Remote Viewing with Stairwell’s

Notes from the Field

Notes from di Rosa

Remote Viewing with Stairwell’s

By Sarah Hotchkiss, Carey Lin November 13, 2014

A series in collaboration with community partners.

Notes from di Rosa is produced in conjunction with Art Practical's yearlong residency at di Rosa, in which the museum's collection serves as a focus and cornerstone for an in-depth exploration of Northern California contemporary art.

We had our stair goggles on.

We drove up from San Francisco to di Rosa on an exceedingly hot day in late September, shortly after the Napa earthquake and the same weekend a closure on Highway 37 slowed wine-tasting traffic to a walking pace. We were there in our role as co-directors of Stairwell’s, an itinerant art project that commissions new site-specific work by Bay Area artists, leads group walking tours (Field Trips) through stair-related spaces, and occasionally publishes new writing in tandem with temporary exhibitions.  We had our stair goggles on.

The di Rosa collection has a number of truly notable stair-related moments—Paul Kos’ Chartres Bleu (1989), Angelika Hoffman’s Sky Space (2000), and Judy Richardson’s Cenerentola (1988), to name a few. But instead of focusing on these works, we found ourselves drawn to the experience of roaming the di Rosa grounds and the process of discovering new works. In this way, our meandering walk closely resembled the exploratory dérives we take when formulating our Field Trips. The sculpture meadow, where pieces exist without identification, was especially mysterious. With objects suspended in space and time surrounding us, walking through the dry meadow on that day was dreamlike.

In an attempt to convey the sense of intrigue we experienced in the period between seeing a piece and learning more about it, we devised an exercise in remote viewing. We invited friend and artist Carolyn Porras(who has never been to di Rosa) to one of our studios in San Francisco in order to illustrate our five favorite works from the collection. With prepared descriptions of each piece, we read and reread the following paragraphs for fifteen minutes each while she drew. She was allowed to ask up to twenty clarifying questions in response. We answered with a yes, a no, or by rereading portions of the description.

Carolyn’s first impressions of the five pieces are completely secondhand

Because of this process, Carolyn’s first impressions of the five pieces are completely secondhand, mediated through our experiences on that afternoon in September. They demonstrate a form of storytelling and illustration, a twist on the Surrealist game of exquisite corpse. We sat across the room from Carolyn so as to not contaminate our descriptions or influence her drawings with our facial expressions. What follows are five blind drawing exercises and the illustrated results of our session with Carolyn. Feel free to engage in your own remote-viewing experiment by reading our descriptions aloud to someone else.

At the end of the exercise, we staged a reveal: Photographs of the artwork met the illustrations to a chorus of “whoas” and “oh wows.” In some cases, the resemblance was uncanny. In others, the illustration represented a general impression of the piece, if not its precise number of chain-link lengths. We accept these inefficacies: Again and again, we failed in our attempts to fully convey the image in front of us to a person across the room. Words are no replacement for the primacy of viewing art in person, but in a convoluted way, we achieved some measure of success in capturing the pleasure of discovery and interpretation through this collaboration.

Gordon Huether, Di Rosa Pyramid (1997)
120 x 120 x 120 in.
Steel, dichroic glass with “INNER-LITE” panels, crushed glass

At the edge of a field of grass, a shiny temple captures your attention. A large circle on the ground surrounds it, outlined by a curved strip of thin wood. The circle was once complete, but one section was lost or removed, so now about one fifth of the protective ring is missing. Mostly contained within the circle is an even distribution of polished bits of greenish-blue crushed glass. The glass is somewhat opaque from its polishing. Grass, dirt, and weeds poke through the glass, especially near the edges of the circle.

The temple is a four-sided glass pyramid at the circle’s center. The pyramid is reinforced with steel strips on its edges. (Imagine using metallic tape to connect four equal-sized triangles of paper.) The triangular panes are covered with graphic shapes and grid-like designs. They recall the abstracted facades of Art Deco-era skyscrapers with accents of teal, lime, and pink. One of the glass panes has small sections of wire mesh on the sides so air can enter the pyramid. Centered within the pyramid is a medium-sized brown boulder. Colored rectangular shapes project onto the boulder when the sunlight hits the pyramid just right.

Carolyn Porras. Di Rosa Pyramid, 2014; ink on paper, 9 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jim Melchert, Children’s Wall #1 (1983)
49 x 96 in.
Glazed ceramic

Picture a horizontally oriented rectangle, eleven tiles tall and twenty-two wide. The tiles are white squares, most of them are painted with a different graphic image (though precisely forty-six are blank). Using brown, green, blue, yellow, indigo, red, pink, gray, and black, you’ll decorate the squares with simple symbols. They form a language of sorts.

