Archive for 'Behind the Scenes'

Crossing Threshold: A Dance with Perception

Teresa Williams, public programs intern at the Asian Art Museum, interviews artist Sanaz Mazinani about her recently exhibited work “Threshold”.

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

The soft murmurs of conversation faded as the dancer entered the space. After drawing the attention of her audience, Bobbi Jene Smith began to dance. Complementing and reflecting the dancer’s movements, Threshold, an exhibition alive with
moving mosaic images and reflective surfaces, was the perfect partner.  Bobbi’s dramatic gestures and movements captivated those watching. When she was done, the dancer slowly walked out of the space.

Visitors were only speechless for a moment.  After which, they burst into applause and conversation. As the conversation about the dance and the exhibition started to grow, Sanaz Mazinani, artist and creator of the exhibition Threshold, happily moved amongst the audience, engaging visitors and answering questions about her work.

Both before and after the Artist Drawing Club  program, I had the opportunity to speak with Sanaz Mazinani about her exhibition, her fascination with explosions and how her work challenges our perceptions of the world.  Excerpts from our discussion are below:

Much of your work critiques the perception of photographic images as “truth,” and the interpretation of a photograph as a reliable account of an event. In Site, Sight, and Insight, I am interested in the strategies you use to make work that provokes viewers into considering how they read and interpret photographic images? 

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Photo: Qunicy Stamper 2015

Site, Sight, and Insight is an ongoing project where I use different techniques to express the limitations of the photographic medium. For example, I created a lenticular work that uses three photographic stills   of a beam of light. As the viewers moves past the framed photograph on the wall the beam of light moves with them. Another work shows two identical images of a pine tree, except that they are completely different shades of green, a shift as a result of the white-balance setting on a digital camera. Both pieces focus on the significance of light as a function of recording photographic images. For me, it is always important to think about the incredible transformation that a subject goes through in order to become a photograph. What are the effects of photographic representation and perception? How much of what we know about historical moments, or far off locations, are derived from the photographic representations that are widely circulated?

Your work often features images of explosions. What draws you to these images?

In practicing conceptual and documentary strategies side-by-side, I hope to investigate the context in which meaning is negotiated. By re-presenting the image of an explosion as a metaphor, I hope to discuss the symbolic value contained in media images in general. The explosion’s ability to obfuscate becomes a metaphor for my concerns with politics, a symbol for the veils of deception that simultaneously obscure and complicate reality.

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

An explosion is a rapid increase in volume with a simultaneous release of energy. The symbolic likeness of an explosion stands in for an act of violence, but also for depictions of power that are sublime and awe-inspiring. We are surrounded by a culture of fetishism of weapons. The explosion is a compelling form made from a high-intensity chemical reaction. It is simultaneously magnificent and consuming, a sublime entity to be feared and admired

Through reference, repetition and representation, I examine the transformation of a momentary point in time into the two-dimensional surface of a photograph. Identifying auto-critique as an important tool, my work focuses on how translation through photography informs our relationship to war.

Threshold marks a new direction in your work. In the past most of your works have been photo-collages utilizing found images from a variety of sources, yet with Threshold, you chose to use video clips, specifically action sequences from recent Hollywood movies. What was it like to work with this material? How would you describe its effect? 

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

I have been collecting video clips from news broadcasts and citizen journalists for five years now. I’ve amassed a collection of footage that deals specifically with explosions and bombings taking place in the Middle East that range from American soldiers blowing things up to the recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza. However, this footage just seemed too raw and overwhelmingly disturbing to use, so I opted to take a step back and work with a more sterilized version of violence. The footage culled for Threshold is from a database of Hollywood movies that I have watched, such as G.I. Joe and The Avengers. I am captivated by the incredible draw that I feel towards the power of an explosion, which in turn leads me to think about the militarization of our imagination and culture.

 

How do you want visitors to engage with Threshold? Have you witnessed any ways people interact with the work?

