Archive for 'Education'

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.

 

 

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:

Artist Toyin Odutola’s New Rendition

IYANU by Toyin Odutola, 2013. Pen ink and marker on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

IYANU by Toyin Odutola, 2013. Pen ink and marker on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

Toyin Odutola and I were planning her project for the museum’s Artists Drawing Club since last October, but we did not meet in person until the day before her event last week. Toyin graduated from the MFA program at California College of the Arts in May 2012 and moved to New York City this spring. All of our planning for this program took place over the phone, which might have been difficult if not for Toyin’s use of social media to document her art practice, an extremely helpful way to convey and understand her process. It almost felt like I was in her studio. This sensation of close connection through social media might seem like a novel and trendy idea, especially considering that she was featured in an ARTnews article, “What I Like About You: Artists to Follow on Instagram.” That type of documentation can provide practical, important information as well as reach a broad audience for her work.

During our initial talks, Toyin was really excited about a recent shift in the colors she uses in her drawings. Her new works featured a more subdued and restrained palette. We talked about how this change might be a great wayto view the museum’s collection through the formal lens of color. Ideas continued to develop after each talk and culminated in her project Rendition. While other projects in the Artists Drawing Club emphasized deliberate, face-to-face interaction between audience and artist, this project derived inspiration from Toyin’s social media practice to facilitate exchange. Using the hashtag #colormatch on Instagram and Twitter, she followed the stream of participant photos that were posted from the galleries when visitors matched the color of artworks to the swatches provided by Toyin. When she saw something of particular interest she included an element or motif from the object into the portrait she drew onsite. Along the way she shared progress online.

I interviewed Toyin right before her event.

Marc Mayer (MM): I learned that you use ballpoint pens in your drawings when I started to follow you on Instagram. You were on a flight and took pictures of a portrait in progress, which I loved seeing. Making work on an airplane made me very curious about the materials you use. What materials are you drawn to and why?

Toyin Odutola (TO): I am really drawn to ballpoint pens. The ballpoint pen is primarily seen as a writing tool, but the use of the ballpoint pen as an art material has existed since the 1950s, possibly earlier. I am drawn to pen ink for its duality, how blacks and whites are captured by the ink, how the pen is both a writing tool and an art material. It’s accessible and ubiquitous. The more layered the ink, especially if you cake it on, the more you can see the heavy dark and great light qualities of its materiality. It renders the concept of a black/white binary almost null. The ink embodies both qualities because of the nature of the viscous fluid. The ink also creates a sense of subtlety and immediacy, perfect for drawing. I’ve always been prone to drawing more than any other mode of creating. I sometimes paint, but it’s only been to support my drawing. I am attracted to materials that facilitate drawing and make its sense of immediacy. Pencils, pens, markers—these are my main tools. Sometimes I use acrylic ink and watercolors, but it all boils down to what helps the process of drawing move along smoothly and allows the ideas to flow.

Image of artwork in progress via the artist’s Instagram

Image of artwork in progress via the artist’s Instagram

MM: I am very interested in your presence on social media. How would you describe your use/practice of social media? How does it support and influence the way you work?

TO: The first introduction of my work to an audience came from interactions on social media. Concurrently, it was through the Internet and social media that I was first exposed to contemporary art and, in some way, the art world at large. I was inspired and heavily influenced by a number of burgeoning illustrators and comic-book artists who openly shared their work process. It was prior to the advent of official online tools like Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, and it involved artists of all manner of mediums, varying fields and experience, taking process shots of their works and writing about their methodology in a very open way. Needless to say, it was a major part of my art education at the time. Through these various artists’ process blogs, I learned about materials, lighting, color—you name it, all from and the dialogues these posts generated.

