Features & Columns

ZERO1 Biennial Garage

ZERO1's ground zero is located in a converted garage in the SoFA District.
ZERO1 Biennial Garage

During the ZERO1 Biennial, a brand-new facility, the ZERO1 Garage, will function as the metaphorical server room for an entire distributed network of interconnected events throughout the Bay Area.

Located in the former Earl Scheib auto body shop on South First Street, the building is still an actual garage—that's not a metaphor—but all structural work has been completed, the building is legal and the space will house the main Biennial exhibition, the visitors' center, a lounge and eventually the main offices of ZERO1.

In one sense, the space calls attention to the role garages have played in Silicon Valley history, while at the same time anticipating the future of right-brain, left-brain collaboration.

Inside the Garage, 24 artists representing 11 different countries will participate in the main exhibition during the Biennial.

Thanks to San Francisco–based architect Chris Haas, the exhibition space will eschew traditional cubicle-style partitions of solid white. Right angles were not even considered. Instead, the backdrops are made of fluid, translucent polypropylene material suspended from the beams above, curving through the space like a fishnet and allowing each visitor to see all of the artworks at the same time.

Dialogue and interaction will take priority. One doesn't have to walk through a maze of cordoned-off, boxlike areas to see the entire show. Everything is open and transparent. The curved hanging walls flow through the space like a smooth, graceful stream, a natural antithesis to the rectangular structure.

Instead of cubicles that isolate each section of an exhibit, one sees unexpected nooks and folds, broad vistas and revealing sight lines to the other works of art in the show. In that regard, the exhibit design exemplifies the Biennial's theme of "Seeking Silicon Valley" just as the art itself does.

"This is a nonclassical display," says Haas. "We don't want this to be a white-walled gallery space. You want it to be breathing and active. The whole space floats."

After the Biennial concludes, the ZERO1 Garage will function as an interdisciplinary think tank of sorts. There will be studio spaces for artist/industry collaborations, lectures, meetings and other activities.

For example, two specific artist fellowships—one sponsored by Google and the other by Adobe—will eventually use the space. All in all, explains ZERO1 executive director Joel Slayton, the aim is to explore how radical artistic experimentation can help reimagine Silicon Valley and even help businesses innovate.

"The mission is to use the lens of the arts to look at complex, driving innovation challenges that society faces and to look at new creative strategies to deal with those," says Slayton. "The fellowships are really ZERO1 brokering relationships between industry and the arts—and the public sector and cultural institutions and research centers in the arts—and creating the platform where that type of experimentation can take place."

In that sense, Slayton envisions the ZERO1 Garage to be that which connects, that which finally brings the muse to the business plan. Until now, artists have generally been absent from the innovation process that takes place at all levels in business, whether it's product development or just business culture in general. That needs to change, and no other place is better situated to provide a backdrop for such a radical approach than Silicon Valley.

If you're a C-level executive, this is not a bunch of artists trying to tell you how to run your business—well, maybe it is—but, rather, it's people with experience in contextualizing creativity, contextualizing experimentation and explaining how it can help you innovate. The creative types are not just a "division" in your company; they need to be a part of the process, from bottom to top. According to Slayton, the reaction to this vision has been extremely encouraging.

"Everybody gets it," he says. "Companies, foundations, individuals—when we explain it to them, they all say, 'Yeah, that makes sense.' At this moment in time, in this part of the world, that's the purpose of the ZERO1 Garage, but we need to show them the return on their investment."