San Francisco Chronicle

‘Light repair’ makes for illuminati­ng debut

- Tony Bravo’s column appears Mondays in Datebook. Email: tbravo@sfchronicl­ Twitter: @TonyBravoS­F

When I learned that artist and electricia­n Rico Duenas would be hosting a lamp repair shop in the garage of the David Ireland House as part of his first solo exhibition, “Light Repair,” I was intrigued.

Not so long ago, the Mission District was filled with repair shops, and before the late artist Ireland purchased the house at 500 Capp St. in 1975, the building had been an accordion workshop. I also had a lamp whose wires had been fried. So in an art-going first, I wrapped the lamp in tissue and headed to the show.

The artist, director Cait Molloy and curator Lian Ladia welcomed me into the garage, where a workbench and tools have been set up for the duration of Duenas’ show. His Saturday repair hours at the garage have been popular in the neighborho­od: For free, Duenas will fix your lamp while you tour the house and exhibition, an experience unique among arts institutio­ns at present.

Duenas, 33, is a San Francisco native and member of Local 6 of the Internatio­nal Brotherhoo­d of Electrical Workers. Soon after meeting, we were trading stories about our love of salvage yards and flea markets and how we can’t resist checking what’s left on the curb ahead of a big trash pickup day. After he rewired my lamp, we ventured inside the house.

For those who have yet to visit the 5year-old house-museum, it’s an extraordin­ary tribute to the unique visions of Ireland, an artist who found beauty in everyday objects and materials. That seeking and creating of beauty extended to his residence, which visitors can now tour, admission-free, and see the rooms that were Ireland’s definitive canvas. Ireland’s ability to see and transform common items into works of sculpture, painting and installati­on art feel like a perfect complement to Duenas’ own creative practice.

At first, it was difficult determinin­g which works of lighting were Duenas’ additions to the rooms and which were by Ireland himself. Several of Duenas’ lighting sculptures are made from salvaged brass sheeting, reclaimed pipe and transforme­d metal hardware, all materials very much in the Ireland lexicon. In a secondstor­y parlor, a floor lamp extends its arms over two of the house’s low, leather chairs, their round, coppery shapes in conversati­ons with the worn brown seating beneath them.

In the same room, another floor lamp is activated by the electricit­y in your body when you touch it. On a table, a block of wood, rectangula­r piece of sheet metal and twist of wire comprise another lighting installati­on, echoing a nearby hanging sculpture of Ireland’s.

Almost every space in the house shows some sign of Duenas’ interventi­on, from the first-floor dining room to the attic, and even a crawl space in the house that’s been illuminate­d. It’s a great tour in the daytime, but Molloy says the installati­on, not surprising­ly, shows new dimensions when seen at night. In a house where art and creativity extend even to the most unexpected corners, the addition of Duenas’ objects add an additional element of discovery, while still very much engaging with the house and Ireland’s unique legacies.

When we completed our tour, I asked Duenas what’s next for him after the show closes. His job as an electricia­n keeps him busy, as does his ongoing search for materials for new projects. But given his skilled and creative repurposin­g of objects, he has his eye set on one day being selected for the Recology Artist-in-Residence program, an opportunit­y where he would not want for materials to transform.

I told Duenas that if he’s selected, I’ll be visiting him at Recology. After seeing what he’s done at the David Ireland House, I look forward to seeing what he could make if let loose among all the materials available in the city dump. One person’s trash is another person’s art installati­on.

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