Sharon Grace : Back to the Future
July 4th, 2021
Sharon Grace, leaving grad studios on 3rd Street, San Francisco
"That's where Kamala Harris lives. She going to be president any minute" said Sharon nodding to Madame Vice President's—then California Senator’s—SOMA condo. Looking back on my years as Sharon Grace's amanuensis/teaching assistant, I was always struck by how much she lived in The Future and seemed largely inconvenienced by present reality. She couldn't wait for the future to come and did her best to make it happen.
Anyone who met her remembers her as an extremely eccentric character. Sunglasses after dark (even in movie theaters) was just one of the quirks that everyone came to expect from her. She was also the first and last person I've met to have a business card upon which was written simply “Artist".
Sharon Grace, c. 1970, with her Sony CV Porta Pack. Courtesy of the artist.
Our first encounter was some 40 years ago when she came in as a substitute/guest in David Ross' History class at the Performance/Video Department—later renamed the New Genres, but forever in my heart and on my two SFAI diplomas as P/V. She had a projector and had rented a number of early Surrealist and Dada films, which I had been reveling in since my teens. These were foundational works of avant garde cinema. I was thrilled. But she had forgotten one small detail: she had no projectionist. So, I got to ride in and save the day. As I said, she was much more invested in The Future than the servo-mechanical past.
Nam June Paik’s class at CAL Arts was her first introduction to video. Afterwards, she followed Paik and his crew back to NYC to assist and learn at the elbow of that pioneer. Back in California, Sharon would then go on to work vigorously with other artists. She worked with Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway on Satellite pieces dealing with telepresence images and movement—such as “SEND/RECEIVE”. They operated with locales as far away as New York, Santa Monica and Stanford—where a mutual infatuation developed between Sharon and Koko the "Talking Gorilla" (who appears in some of her pieces). All this while interfacing with museums, schools and occasionally NASA.
NYC Uplink Site: September 11, 1977. Photograph by Keith Sonnier.
Courtesy of the artist
For years in the Eighties, Sharon set aside a few days of her class to have long distance “Slow-scan” video sessions with other schools, some as close by as SF State. I always made a point of attending these classes. This long- gone technology sent images over phone lines and alligator clips at 8 frames per minute! It unfurled at a pace that could only be called glacial, but at the time seemed miraculous. One of our collaborators on these sessions was the conceptual artist Robin Winters, who was at Cal Arts. Winters was known for creating solo exhibitions containing interactive durational performance. This technology was a progenitor of the internet—upon which you are reading this. Those long-ago afternoon classes made everyone present that much closer to our imminently engulfing technological Future.
Issue No. 11 of Mondo 2000 (1993) covering hip, techno, pop, film, and whatever else was cutting edge.
With R. U. Sirius on Cintra Wilson, David Turin on Iggy Pop and Hans Moravec, Dave Demaris on Sandy Stone, Sharon Grace on Arthur Kroker, Paul McEnerny on Paul Morrison, Rudy Rucker, VR Arcades, Wes Thomas on Mark Dippe, Chris Hudak, and more. 128 pages.
On and off over the years, I have been in contact with Sharon, and the content of our contact was always The Future. At The Kitchen performance space in NYC, I had the privilege to read her the article reviewing her "Millennial Venus" video installation at 1990's Cyberthon. In the Village Voice article, Brian Eno imparted that he "never felt more vulnerable in the presence of a work of art". Appropriately at that time, she also was an editor of the Proto- Cyber magazine, Mondo 2000. And of course, in 1997 when I started my think tank/book club investigating BioTechnology, C.A.L.F., she was right there, a charter member, appearing on several of our panels.
“Millenium Venus,” 1990. Interactive laserdisc installation.
Courtesy of the artist.
Retired now, Sharon’s Paik/Abe video synthesizer (a version of which is presently displayed in the Paik retrospective at SF MOMA) was acquired by The Nam June Paik Art Center in Seoul, North Korea. She has accumulated many a past and present honor, including Professor Emeritus at SFAI, former chair of the New Genres Department, and—as I recently unearthed researching another project—being #2 on the late Jim Elliot's speed dial. She also has casually referred to herself as the director of the SFAI Department of Robotics much to the bewilderment of the Institute.
We still speak occasionally now—more world-weary fragments of resignment to the future, small “f” than any deep utopic anticipation. As for that future, we both agree with Fats Waller - "One never knows, do one?”.
Sharon Grace's last day of teaching.
Dale Hoyt has been making, curating and writing about Film,Video and other contemporary art for 45 years. He has shown globally, starting at age twenty-one, and his work is now in numerous private and museum collections, including MOMA New York and The Getty in Los Angeles. He has taught at every major art school in the San Francisco Bay Area and is currently looking for work.