To San Francisco-based artist Troung Tran, tech companies are like loggers, destroying that which attracted them to the city. “A lot of these tech companies come to the Bay Area, and come to San Francisco because they think that this is a thriving place for arts and culture,” he said during a phone call last week. But that's a grand irony, he argues, because the companies are pushing the culture out. “We’re being priced out by start-up companies that are emerging from this culture, or lack of culture,” said Tran, in reference to what some call "tech culture."
The boom of Silicon Valley and influx of tech workers has made it hard for artists to afford housing and to find gallery space or studio space to create their work, he says. And when the artists go, so does the culture.
Tran posed the question: “What happens to a city when the people who really grew up, and work, and give back to the city can’t afford to live there anymore?”
Tran, a native of the South Bay, moved to SF during grad school at San Francisco State. “I didn’t move here to be an artist,” says Tran. Instead, he says that as a gay man of color, he moved to San Francisco 25 years ago looking for something he believes the majority of tech workers aren’t looking for: “I came here to find community.”
And his art has served as a way to both, give back and engage with this community.
“For me, what it means to be an artist, particularly an artist of color, in San Francisco right now, is that we’re both invisible and targeted. Simultaneously,” said Troung Tran, in a 5-minute monologue video which features his newest art project.
[vimeo 120970120 w=500 h=281]
Tran’s project, Framed Targets, is on display through the second week of April at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. The show features over 100 framed colorful creations; many of them are sculptures of bull’s-eyes which symbolize the way Tran believes people in marginalized communities in SF feel about gentrification.
He says that this all started as an experimental art project; where he was messing around with brightly colored concentric circles. The circles turned into targets in his mind. His source materials were discarded household items, such as old wooden canisters and used drawer handles. He made the bull’s-eyes bold, bright, what he calls “visually startling," transforming “junk” into art.
Along with being an artist, Tran is an educator. He works in the English department at Mills college. That’s where he met Daniel Lichtenberg, who does the video art in Tran's sculptures and worked with him during the opening event for Framed Targets.
“We took a bunch of photos, in a cheesy way, that looked like real estate agents. A friend designed a pamphlet,” Lichtenberg said as he described the performance art piece. The pamphlets used appropriated language from real real-estate ads. “It was to make fun of the absurdity of the real estate industry,” said Lichtenberg. On the night of the opening, Lichtenberg and a friend dressed as real estate agents with slicked back hair and blazers, and walked around passing out pamphlets.
Tran’s art ranges in price from $400 for the smaller pieces to $800 for the larger items. “I don’t make it to sell, I make it because I need to make it,” said Tran. He continued, “I don’t think that’s too common, because artists want to survive. I’m fortunate to say that I have another job that allows me to sustain. A lot of artists in the city don’t have that.”
As cafes, upscale shops and four-star restaurants in the Mission replace the local eateries, Tran says, “Spaces that were once spaces for artists have been taken over by the tech world.” And this is evidence of an unwelcomed change for a city that was once full of artists and culture.
“Culture has a sense of history. Take a look around you: that’s the definition of gentrification,” Tran says. “The erasure of history.”
"I write about the future (Associate Producer at @ThisIsFusion).
I write about the past (publisher of #OGToldMe).
Oakland, CA raised me."