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

I aimed to create a space where visitors could perhaps see themselves in a slightly different way than how they might see themselves reflected in a mirror. The video and sound component of the installation adds another layer and sets the tone for that personal interaction with the mirrored surfaces. I really love watching everyone interact with the work. My favorite is when visitors use the sculptural form to see themselves while they see through to the other side. This becomes especially poignant for me when visitors are interacting with friends and see themselves and another person simultaneously, so that the normal model of perception from one’s singular point of view is challenged.

For the Artist Drawing Club, for your exhibition Threshold, you wanted to invite dancer and choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith to experience, interpret, and respond to your work. This collaboration and performance you two titled Crossing Threshold. Can you tell us why you chose to work with Bobbi?

Bobbi is incredibly talented and has danced with the internationally acclaimed Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv since 2006. The first time that I saw her move and create was through documentation of a performance she choreographed titled “Arrowed.” Her performance digs deep into the human psyche and draws from a dark, existential place that we might all relate to, but may choose to ignore. Once I saw the performance I knew that I had to work with Bobbi, and that is when I asked her if she would be interested in collaborating with me. What was amazing about working with Bobbi was that we never really discussed the details, but had long and in-depth conversations about politics, human rights, and the creative process.

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

 

What did you think of her performance? Why was it special?

I could not have imagined a better response to my piece. Bobbi understands the simultaneous anxiety and self-inquiry that I hope to translate through my installation, and takes these ideas and expresses them through time and space with her potent movements. I think that we are speaking the same words but through two uniquely different languages from our own perspectives. So for me it was rather special to realize this and wonder about potential future collaborations, and what we might be able to do for our audiences.

I wanted to follow up on our conversation about how, so many times, the topic of geometries in your work is only discussed on a cursory level. I wanted to know more about these geometries, your interest in them, and how this part of your work has developed both formally and conceptually. 

The geometries in my work are a means through which I try to understand our contemporary existence. For me, they become analogous to the networks of our digital domains, information linking us to one another through bits and bytes. The patterns that I use are inspired by my cultural background, but also relate to the power of repetition, circulation of information, and the forces that proliferate some details while censoring other facts.

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Photo: Quincy Stamper 2015

I should also note that, for me, Islamic geometries and ornamentation are not merely a superficial decorative element but a vital dimension of objects, buildings, and textiles. The use of these patterns in the Islamic world has cosmological and metaphysical meaning that alludes to ideals of harmony and transient beauty. I use Islamic ornamentation from a secular position, to speak to the power of change and the potential of what the world could really be, so that we may look at a pattern beyond the beauty of its decorative elements… as a visible symbol of the invisible ideal to be achieved.

Threshold was on view at the Asian Art Museum from March 27th May 3rd, 2015. If you did not have a chance to see the exhibition in person, or missed the Artist Drawing Club program Crossing Threshold, you can watch the video below to get a sense of it.

Join us for the next Artist Drawing Club event The Testimony Project Kickoff: A Night of Interactive, Audience-Led Research” with Eliza Gregory on Thursday, June 25th, 2015.

 

 

Tradition on Fire

UntitledT-071, 2007, by Akiyama Yo(Japanese, b.1953).	Stoneware. Courtesy	 of the Paul and	Kathy Bissinger Collection.

Untitled T-071, 2007, by Akiyama Yo (Japanese, b. 1953). Stoneware. Courtesy of the Paul and Kathy Bissinger Collection.

We’ve transformed our Japanese painting gallery on the second floor into a contemporary ceramics gallery. This exhibition, titled Tradition on Fire, introduces works from the Paul and Kathy Bissinger Collection. It includes twenty two works by twenty artists. This is our first large Japanese contemporary ceramics exhibition at the Asian Art Museum.

The twenty artists included in this show carry on the long tradition of Japanese ceramics, but at the same time depart from the tradition in search of the new. They fired new and innovative ceramics—hence the title, Tradition on Fire. Moving beyond the role of artisans who repetitively produce traditional utilitarian vessels, these artists use clay as a medium of personal expression.

