On March 28, artist Amy Ho presented the next Artists Drawing Club to investigate the museum’s architecture from its history starting as San Francisco’s public library to its transformation into the Asian Art Museum. The session, titled “Between” looks at the between space in the museum whether it is space between the old and new architecture or between light and dark of collection galleries. Structured as a non-traditional museum tour, participants explored the museum’s architecture looking for shadows, spaces, and sounds and came together to discuss their findings and assemble a collaborative map of the building.
In preparation for the session Amy and I discussed how this project came about, how it relates to her artwork and areas of interest, and how she hopes to engage museum visitors through this event.
-Marc Mayer, Educator for Public Programs
Marc Mayer: I was really excited about your Artists Drawing Club session because of your work and interest in space. The architecture of the Asian Art Museum is something intrigues and perplexes me. I am curious what about space of the museum that drew your interest.
Amy Ho: Last year, I was able to take an architectural tour of the museum as part of Imin Yeh’s SpaceBi project. Since then, I’ve been attracted to the museum’s transformation from a public library to an Asian art museum. It is interesting to walk through the space and take note of how certain parts of the library have been preserved while other parts have been adapted to accommodate the current use of the building. The combination of the new and the old architecture also creates an interesting backdrop for the exhibition of the artwork. In touring the museum, I keyed in on certain interesting facts about the buildings construction, but I’m also fascinated by the architectural elements of the museum that were supposed to be invisible or ignored. Since the architectural tour, I’ve returned to the museum several times to look at the in between elements of the museum. I’ve been paying attention to the way certain walls or rooms were constructed or ways lighting is controlled. All of these elements choreograph our experience of the museum but we are inclined to ignore them and take them for granted.
MM: What elements of the building intrigue you or stand out in your mind?
AH:There are a lot of elements of the building that stand out to me every time I visit the museum. In the atrium downstairs, I am amazed by the way sound echoes. You not only hear the sounds of the people talking and moving about, but also the sounds of the building. The sound of the air being pushed through the atrium and other background mechanical noises are all amplified by the space. If you step from the atrium into any of the exhibition spaces downstairs or the museum store, the sound suddenly becomes muffled and muted. All conversations become whispers and the soft sounds of people shuffling through the room become apparent.
MM: Considering sense perception, what elements help define space for you?
AH: I find that our understanding of space is very much determined by light. We interpret the environment around us through light. A brightly lit room in the daytime and a dimly lit room at night can feel like entirely different places. Light allows us to determine dimensionality and perspective, for example a space can feel claustrophobically small or infinitely huge, but many times that sense is shaped by how it is lit. I am fascinated by how our sensory experiences affect our emotional experiences and how we can assign particular moods to different physical spaces. Our sensory experiences of light and space seem like they should be objective observations, but they are inevitably tinted by our consciousness and psychology.
MM: Your installations seem to demand a certain openness or presence. How do you want your work to impact viewers?
AH: I hope that my work brings attention to the immediate environment around us and to experience itself. In daily life, we often forget to stop and experience the world around us. It has become even easier in contemporary times to ignore the physical environment by withdrawing into the digital world of smartphones and computers. In my work, I distill certain elements and present environments that focus on particular sensory experiences. I hope that by focusing on and exaggerating certain physical aspects, that the viewer will have a bodily and mental experience of the space around them. Certain fields of science and philosophy have focused on trying to explain how concrete elements can combine to create consciousness. Although humanity may be moving toward a better understanding of neurology, I believe that subjectivity and the sanctity of every single person’s experience can never be explained through objective terms. I believe that we can only understand consciousness by examining and embracing it though experience.
MM: What are you planning for the Artists Drawing Club on March 28? What do you hope that participants will get out of the experience?
AH: For this Artists Drawing Club session on March 28th, I aim to engage the participants to create a collective and collaborative “map” of the museum by exploring the “between spaces” of museum that might be defined by sound and light, but more so by each person’s observations and experiences. I am excited to see how others consider, define, and understand space. As group I wonder if this exercise will allow us to look at the museum differently and to appreciate the various elements that contribute to the overall experience visiting the museum.
On a larger scale, I would love to see the heightened perception practiced during the event transferred to life outside of the museum. In our busy daily routines, we often don’t take the effort to experience the physical world around us. If we can dedicate a few moments each day to just feel the spaces around us, I think we can lead more enriched and centered lives.