In the distance there were fires, too many to count, But when you looked north from the Paradise House in Tiburon, Califorinia, for what felt like months, you saw smoke coming from an entire arc of Northern California; grey some days, yellow on others. And some days you couldn't see the bridge only miles away, and sometimes it was so hazy and almost red it felt like the world was ending just in your view. The house itself feels like a relic, alive at times but also from another era, probably not an era where everyone looked north to see the world on fire. During the pandemic it acted as a safe haven from the uncertain chaos of disease, and yet it was the bleacher seating for another kind of natural destruction. It's house of dichotomies. 

The basis of the show, Gallery Gertrude's inaugural exhibition We Swam as Though the World Weren’t Ending overlooking the San Francisco Bay came from those days of looking over Northern California in a mixture of tranquilty and chaos. There is a pool, of course, and in that pool you could angle yourself to see a literal paradise and, of course, you could position your body to see the distant smoke on the once blue sky. 

The exhibtion features a selection of artists that balance this idea of bliss and loss, this feeling of being on the precipice of a major thing and also a quiet sense of place and space. Alicia McCarthy, Bhasha Chakrabarti, Brian Calvin, Carissa Potter Carlson, Drew Bennett, Heather Day, Hiba Schahbaz, Jean Jullien, Jean Nagai, Katja Farin, Kristin Farr, Monica Hernandez, Sarah Nsikak and Patricia Iglesias Peco make up We Swam as Though the World Weren’t Ending, featuring an essay by acclaimed author Nina LaCour, that sets a narrative and yet almost freeing sense of what it is to live so close to a natural world in peril. That this house is the centerpiece is also part of that California dream, a one of modern homes that overlook vast terrains of mountains or water, the type of home that is etched into what the experiences of being at the edge of the Pacific was supposed to mean. Of course, California is about that sense of beauty and the beast, an earthquake and a Golden Gate, a wildfire and a Redwood. Maybe we have always jsut been swimming here as the world was ending. —Evan Pricco

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