Cornucopia 03-III, 2003, by Tashima Etsuko (Japanese, b. 1959). Stoneware, pigments, glass. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, Promised gift of Paul and Kathy Bissinger.

Cornucopia 03-III, 2003, by Tashima Etsuko (Japanese, b. 1959). Stoneware, pigments, glass. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, Promised gift of Paul and Kathy Bissinger.

An exciting piece of news is that Paul and Kathy Bissinger have donated a major piece by Tashima Etsuko to the museum. It is one of my favorite pieces in the exhibition. I especially like the opposing qualities of opaque white ceramic and translucent blue glass with which she masterfully composed a unique and intriguing sculpture. We are grateful for this generous gift, which will enable us to better tell the story of contemporary Japanese art to our visitors.

 

All images © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Shinohara’s Boxing Painting Installation

Shinohara's boxing painting

Boxing Painting, 2009, by Ushio Shinohara (Japanese, b.1932). Acrylic on canvas.

The installation of Usion Shinohara’s Boxing Painting, 2009, now on view in the Japanese galleries, presented unique challenges.  The work is quite large (60in x 130in), and is painted on an unmounted piece of canvas. How does one convey the energy of making the piece through the presentation of the piece? The painting appears to be hanging by small wires, but that is not the case. Hidden behind the painting is an elaborate hanging mechanism, to  support the great length and weight of the canvas without a frame.

Installing the Shinohara Boxing Painting

The apparent simplicity of the mount is deceptive; its large size requires complex construction and planning. The goal of the design is to provide good support for the artwork, appear unintrusive, and install easily into the narrow glass cases.

Installing the Shinohara Boxing Painting

To ensure the safety of the piece four people were needed to support it during installation. Here, Shiho Sasaki carefully positions the rolled painting along the top of mount.

Installing the Shinohara Boxing Painting

Three assistants carefully unroll the painting as she secures it to the mount with Velcro. The work is slow and deliberate, to make sure the painting is level and secure.

Check the Asian Art Museum’s Conservation page to learn more about museum mounts.

It takes a village to create and install large paintings such as these. Shiho Sasaki (Conservator of Paintings), Marco Centin (Exhibition Designer), Evan Kierstead (Interim Head of Exhibitions), Vincent Avalos (Mountmaker), and Courtney Helion (Conservation Technician) collaborated on the concepts.  Shiho Sasaki created the final design and Courtney Helion built a series of maquette versions, as well as final design. Cathy Mano, Associate Head of Registration, assisted with the installation.

Yoga: The Art of Transformation

The Theosophical Body, from The Chakras: A Monograph, 1927, by Charles W. Leadbeater (1854–1934). Illinois. Courtesy of General Collections, Library of Congress, Washington DC, BP573.C5 L4 1972.

The Theosophical Body, from The Chakras: A Monograph, 1927, by Charles W. Leadbeater (1854–1934). Illinois. Courtesy of General Collections, Library of Congress, Washington DC, BP573.C5 L4 1972.

When the Freer Sackler first approached us with the idea of creating an exhibition of yoga-oriented art, I was intrigued, but had lots of questions. What role did art play in the formation of yoga traditions? Did art inform philosophy and practice, or vice versa? And did the imagery of the yoga tradition change over time in response to historical and social circumstances? As I have learned, the answers to these questions can be very surprising.

For example, I had wondered when the full spectrum of yoga postures, asana in Sanskrit, was first depicted. Like many other yoga enthusiasts, I had assumed that they were present “from the beginning” of the tradition. But like so many of my preconceptions, this assumption was destined to be overturned. Far from emerging fully-formed, like Athena out of Zeus’ head in the famous Greek myth , many complex postures first appear in a 16th century treatise called the Bahr al-Hayat (“Ocean of Life”) – a millennium and a half after the Indian sage Patanjali compiled the yoga sutras. And there were more surprises. As it turns out, the Bahr al-Hayat’s accompanying text is not penned in any Indian script; instead, it represents a translation from a Sanskrit original into Persian by a Sufi (Islamic mystic) scholar. In this exhibition, you’ll have a chance to examine the imagery of the Bahr al-Hayat in detail; some of the postures will be familiar, and other may present you with your own puzzles to decipher.