One element of that language is a solid circle of color. One element is an X. One is a black square that outlines the tile itself. One is a spiral, extending out from the center of the tile to all four edges, just like a hypnotist’s device in an old stage show. Then there is a flag-like tile from one corner to another, dividing the tile into two equal fields of color. There are a few line drawings: vertical brush strokes in black, two actual letters from the Roman alphabet and a parade of squiggles resembling either flowers or fur balls. And finally there are animal-cracker-like blobs. They could be Rorschach tests or amoebas. They exist in every color.

The symbols form small groups. A gathering of X tiles occupies two rows in the upper left quadrant. Below them are three lowercase A’s and three lower-case I’s. To the right of the X posse is a three-by-three grid of the black-outline squares. And to the right of that grid is chaos: an equal smattering of solid circles, vertical brushstrokes, red X tiles, and a few blank squares. A long strip of flags starts against the top left edge of the rectangle, travels down, and then runs across the width of the rectangle. Below the flags, a woozy cluster of spirals forms its own rectangular zone, a zone bordered by circles of color. To the right of the spirals, the animal cracker circus is corralled by the flags above and a second horizontal line of flags below. Lining the bottom edge of the entire piece, the flowery fur balls gather in ones, twos, and threes like roving tumbleweeds.

Carolyn Porras. Children’s Wall #1, 2014; ink on paper, 9 x 12 inches.  Courtesy of the Artist.

Gay Outlaw, Expanded Cloud Study (For Arthur) (2001)
40 x 61 x 7 in.
MDF, wooden dowels, rubber, wire, latex

Draw a large rectangle that is wider than it is tall (roughly a 3:2 ratio). The rectangle is covered in a coat of matte deep royal blue. Mounted upon this blue field are diagonally oriented clusters of short, thin cylinder shapes—short royal-blue dowels with white ends—that look similar to bundled sticks of chalk. These clusters, each containing roughly fifty to seventy-five individual “chalk sticks,” are slightly staggered in height and are positioned at 45 degrees with their top white edges visible.

The clusters vary in size, and the white tips blend to resemble bunches of clouds. Like clouds, the shapes recall the abstracted form of familiar objects. Some look like clapping hands. Some are shaped like a latex Mickey Mouse balloon. Some just look like blobby footsteps. There are about twenty discrete clusters spaced out across the blue surface. Due to their angle and the lighting of the piece from above, the nebulous shapes cast a shadow below and to the left of themselves.

Carolyn Porras. Expanded Cloud Study (For Arthur), 2014; ink on paper, 9 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.

John Roloff, Oculus: Emerson/Beebe (Sonomia) (1998)
120 x 96 x 96 in.
Steel, glass, water, misting system

Draw a circle. Centered within it, draw another circle about half its size. And again, draw a third circle half that. The third circle is a hole, a view into the inside of a glass sphere. The sphere’s framework is thin metal and resembles the lines of a globe: latitude and longitude. The sphere sits off the ground on six legs that connect it to a cement donut of equal diameter below. The entire structure is dappled in the light that passes through the oak trees above it. Some of those trees’ leaves rest on the sphere’s surface, where dust and dirt cloud the glass inside and out.

It resembles a space pod, a retired biosphere, or a grounded satellite of some sort. Maybe it’s preserved in this shady grove so we can ponder the purpose it once filled. Or maybe it never took off. It sits waiting for Houston’s countdown. Inside the sphere, what looks like misters from an outdoor restaurant in a tropical climate form an arc of little nozzles. The sphere’s drainage system is covered in leaves, prompting one to wonder if this a symptom of the current drought, or a shutoff that happened long ago?

Carolyn Porras. Oculus: Emerson/Beebe, 2014; ink on paper, 9 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.

Robert Hudson, True Blue (1970)
80 x 49 x 176 in.

Imagine you’re walking down a concrete beach boardwalk, approaching a playground for bodybuilders. Without people on the equipment, you have a hard time understanding how the metal frameworks, weights, and pulleys really work. Without people, they become abstract sculptures.

This sculpture isn’t from Muscle Beach but looks like a distant cousin of that clan. The sculpture is made of thick but hollow metal tubing. The primary component is a horizontal gunmetal-gray tube with two ends: one that resembles the negative space of a horse trailer’s wheel well and one much less complicated shape, a small square piece of metal parallel to the ground. Both ends sit on large casters. The surface of the inverse wheel well is covered in dangling bits of heavy-duty chain links. The gray tubing resembles a rectangular frame with round corners, like a soccer goal sans net.

The secondary component, resting on the right side of the primary component, is a seafoam green shape of slightly thinner doubled metal tubing that forms an obtuse L shape (two clock hands at precisely 2:52). Both ends of the L loop in coils like the hinge of a safety pin, or the spring of a hand strengthener the bodybuilder uses at home. The secondary component references a reclining figure, resting on a small seat just above the square end of the frame, poised for a set of crunches.

Carolyn Porras. True Blue, 2014; ink on paper, 9 x 12 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.


  1. Carolyn Porras is a Florida native who recently migrated west to San Francisco to make art and coffee. Current art projects can be viewed at

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