heartening aspect of their work is the collaborative spirit and the respect they have for the world. Burdick sounds much more like an artist than an engineer discussing his houses. “There’s so much on the table. We like to sit down and really work on something, get so absorbed that it takes on a life of its own. When the design starts talking to you, starts telling you what to do,” he says, “then I know things are going the right way.”
The Bellwether Effect: At the Forefront of Design opens at the Contemporary Arts Forum on Saturday, May 31, and runs through August 10, with a curator walk-through on May 31 at 5 p.m. For more information, call 966-5373 or visit www.sbcaf.org.