As the exhibition took shape, I began wondering about how traditions of yoga art would depict the invisible aspects of yoga experience. How, I wondered, might artists envision an abstract concept like the Brahman, the impersonal deity of the Hindu texts called Upanishads? I was just as curious about the tradition began to depict the so-called “subtle body,” the network of energy centers and channels that yogis manipulate. I had assumed that these key yoga ideas appeared very early in the development of the tradition – but again the art of yoga surprised me.

Three aspects of the Absolute, page 1 from a manuscript of the Nath Charit, 1823, by Bulaki. India. Opaque watercolor, gold, and tin alloy on paper. Courtesy of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, RJS 2399.

Three aspects of the Absolute, page 1 from a manuscript of the Nath Charit, 1823, by Bulaki. India. Opaque watercolor, gold, and tin alloy on paper. Courtesy of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, RJS 2399.

Several paintings from Man Singh’s Jodhpur court appear prominently in this exhibition. In the early 1800’s, the king of the Indian city of Jodhpur, Maharaja Man Singh, commissioned a large set of paintings that depict both invisible and subtle aspects of yoga; one of these paintings, Three aspects of the Absolute, depicts the Brahman directly as a shimmering field of undifferentiated gold. Another series of Jodhpur paintings reveals different configurations of the “subtle body,” the interior system of energy centers and channels that figures so prominently in contemporary hatha yoga thought. Almost life-size, these Jodhpur paintings make it easy to see how the subtle, energetic body might map onto the physical body. A third set of Jodhpur paintings show the transmission of these teachings from guru to student in the Nath order of yogis. Such teacher-student contact was essential to the continuity and thus legitimacy of a lineage of yoga practitioners.  A final set of paintings from Jodhpur reveal that Man Singh commissioned these paintings for simultaneously political and religious reasons: the king understood his seemingly miraculous ascension to the throne of Jodhpur as the direct result of Nath intervention in history. In this way, Man Singh positioned his secular as having the legitimacy of divine sanction.

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The chakras of the subtle body, page 4 from a manuscript of the Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, 1824, by Bulaki. India. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Courtesy of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, RJS 2376.

Another question that intrigued me is how imagery focused on the “subtle body” was assimilated into Western discourse and culture. As I have learned, there are at least two ways this happened: through mysticism, and through medicine. Charles Leadbeater’s image of the chakras initially looks similar to the imagery on Man Singh’s “subtle body” paintings, but closer examination reveals that Leadbeater’s image derives from Western attempts to map the seven planets of the Ptolemaic universe onto, or perhaps into, the physical body. Perhaps because such images have a long history in European mysticism, they could serve as a bridge between two quite different kinds of mystical systems – yoga and astrology. Similarly, yoga entered western medical discourse by mapping the subtle body onto the anatomical body. One marvelous book, Chakras of the Subtle Body, contains an image that makes this equivalence explicit.

Yoga: The Art of Transformation has challenged my preconceptions about the relationship between art and yoga in many ways, but nowhere so much as regards the question of authenticity. I used to wonder: what is an authentic teaching or image, and what is spurious? Do lineages guarantee the integrity of a given teaching, or is there some other factor – maybe efficacy – at work? As with my other questions, the answer is often “yes” – in its transformations, the art of yoga can frequently be seen to occupy the middle ground between true and false, peaceful and violent, genuine and derivative. And it is that transformational zone between pairs of absolute opposites that I have come to recognize as the real homeland of this kaleidoscopic array of traditions we are pleased to call yoga.

Horses in Ancient China

The Year of the Horse is fast approaching. What did the horse mean to people in the old days?

