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East Bay Express: Artists construct a dreamed-up forest

In the interest of firm footing, let's first approach Momentum Still, a group installation now at headquarters gallery, by way of literal description. First observation: Ornately patterned rugs carpet the small, downtown Berkeley storefront studio, softening the usually hard-tiled interior. Second: A wreath of tree boughs, several feet in diameter, occupies the room's middle space, suspended from the ceiling by taut twine. The wreath itself supports a loose weave of string and wood planks, suggesting a sort of reconfigured dream catcher or rustic veil. A constellation of pinecones hangs in its midst. Third: One wall is paneled with salvaged wood planks of various shapes and sizes. The nooks between their strata contain little surprises: crystals, dried moss, 'zines, dollar bills, and so on.

The art here lies not so much in the exploration of any defined concept, but rather in the simple transformation of the space from a fairly clinical, no-frills studio into what gallery director and participating artist Lisa O'Reilly beamingly refers to as a "dreamscape forest" — or, as she pitched the project to fellow contributors Nick Lake, Sarah Person, and Travis Teel, "a magical forest of dreams." They signed on instantly.

Talking to O'Reilly, conversation has a tendency to become very lofty very quickly. A recent graduate of UC Berkeley's master's program in visual studies with a penchant for philosophy both analytical and Eastern, she tends to slip in and out of a language of New Age spirituality ("very Berkeley," she self-consciously acknowledges). In discussing Momentum Still, the Buddhist principle of dana (the practice of giving) came up, as did a light foray into existentialism and the importance of repurposed materials, but ultimately a perfectly down-to-earth, even elemental, motivation behind the exhibition emerged: "I wanted to create a super-cozy and embracing experience with old, good friends," she said, "and invite new friends to join us in a place where we could all nuzzle in for the winter."

The intimacy suggested by this statement belies the significance of the role into which headquarters gallery has risen since O'Reilly expanded it in December 2010 from a personal studio into an exhibition space. Treating it as part laboratory, part playground, and part showcase, O'Reilly has developed headquarters as a space committed to artistic rigor but also as a safe space, where artists may feel free to explore and display works that they might not venture elsewhere. In consequence, while headquarters is open to all artists, it has in particular emerged as something of a stepping-stone for recent art school graduates.

Read more at the East Bay Express