Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts
United States

A San Francisco Minute.

May 19, 2018. 3pm.

A very windy Saturday afternoon

accompanied by Neil Mackintosh.

Downtown San Francisco.


We walk past The Museum of Ice Cream–crowds of people wait in line–on our way to YBCA to see the Future Farmers show. This grand building was once a bank and The Museum of Ice Cream is the latest in the cultural detritus San Francisco has to offer.

When I first moved here downtown was sort of run-down and gritty; there was an assorted motley collection of stores and eateries, I liked the  Escape from New York pizza place. There was a Borders Books on many floors and a Virgin megastore which had a great cafe overlooking Market street. These days it’s luxury stores, the Apple “megastore” and for lease, shuttered empty store buildings.

But there’s always the Yerba Buena Gardens area with The Jewish Museum and soon to be opened Mexican Museum, SFMOMA and of course Yerba Buena Centre for Contemporary Arts. YBCA is always quiet and serene and you get a discount on the entry fee if you use public transport.

Formed in 1995, Future Farmers are  a crew of artists, designers, architects and scientists  with Amy Franchescini as their driving force. Over the years I have vaguely heard of  FF, I think Amy designed the very first twitter logo back in the day; I have seen the odd FF contraption pop up in shows and  I was also aware of Michael Swaine’s public sewing project.

A friend used to have a studio in the same building and so on, a sort of Future Farmers mythology.  I never actually experienced their works in situ as they always seem to happen somewhere else. Their international stature continues to grow as evidenced by the recent Frieze magazine feature article.

At the exhibition entrance we are greeted with  a collection of stones sent from different corners of the world from FF collaborators, a nice touch setting the tone for their collaborative framework. “Old-school San Francisco”, that’s what we talk about these days when we come across little gems like this.

In the foyer area I was struck by how Beuysian all the elements and ephemera felt – nails, felt templates and pieces of wood.

Into the monumental exhibition hall, where the FF works fill the space high and low with what looks like a prototype for a large sailing boat of sorts. Everything  is laid out very neatly on squares of felt, on the wooden platform, on the wall and framed by the massive cut “masts” overhead on ropes. There’s a giant sewing machine and piles of timber. Neil thinks it feels and looks like a hipster/maker coffee shop and yes I can see that, while commanding as a site specific installation, it feels somewhat generic.

After reading the wall text I discover that this is a work-in-progress which spans the exhibition dates and serves as a workshop space, maybe too aestheticised to feel authentic?

In the adjoining space we have the archive, a survey from 1995 on and to be honest there were so many diagrams and texts about things like seed journeys on boats and  trojan horses on wheels that I felt completely dis-engaged. All too dry and I am sure not at all like the projects in actuality/real life. Once again the case for certain kinds of projects (social sculpture, practice, research) not working well in a gallery context.

Incidentally we were the only people in the galleries and if you have ever been to YBCA you know how massive those spaces are–it was oddly disconcerting. Perhaps these contrasting scenarios of the lines outside Museum of Ice Cream and the emptiness of YBCA point to a particular juncture in the San Francisco cultural narrative, is there a local audience left for art exhibitions, what is the culture, is there any?

I left Yerba Buena  feeling vaguely unsatisfied but strangely, over the course of the next 24 hours my reactions stayed with me (always a good reason to explore them) and they sparked thoughts of the changing face of SF from own my perspective. Maybe I was influenced by my current reading matter, Joan Didion’s  Slouching towards Bethlehem which explores California in the 60’s and 70’s. Somehow these confluences had merged and synchronised allowing the idea for writing this to emerge.

So although I still don’t quite know what it is Future Farmers do (or are attempting to achieve), I do however thank them for planting their seeds in the dialectic between my experience of this show and my mind. I think that’s what’s called the third space and maybe that’s the point!

Until next time,


p.s. for some reason I didn’t take any photos!