In ancient China, the horse provided fast transportation for noble and high ranking families and served a military function. This may be why the horse is associated now with leadership, freedom and energy. Chinese enthusiasm for horses dates back thousands of years, and as a result the museum contains many lovely examples of horse sculptures. Here, we take a really close look at some favorites.

Horse, Tang dynasty (618-906 CE), approx. 700-800 CE. B85S1.

Glazed with amber, green and white in the sancai (three-color) tradition, Tang ceramics of this type show splattered and dripped glazes full of energy and life. Here, the different and textures are used to highlight the bridle, mane and the horse’s flesh. Sancai colors are typically achieved using a combination of copper, iron, cobalt and manganese in a lead glaze.

Horse (detail), Tang dynasty (618-906 CE), approx. 700-800 CE. B85S1.

Horse (detail), Tang dynasty (618-906 CE), approx. 700-800 CE. B85S1.

Many horse figurines have been found in Tang dynasty tombs, and they are prized by collectors all over the world today. It follows that the figures are often heavily restored, sometimes invisibly so. This radiograph of a Tang dynasty horse figurine from the museum collection shows pins from old repairs in the legs and hooves.

Horse (X-ray), Tang dynasty (618-906 CE), approx. 700-800 CE. B85S1.

Horse (X-ray), Tang dynasty (618-906 CE), approx. 700-800 CE. B85S1. Image processing by Courtney Helion

Look closely at this composite X-ray, and you can see reinforcing metal pins in each hoof, as well as major repairs in the back facing leg. This horse may look flawless on the outside, but she has seen a lot of changes!

The Blood-Sweating Horses of the Ferghana Valley

Horse heads, Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE), approx. 206-100 BCE. B76P14 and B76P15.

Horse heads, Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE), approx. 206-100 BCE. B76P14 and B76P15.

These two elegant red horse heads could be modeled after the famous Ferghana horses, sometimes called ‘blood sweating horses ‘(汗血馬) or ‘heavenly horses’ in Chinese literature. This unique breed – now extinct– is believed to come from the ancient kingdom of Dayuan in the Ferghana valley (modern day Uzbekistan). According to legend, these fast, powerful horses– whose red color was thought to be caused by sweating blood—were bred from heavenly stock and could even carry the rider to immortality.

According to some stories, in the second century BCE Han dynasty the Chinese Emperor Wudi sent an envoy and gifts westward into the Ferghana valley, hoping to acquire some of the heavenly horses. The Dayuan ruler refused, and ultimately the Chinese invaded. The Chinese defeated the Dayuan, and thus Emperor Wudi came into possession of some ‘heavenly horses’, receiving a small number each year as tribute.

What made these horses red?

There are a few theories concerning why the Ferghana horses to appeared to sweat blood. Some modern researchers believe that a parasite (the nematode, Parafilaria multipapillosaI), still common on the Central Asian steppe, is the cause. Others think that it is due to tiny blood vessels under the skin bursting after strenuous galloping and exercise. Blood would mix with the sweat around the horse’s neck, creating a pink foam.

The two horse heads from the museum’s collection do not sweat blood (so far), but owe their distinctive red color to the use of pigment made from red iron oxide (Fe2O3), also referred to as hematite. Under X-ray fluorescence analysis, both horses show very similar chemical profiles. Iron is the major element, with smaller quantities of titanium, zinc, mercury, manganese, and lead. Iron, mercury, and manganese all create reds and purples, and have been in use since ancient times. Titanium and zinc, used to make white, probably indicate later restoration.

Horse heads under ultraviolet light, Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE), approx. 206-100 BCE. B76P14 and B76P15.

Horse heads under ultraviolet light, Western Han dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE), approx. 206-100 BCE. B76P14 and B76P15. Image by Courtney Helion.

To reveal areas of previous restoration the horse heads were viewed under ultraviolet light. Restoration paints often appear as a velvety purple under ultraviolet light (as on the bridle, on the upper horse).

