Artist and UCSB professor Jane Mulfinger has made an international career out of exploring the dialogue between humans and geography. She’s created installations that examine how specific places resonate with feelings of shame and regret, and she’s resurrected the historic intensity occasioned by the building of the transcontinental railroad, for example.
West Is South, her new exhibition at the Atkinson Gallery at SBCC, may be her most resonant work yet, at least for those of us living here in Santa Barbara. Inspired by the eerie sense of dislocation she felt standing at the compass rose on the end of Stearns Wharf, West Is South takes as its point of departure the fact that in Santa Barbara, looking straight out into the Pacific Ocean means facing south, not west. Out of this geographic anomaly, which is unique to our area out of the whole west coast of North America, Mulfinger has crafted an exhibition that stimulates viewers to get in touch with this peculiarity of our region through their bodies, while at the same time asking them to put into words what it means to feel as though they belong somewhere.
Deftly combining video and map imagery from a series of compass walks with a meditation on the plate tectonics that created our oddball orientation, Mulfinger puts human geography into narrative form. Further iterations of the work will take place at other locations around the city, and viewer input is solicited in the form of writing through an anonymous online form at tinyurl.com/WestIsSouth.
Two stationary bicycles connected to a whirling contraption made of cowbells occupy the Atkinson’s magnificent ocean-view deck. By mounting them and pedaling hard, visitors can come together for an audio adventure that underscores the show’s message of freedom through a collective acknowledgment of disorientation.