I started my Tumblr blog around 2009, when I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to pursue art making. It became a space for me to explore artistic methods, theory and materials. I also used my blog as a catalog of how I felt while working. Initially, the blog was only viewed by me. I hardly had any followers and, honestly, that wasn’t my aim in the beginning. Soon, other artists, writers and designers began commenting on my posts. They would ask questions about what I was making, why I was making such work, and why I was using these materials –all questions I hadn’t really asked myself. The best interactions were getting recommendations to look at other artists I had not known, and artistic movements I had not yet studied. From that dialogue my work began to progress, and my independent art education blossomed. By the end of 2009 I was convinced I wanted to be an artist. It inspired me to apply for graduate school.

One could say I should thank the Internet for helping me get on the track I’m on today.

Today there are many more people viewing my work on social media. The response has really blown me away and often I am confronted with questions about why I share so much about my studio work online. In my mind, it is no different from the illustrator and comic-book artist blogs that inspired me. Maybe the difference is the art world, and that artists aren’t always comfortable or encouraged to share so much of their process, which is a shame. Maybe there is a flipside of sharing too much, where people give you direction on work instead of talking about ideas, which can be disconcerting. I am more interested in a constructive critique, friendly suggestions and, in some rare cases, collaboration.

Social media is a tool to connect to a different audience. I’m thinking of that kid, like myself not too long ago, who doesn’t have access to galleries or museums or studios; giving her/him a chance to see the day-to-day drudge of it all. To show people that, in the end, it’s all about the work. It’s not all glamorous, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important, meaningful and educational.

MM: I am curious if you think of your work as portraiture? Do any elements in your work challenge traditional portraiture? Does the concept of portraiture have any interest for you?

TO: I don’t mind being labeled as a portraitist; however, like everything that goes on in my studio, I’m not beholden to the practice. I admire portraiture and it is the main platform I use to create my works, but to limit my work to just creating portraits isn’t the case either. I admit, I am drawn to many artists who took more ownership of the term, such as John Singer Sargent, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Hans Holbein the Younger. But there are other artists who have used the parameters of portraiture beyond its initial purpose, such as Charles White, Kerry James Marshall, Alex Katz and Chuck Close.

I use portrait for conceptual means. I like some of the restrictions of portraiture. It’s a very basic premise. You are capturing the essence of a person at a certain time and place, but from there you can manipulate any of these elements and still constitute a portrait. I want to create spaces where things aren’t so concrete, spaces that aren’t so certain. The more you try to pin a feeling of a person down, it slips, no? I try my best to pin down that essence, which is crazy. How can you pin down something so abstract visually? You can try to capture it with color or various lines, but I know that part of a person is invention; part of what makes up an individual cannot be represented. That’s why I love portraiture.

We are living in a time when there is a plethora of ways and forms of portraiture. I like to carve out my own niche and create works that are distinctive, but also heavily entrenched in our contemporary moment. The fact that there are many ways of creating a portrait makes me more inclined to restrict the format: to decontenxualize the space surrounding a subject; to enhance the focus and emphasize a feature (skin, eyes, hair); to help the viewer to pay attention more intimately. I have been developing this focus of these portraits since 2009 and will continue to work on this a little longer. But what the future holds for me in portraiture is uncertain.

MM: You have mentioned that skin is really important in your work. What draws you to skin? Why do you find it so compelling?

TO: Skin is important because it is the singular feature where I can express the varying rhythms and lines that convey meaning or even poignancy. When it comes to how I draw skin, it may be the primary subject of the work, but what I hope is that skin becomes a gateway to how to read a person’s subjectivity. This has political implications related to the way people justify prejudice based on skin color. I want to invert this process and create a more positive and thoughtful outcome. I want to change people’s perception of skin, from seeing only the stereotype to seeing a fully formed, complex individual. Skin can be a vehicle to change ones perception, but that isn’t the end result of my work in and of itself.

MM: Do you listen to music while you work? What are three songs, artists or albums you are currently listening to?

TO: Yes, but it’s more of a tossup between music and movies. I love watching documentaries while working, which really means I love listening to them. Podcasts and audiobooks are great for my process. I get the visual experience through my drawing, so the experience of listening to great conversations and stories is ideal. Sometimes certain excerpts or random texts find their way into the titles of the drawings.

