See Tiffany Shlain’s First Solo Exhibition in San Francisco

Shlain posing with “DENDROFEMONOLOGY (feminist history tree ring),” 2022, 55-by-61-inch salvage wood sculpture (Photo by Elaine Mellis)

Although Tiffany Shlain has enjoyed multihyphenate artistic success — her films have earned an Emmy nomination and been featured at Sundance; she wrote a book on the need to spend one day a week off of computer screens, founded the Webby Awards, was a pioneer in the tech world and performed a spoken cinema show at the MoMA in New York in 2020 — she has never produced a solo art exhibit.

“I grew up in Tam Valley going to Muir Woods and spending a lot of time on Mount Tam, which I think has very much influenced the work,” Shlain says of the inspiration for that new exhibit, Human Nature, which opens this month at SHACK15 in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. “It’s about how much nature and time changes your perspective.”

She hopes the show, which incorporates film, sculpture and photography, will offer new perspectives on complex ideas. “What are we doing? Where are we in history? I want to address these bigger philosophical questions that a lot of people ask, and so I started to try to create artwork that I felt would articulate that,” she says. “A lot of the pieces are about a feminine perspective, the female gaze on history — what are the big ideas that would stand the test of time that we keep turning back to in society?” As she began work on the show in her cramped home studio during the Covid lockdowns, two fortunate events would come together to alter its ultimate direction and scale.

The first was an opportunity for a much bigger, grander space in which to work (and eventually host the show): an offer to become an artist-in-residence at the Ferry Building’s SHACK15, a dramatic coworking space with extra-large curved windows that reveal views of the bay and the ferries as they come and go. “It just shows you how much space can change your thinking,” Shlain says, who has been at the studio for the last year. “Moving into this space where I take the ferry in, it’s so filled with light, I’ve kind of fallen in love with the Bay Area again; and then I started making these bigger pieces.”

The next surprise happened when someone told staff at the National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C., about the show, especially its centerpiece — a tree-ring piece made from deodar cedar that highlights key moments in women’s history. “They saw all the work and we had a meeting and they were like, ‘We want to be involved in the whole show.’ ”

And right as she was finishing the tree-ring piece, Roe v. Wade was overturned — Shlain has made numerous films for Planned Parenthood in her career — and what should go on the last line was suddenly obvious. “Even though Roe v. Wade got overturned in the United States, I also, on the second line, say 65 countries have legalized abortion, four in the last year. Even Ireland legalized it, which is huge,” she says. “So I think going through this whole tree ring is really about the struggle of progress for women.”

Human Nature runs Nov. 2 to Dec. 15 at the Ferry Building’s SHACK15. A Nov. 2 opening reception is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and a Dec. 10 public artist tour day is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.