Zombies are a “stigmatized group” and Oakland artist George Pfau is here to tell you about them. Pfau is one of eight artists showcasing his work at Bay Area Currents 2014, the annual exhibition hosted by Oakland’s Pro Arts Gallery. Entitled “The Disquiet,” after Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, this year’s exhibition focuses on rendered experiences of creativity and freedom that work to unsettle and disorient the viewer.

The show runs from July 8 to August 8 in Pro Arts’ downtown Oakland space, 150 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. There is also an upcoming Artists’ Talk on Friday, August 1, at 6:30 p.m. Both the talk and the exhibition itself are free and open to the public.

Work by artists Michael Berens, Benjamin De Kosnik, Angela Hennessy, Takeshi Moro, Pfau, Tamra Seal, Kate Short, and Elizabeth Sims were selected from over 200 submissions from across the Bay Area. The selections were judged by Dena Beard, Assistant Curator at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, whose stated aim was to forgo looking for currents in the Bay Area art scene in favor of “find[ing] the undercurrents—the rumbling anxieties that propel art forward.”

That objective was more than met and the results are exciting and emboldening. Of the eight artworks, three are digital videos, two are objects, two are images, and one manipulates sound.

At the Artists’ Reception on July 11, I started off by viewing Pfau’s video installation entitled, “Between I and Us,” which features Bay Area blues singer Augusta Lee Collins. Pfau creates a piece that disorients the viewer on both the visual and aural registers. In keeping with his interest in “examining thresholds,” the film is part of his artistic exploration of “the boundary between things like freedom and incarceration,” shares Pfau.

The short film comes in and out of focus and captures a white-clothed and singing figure who stands in the middle of a golden field with verdant trees in the background. The image comes in and out of focus as the man’s singing voice moves in and out of control and comprehension, sometimes making powerful sense and often making rending sound. “[M]mmm / UHHHHHHH / UHHHHHHH / UHHHHHHH,” howls the figure, “AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHIIIIIIII / AAAAAIIIIIIII… / … / I ….  I …. I ….  know you saw me / Aaaannd IIIII  have things I wanna say.”

Indeed he does. And what he sings and says makes us question our sense of him as an individual—should we fear or embrace him?—and, in turn, us as a potential collective. “There was a line between us,” he intones at the end, “There is no ‘they’ now, just us / There was a line between us / There is no ‘they’ now, just us.” Just us, yes, and just so.

These artists may be flagged here as the hidden “undercurrents,” but they are also out to change things in very palpable ways. The work and ambition of long-time Oakland artist Kate Short is one example. Short’s piece, entitled “Stasis,” is an entire black wall that uses surface transducers to transform both the inside and outside walls into speakers that emit a low frequency composition. According to the artist, the seemingly static and innocuous wall is “meant to fall into the background and not be noticed” while it startlingly experiments with sound that undulates across the wall.

Standing in front of this wall of moving sound, you will not remain unmoved. And that is part of what inspires Short.

“I look to disorient people with sound,” she explains, “I think anything that confuses the senses into not knowing how to orient themselves creates a physical and psychological space where the mind is trying really hard to locate itself to feel safe and grounded. What I’m trying to do with sound makes you suddenly outside of yourself and uncomfortable, [creating] a place where change can happen.” In this moment, describes Short, “the mind has this open and raw space [where] it can reorient and rethink how it experiences [the world].”

It is that possibility of change inside an individual and in the world that inspires Short and other artists featured here to make their work. That intention stems from a commingling spirit of activism and generosity, noted by several artists at the reception, that is vital to the vibrant Oakland arts community. Indeed, it is part of what is making Oakland into “what is fast becoming a vastly influential art scene,” according to Beard.

For Beard, Pessoa’s notion of “disquiet” also draws a connection between inner, personal and outer, social change. “He’s exploring all the multifaceted ways that we interact with ourselves,” she argues, “[conveying] the idea that the self is not such a permanent, autonomous thing. It happens in this multifarious way where we have no idea who we’re going to be from day to day. Exploring that and using art to explore that at this most elemental, foundational moment is, I think, crucial to how Oakland, as a very diverse, very interested, [and] very politically invested community, can test out ideas [that] sometimes aren’t accommodated in a social or political situation. The ways in which we can test out ideas on ourselves, in the immediate [context], is almost as radical as testing them out in the larger sphere of things.”

The fantastic thing about this exhibition, and Oakland more broadly, is that this is where artistic experiment meets political experiment. But, as “The Disquiet” so disquietingly reveals, to understand and then act on that, you’ve really got to go see it for yourself. Like these folks:

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