Read more about these horse heads at our online collection.

Bibliography:

Winter, John. East Asian Paintings: Materials, Structures and Deterioration Mechanisms. London: Archetype Publications, 2008. Print.

Imperial China: The Art of the Horse in Chinese History: Exhibition Catalog. Lexington, KY: Kentucky Horse Park, 2000. Print.

Gettens, Rutherford J., and George L. Stout. Painting Materials: A Short Encyclopedia. New York: Dover Publications, 1966. Print.

Newly on View: Shinohara “Boxing Painting”

Shinohara's boxing painting

Boxing Painting, Feb. 16th, 2009-A, 2009, by Ushio Shinohara (Japanese, b.1932). Acrylic on canvas. Gift of Collette and Peter Rothschild.

There’s something new in the Japanese art galleries. Take the escalator to the second floor, turn right, and then right again through the door—you’ll see a large abstract painting of irregular circles and drip-lines, created by punching a canvas with boxing gloves dipped in paint. Beside it is a big hanging scroll in ink on paper depicting Daruma, the first patriarch of Zen Buddhism.

Bodhidharma (Daruma), 1911, Nakahara Nantenbo (Japanese, 1839-1925). Ink on paper.

Bodhidharma (Daruma), 1911. By Nakahara Nantenbo (Toju Zenchu; Japanese, 1839-1925), Meiji Period (1868-1912), Hanging scroll; ink on paper. Museum purchase.

Why are these two side by side? What unites them is the forceful application of paint or ink—so forceful that in each case the medium splashes and splatters around the site of impact. Separated by 100 years, both works celebrate the uncontrolled, messy edges of art-making.

It might be interesting to know that both Ushio Shinohara, the New York-based artist whose “Boxing Painting” is on the right, and the Zen monk Nakahara Nantenbo, who painted our Daruma, often create (or created) their work in front of live audiences. The performative aspects of these works—the drama of the paint or ink hitting the surface, the spontaneous pattern that emerges in that moment, and the suspense of seeing the artists’ next moves—are as important here as the finished product.

View the video installed on a tablet next to Shinohara’s “Boxing Painting” to get a feel for the power, rhythm, and velocity of the artist’s attack on the canvas. You can also view this movie trailer that features Shinohara and his wife.

 

Our Japanese New Year Bronze Bell — Believe It or Not

Buddhist bell, 1532, Tachibana Kyubei (Japanese). Tajima province, Japan. Bronze. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of William Goodman.

Buddhist bell (detail), 1532, Tachibana Kyubei (Japanese). Tajima province, Japan. Bronze. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of William Goodman.

Our mountmaker, Vincent Avalos, shares some fun trivia about installing our 500+-year-old bell. Believe it or not!

The little knobs on the bell that look like asparagus shoots are probably actually stars.

The wedge-shaped ebony tenons you see are called nuki, but as far as I know they have nothing to do with pacifiers.

The nuki are essentially decorative. Long steel bolts inside the beams are what give the structure its actual integrity.

Each year that we put the belfry together, the elm gets a little more warped, making it a harder to get the beams into their respective joints.

If you stand inside the bell while it rings, you can make out the sound of “good morning” in Japanese: OHAYOU!

If we’ve all had our Philz coffee, no one bothers us, and we can remember how to put it together, we can get the bell up before noon. But this is almost never the case.

The original belfry was made of giant fir beams that would injure about one preparator a year… usually a back injury.

By the original belfry’s last days, it had become severely warped and twisted, making the final structure visibly lopsided.

One year (after we had installed the belfry), the mochi pounders for the New Year ceremony decided the bell was in the way and somehow just pushed the whole set-up across the room. You’d have to ask Director of Education, Deb Clearwaters, how many mochi pounders it took to move a 2,100-pound bronze bell.

All jokes aside, here’s a time lapse video of how we installed the bell one year:

Proximities 3: Import/Export

Paper Bag Project, by Imin Yeh (1983). Handmade paper bag. Courtesy of the artist.

