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Sculpture mixes surplus office furniture with biodiesel grease


In addition to all the working people put out on the curb by the Internet economy, there is a lot of working furniture. A startup will burn through its funding and shut down. All those ergonomic chairs and wipe boards have to be be offloaded, and standing by is Patricia L. Boyd.

But Boyd is a sculptor, not a scavenger.

“My work has to do with cycles of boom and bust,” Boyd says shortly after arriving from her Hoboken, N.J., studio to oversee installation of her latest work at California College of the Arts’ Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco. “It’s the way that things become extremely disposable in an economy that is continually trying to reinvent new value.”

Shopping the online liquidation sales, Boyd picked up a desk chair and an office DJ’s turntable and cast them in a mold made from hardened restaurant grease. This rumination on the recycling culture is now embedded in a sheet rock wall as a centerpiece of “Mechanisms,” a group show that explores the relationship between artists and infrastructure.

The free exhibition opens Thursday, Oct. 12.

At 10,000 square feet of exhibition space, “Mechanism” is the largest show since the Wattis opened in 1998. The show features 20 artists working in sculpture, photography, video and painting, between 1949 and 2017.

One of seven commissions for “Mechanisms,” Boyd’s as-of-yet unnamed art, is a site-specific installation. It involves cutting holes in the wall and fitting her castings into it as if they are part of the structure. The wall is temporary, which suits her motif.


A Londoner, the 37-year-old Boyd moved to San Francisco four years ago to practice her art. She didn’t last long before doubling back to the East Coast, but she was in the Bay Area long enough to witness the constant churn of people and materials.

Discarded office furniture is not the material for her art. The grease is the art. By mixing it with wax, Boyd created a malleable fabric. Then she made impression molds of parts of the chair and the turntable.

These impression molds, colored brown by bits of meat in the grease mix, are what visitors to the Wattis will see. The office chair and turntable are once again out of work.

“What that specifically says is a question that the piece is asking,” she says.

Sam Whiting is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: swhiting@sfchronicle.com


“Mechanisms”: Noon-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; noon-5 p.m. Saturday. Through Feb. 24. Free. California College of the Arts Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 360 Kansas St., S.F. (415) 355-9673. www.wattis.org



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