Recent Acquisitions: Abstract Revelry at the Zoo

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Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds each week.

At the San Francisco Zoo, a building that has not been used in over 40 years has just opened to the public, but what's inside has no precedent at all.

The first of its kind at the zoo, Kingdom Animalia: An Abstract Revelry is an 8-minute film by San Francisco based artist Henry Jackson. Through vivid impressions set to a receptive score, the film seamlessly moves through the changing seasons. The zoo is physically located near the beach, far away from extreme changes in weather, which shields us from observing how the animals instinctively adapt to snow on the ground or sweltering heat.

Jackson spent over two years at the zoo, watching the animals from a distance as they went about their business, considering how they spent their days. He consulted with staff members, including zookeepers and curators, who generously shared their time and expertise. The resulting film is mesmerizing, full of tension and wonder, felt perhaps most as the dreamlike peacock flutters away until finally, and fully, extending its feathers triumphantly.

"Painting is a solitary endeavor," Jackson explained, "Film is a collaborative process with a lot of moving parts. My vision was to fuse the two together resulting in a metaphysical fantasy of animal behavior and their ever changing environments."

Truth be told, if it were not for the smell, one might forget they were at the zoo at all: Jackson's video and sound art installation would not seem out of place at SFMOMA.

Jackson, who was an artist-in-residence at the de Young, has exhibited his oil paintings around the world, but had previously appreciated film from a distance. He credits the support of executive director Tanya M. Peterson and the Bernard Osher Foundation for enabling him to explore computer and video technology in the zoo. Jackson embraced the new medium while incorporating his known style as a painter, full of expression and abstract figuration. 

Of course, there was the issue of where to put the installation once it was finished. The zoo lacked an infrastructure to place it in, so Peterson and Jackson lit out on foot, exploring unused buildings on the property. On one such walk, Jackson spotted the Pachyderm building. Closed to the public, it was in dire need of "beautification," a sentiment that was included in Jackson's proposal for funding.

Kingdom Animalia is now on view in the newly renovated Pachyderm building. This is just the beginning of an exciting time at the zoo, as it seeks to repurpose underutilized areas with an eye towards engaging the local arts community, ultimately fostering new relationships and audiences. Jackson's film marks the first Artist in Residency Project commissioned by the zoo, a sign of great things to come.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.

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