Paper Bag Project, by Imin Yeh (1983). Handmade paper bag. Courtesy of the artist.

I’ve come to name my computer files related to the third and final Proximities exhibition P3. I get a little kick invoking Playstations (PS4, the it gamer gift for 2013), Terminator movies (T3, from 2003), and the holiday blockbuster season that is usually cluttered with franchises and their sequels. There’s a second Hobbit film that just hit theaters—H2 (also the shorthand for a junior size Hummer). You certainly won’t mistake this art exhibition, Import/Export, for a cinematic extravaganza, but the show focuses on the material and immaterial aspects of the international ventures that those entertainments very much are.

The inspirations for the artworks in this show reflect the ironies and menacing multi-pronged connections behind objects like the PS4. This piece of hardware, designed and manufactured by Sony, a Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation, is a staple brand at the all-American Best Buy retailer (which also sells in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, and China). The software is code produced by outsourced offshore coding in any number of countries. Similarly, many major movie studio titles, particularly those with loads of special effects, are currently huge international productions, with multiple CGI companies in different countries working simultaneously to erase stunt wires or to render digital ice crystals.. The economic implications are intriguing – note the a flurry of controversy when a California-based effects house lost its shirt by underbidding its services for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.

In the Western season of stuff, it’s fascinating to look at product labels that reveal the site of manufacture. No big surprises there—I just checked and my Uniqlo down jacket was, as expected, made in China. But can this information actually communicate to me anything about China, this product’s country of origin? Can this article of clothing literally bring me in physical contact with another place? It might be easy for some people to ignore the implications—Do I really want to know if I purchased a shirt that came from the collapsed Bangladesh sweatshop? And what would I do if I did?

The artworks on view in this exhibition question aspects of raw material, factory production, craftsmanship, value, outsourcing, and the circulation of objects and ideas. I’ve approached the Proximities series with the intent of using different lenses to look at its themes. The shows have presented very different profiles, from colorful (P1), to audibly boisterous (P2), and hushed elegance (P3). The elegant profile of P3 may seem surprising considering the subject of import and export. Perhaps a more expected tone would resonate with Andreas Gursky’s 99 Cent photograph from 1999—an irresistibly iconic image of global capitalism and all it’s insidiously kaleidoscopic eye candy—or Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of landscapes ravaged in the service of industry, which, like Hudson River paintings, depict ‘progress’ as luminous and grandiose.Amanda Curreri works

In contrast, the works in Import/Export are monochromatic, prosaic, and abstract in form and meaning. The lighting is moody, and, as Byron Peters’s image of the open sky reveals, the space maintains a quiet grandiosity that feels almost contemplative. Like being in a hall of mirrors, we can see ourselves quietly reflected throughout the gallery space as we engage in breathing, looking, and hopefully rethinking scenarios of production and consumption .

The gargantuan nature of the worldwide system of making and consuming is too unwieldy for neat pronouncements. The environmental, social, physical, and psychological implications are things to ponder, but difficult to reconcile. The goal here is not resolution. The show might be an inconclusive conclusion, but there’s something thrilling about how these artists process the fray into something thoughtful—and strangely beautiful.

Happy Holidays!

 

Proximities 3: Import/Export opens today. For an insider’s perspective, come to the Proximities Evening Event where the curator, Glen Helfand, will be giving an in-gallery talk.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day

The term janchi (feast or celebration) is very familiar to Koreans. We hold janchi for a baby’s first birthday and invite families, friends and neighbors. Getting a good grade on a university entrance exam is also for a cause for janchi. For graduations, weddings and housewarmings, we would host janchi. There would be plenty of food, music, colorful dresses and good cheer. Neighbors would come early and help prepare the food. Children would be corralled together to play games, eat, and just be kids.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day

When I first pictured the 5th annual KF Korean Culture Day program about a year ago, I imagined the chaotic and hectic janchi of activities I was used to seeing when I was young, with many different things to do for young as well as not so young. For a museum of art and culture, this was also an opportunity to highlight traditions while focusing on the next generation of artists and cultural leaders.

