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January 11, 2008 - February 23, 2008

Southern Exposure (SoEx) presents concurrent solo exhibitions and public projects by four Bay Area based artists: Chris Bell, Elaine Buckholtz, Bruce Tomb, and Jenifer Wofford.

Bruce Tomb’s (de)Appropriation Project Archive is a web-based and public art project. The website,, focuses on 10 years of photographic documentation of the former Valencia Street police station, and the now prominently visible Valencia Street ‘art wall’ located between 23rd and 24th Streets. All images on the site have been archived, dated, meta-tagged, and sorted into a navigable interface. Tomb, an architect, furniture designer, artist, and owner of the Valencia Street building condones the wheat pasting and graffiti, though is insistent the wall belongs to those who use it, not him.

As part of Tomb's project there will be a Public Meeting to discuss the wall and its place in the urban environment. We invite you to download the questionnaire attachement (in right hand column) and attend the meeting at Southern Exposure on Wednesday, January 30 at 6:30pm.


essay about Bruce Tomb
by Jordan Geiger

Around ten years ago, Bruce Tomb made a decision to stop cleaning the graffiti and postings that kept appearing on a wall. Instead, he let it accumulate and began to photograph what resulted over time.

Of course this wasn’t just any wall; it was the exterior façade of a former police station at 1240 Valencia Street, a building that now serves as his home and studio for his practice as an architect, designer, furniture maker and artist. And the photos didn’t just sit in a box. Eventually, they got exhaustively archived, dated, meta-tagged, and sorted into a navigable web-based interface.

These are the facts – this was the beginning of what has grown to become the (de)Appropriation Project Archive, the work being featured here but in no way physically present. And while these facts are simple enough, the results are immediately less clear. For instance, is this an artwork, a documentation, or a reality show? Whatever it is, can we call it a collaboration, a solo work, or is it authorless? And how do we classify it by form: performance piece, mural, painting, sculpture or search engine? The questions go on and on. No definitive answers appear, but ultimately, they give way to an image of the city and of urban life, of free speech, and also of a world that is hybridized now in its physical-electronic lives.

Tomb himself is decidedly unhelpful with these questions, preferring to claim nothing- hence the work’s title (one title of many of course, as it cannot seem to be defined even by name). As an architect, he has said, he has plenty of opportunities to exert his ego, to determine the shape of things, to make rules and to claim authorship. With the wall and its archive, he frees himself of all that. The rules are few: no Scotch tape or staples. The process behind the project is one Tomb calls “directed indeterminacy,” instigating something that takes on a life of its own. In this context, he describes himself as a “custodian.” But that plays down his discursive gesture, in which he makes use of architecture like a ventriloquist, displacing our sense of things, our voice, our perception of subjects.

One of the names sometimes given for the archive is an “archeographic collage,” a surface with infinite depth in space, one that we assemble and constantly re-assemble. Cities are like that: repositories of memories, networks of associations, but tumultuously, relentlessly reinventing and realigning themselves like hurried synapses. The architectures of cities calcify some moments in this process, but never for long, and never in isolation of others. No matter how exuberant, architecture is always humbled by its performance, and by its performers. This becomes even more apparent when we try to place that performance – whether inside the box of a gallery or in a definition of some sort. The gallery never sufficiently houses it. Put the street’s life inside, and architecture shows its deficiencies. Architecture has agency of its own, it’s opportunistic, it will try to speak, just like you and me, maybe for you and me. But it needs us to exist.

This text aspires to contextualize and orient a gallery visitor to Bruce Tomb’s (de)Appropriation Project Archive, but it will fail to do so for several reasons- the same reasons that make the work so compelling. With the project and its archive, Tomb’s simple acts catalyze a complex relationship between himself, unknown contributors, and the architectural and urban boundaries in which they operate. There’s nothing left to say, but lots to ask.