San Francisco ceramic artist Ilana Crispi invites you to experience the Tenderloin by sitting on it, drinking from it and eating out of it. Crispi has harvested dirt from a neighborhood park to make furniture and ceramic vessels for her installation Tenderloin Dirt Harvest: Please be seated on the ground.
“Most people I have spoken with demonstrate a visible disgust at the idea of touching the ground here, so through this installation I’m challenging people to experience a beautiful version of this neighborhood,” says Crispi.
With permission of the City, Crispi harvested dirt from Boeddeker Park, a one-acre city-owned park in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district that is undergoing a major renovation. Crispi spent months testing the quality of the dirt and creating hundreds of test pieces, discovering that at just the right temperature the Tenderloin dirt melts and becomes a self glazing clay. Some of her pieces layer porcelain with the dirt, creating a stark contrast between the valuable — porcelain was once as valuable as gold — with the grotesque and soiled.
We were attracted to Ilana’s thoughtful, yet unexpected approach to exploring and excavating the history of the Tenderloin through its dirt. Her rigorous experimentation process and the resulting ceramic pieces are a celebration of the Tenderloin, past and present.
Crispi’s finished pieces literally incorporate the history held by the dirt of Boeddeker Park, which was once a bowling alley, skating rink, ballroom and the original Alhambra Theater and the vast sand dune which lies beneath the Tenderloin. This neighborhood is remarkably different than it was 100 years ago. Today a few concrete covered parks in the neighborhood lack both green space and public benches, and are a far cry from the neighborhood where middle-class people and families used to picnic — sitting outside and eating on the ground.
“I’ve used the Tenderloin’s dirt to create a bench, as both a symbol of what once was and an invitation to come stop, sit, look, eat, drink — it’s beautiful here.”
Ilana Crispi is a San Francisco based visual artist who creates excessively crafted objects and environments using ceramics, fiber, and traditional craft along with contemporary technologies and junk materials. She teaches at San Francisco City College and Skyline College.