This year, we hosted 2,915 visitors to the museum thanks to the generous support from the Korea Foundation. That’s up 20% from the last year’s attendance (I had my wish of a hectic, crowded day)! A long line snaked through the 1st floor for a tasting of the goldongmyum, a delicious cold noodle dish that used to be a staple of royal palace celebrations in the Joseon dynasty.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day performances

There was a standing room only performance of traditional music and dance by students and teachers from Korea’s prestigious art school, Korean National University of Arts.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day crafts

Art activities and art demonstrations were popular all day. Families bustled around the AsiaAlive Korean paper making demonstrations with Aimee Lee, and lantern making activities staffed by our amazing volunteers and Art Speak teen interns.

A special lecture by UCLA Professor of History and Director of the Center for Korean Studies, John Duncan, explained impact of Confucian social structures on contemporary Korean life.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day tours

Storytellers and docents guided groups through to museum’s collection and the In Grand Style exhibition. They even had to add extra tours in the afternoon due to high demand.

My favorite part of the day was speaking to many visitors about their experience at the museum. My day was made when a visitor stopped me on the way out of the performance and asked “Do you know who worked on this program? Please tell them thank you for providing this incredible chance to see and learn about Korea! Now I have to come back to see it all over again.”

Here’s a video with more highlights:

End of Summer

Michael Jang's photograph adorns the banners outside the museum. Photo courtesy Michael Jang.

Michael Jang’s photograph adorns the banners outside the museum. Photo courtesy Michael Jang.

Museum staff are currently installing the second Proximities show, and in the midst of that comes a wonderful sense of discovery. We finally are able to see how the works hang together and interact with each other. I liken the process to the old school photo lab, when sliding an exposed piece of paper into the chemical baths begins to reveal an image. Things come into view gradually, with a thrill in seeing the contours emerge. Knowing Me, Knowing You (a title that was suggested by Proximities 1 artist James Gobel) is named for a melancholy pop song by ABBA. And while I won’t go so far to place the tone of the upcoming show on the gloomy side, the colorful exuberance of the first show is replaced here with a more muted and domestic demeanor.

Mik Gaspay’s tatami mat installation sets things close to the ground in a way that evokes any number of films by Yasujiro Ozu, the Japanese film director whose cinema speaks so simply and elegantly of shifting relationships, between generations and between East and West. In the installation, there is a sense of using the agency of Japanese aesthetics evoke the slippery nature of ethnic and cultural identity in more recent days. Looking across Gaspay’s piece at Michael Jang’s black and white photographs of his family in 1973 adds to that Ozu connection, as so many of his films are black and white and tug on the heart strings as they access those loving tensions between elders and youth. Jang’s photos evoke that feeling one gets while paging through a photo album that was just found in the attic.

We expected the images and sounds would blend into something new, but that tone is impossible to predict until the works meet each other for the first. The melded audio to the show is evocatively homey—the grumble of televised voices pervades the room from Kota Ezawa’s animation and via Pawel Kruk’s video reenactment; the bubbling soup pot in Gaspay’s piece signals a family meal; while the high tones of Chinese opera seep from the headphones that accompany Anne McGuire’s video. It’s as if the sounds of a clan are blending together in a house, an abode where everyone is in their own corner before convening for dinner. As in any household, the connections are formed through individuals who reside together, their noises, their obsessions, and the idols they selectively uphold, like posters in a teenage bedroom (Charlene Tan’s nod to Yayoi Kusama, Kruk’s Bruce Lee, Jang’s David Carradine in Kung Fu), and the different emotional tenors they strike. Barry McGee’s installation is yet to come—he’s installing a newly reworked piece that will certainly add another layer of the interpersonal to the exhibition. We’re getting close. The picture develops before our eyes.