Right now, I’m obsessed with the band Inc., particularly their song “5 Days,” which has been on repeat in my studio. Also, two SOHN’s songs: “The Wheel” and “Bloodflows.” As for a third, I guess that would be the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around.” It’s one of my all-time favorites. Generally, I listen to just about anything that comes on shuffle from my computer. Lately, it’s been electronic music for some reason.

MM: You mentioned that Asian art has influenced you and your work. What is your interest in the Asian Art Museum and Asian culture?

TO: I’ve visited the Asian Art Museum while living in San Francisco, and I enjoyed the collection and its diversity and saw some very interesting exhibitions. I like that you always find something new or different whenever you visit. I also love that James Jean is a part of the collection. I am a HUGE fan of his work. As for Asian cultural and aesthetic influences, I have been fascinated with Japanese art history, especially printmaking, and, I’ll admit it, manga and anime culture have interested me since I was a kid. As an undergraduate in Alabama I obsessed over Chinese literati works and posters from the 1950s and ’60s.

The irony is, whenever I get asked about my influences for art, I have to say manga. I wasn’t one of those kids who knew at the age of five that I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t have that sort of precocious insight. I was like any other kid, just going through the motions. I didn’t even think of myself as an artist until I was about to graduate high school and start university. I read comics voraciously when I was young. I loved that the illustrative platform allowed and inspired a variety of ways to express narrative. The graphic nature of the work is what fascinated me most. Artists such as Takehiko Inoue, for instance, really influenced how I looked at art and what I enjoyed: sumptuous detail and pattern language; various ways of enhancing thick, rich blacks, and the infinite ways in which one could express a moment in a face or individual features, such as the eyes. I guess you could say that’s where it all started for me. Manga and anime continue to influence me.

MM: What is the project you are working on for the Artists Drawing Club?

TO: The project is Rendition, a collaboration between you and me. We’ve been discussing it for about a year now, and it came from this idea of incorporating the Asian Art Museum’s collection into a project. I was excited about creating a work that had some connection to the works on view. I had begun working with a more polychromatic palette only recently, and it was interesting to think about this change. I also work in a very controlled manner, so the possibility of creating a work in a site-specific way intrigued me.

I like the notion of having the color palette influence the potential of a work. Normally, when I set out to create a drawing, I lay out which colors I wish to enhance and explore. For Rendition, we looked at features in the museum’s collection and narrowed the colors down to five. From there the project takes a sort of interactive turn. We wanted to include the audience, and although the idea of drawing on site is different from my studio method, you suggested taking the experience a step further: having the audience go through the collection and find the colors in the works, all while I draw the portrait on site, cataloging the colors found via social media. Of course, I would like to finish the work in the time slot of the same day, so I will be working on the piece a little ahead of the scheduled event, but I will be keeping track of the logs while I am working.

What excited me the most (and sort of terrified me) was the idea of having this entire thing documented with a live video projection. This gives the audience a chance to see my method in person, in real time, something which I tend to do mainly through social media platforms, i.e. my blog and Instagram. It gives the audience a chance to see the evolution of a work, and it bridges the gap between the studio and exhibition. I look forward to it all. I just hope I don’t make too much of a mess of it. Right now, I am still planning which portrait to draw. I have a few sketches laid out. I suppose it won’t be revealed until the event takes place.

Stepping a Little to the East with Artist Binh Danh

Yosemite Falls, October 13, 2011, 2012, by Binh Danh. Daguerreotype. Private Collection.

Yosemite Falls, October 13, 2011, 2012, by Binh Danh. Daguerreotype. Private Collection.

On June 20 photographer Binh Danh takes over the museum for one night with his Artists Drawing Club project, Step a Little to the East. The project explores desires in the context of the museum and otherworldly desires as well. It is no coincidence that this project developed in close proximity to the Pride celebration in the Civic Center. I spoke to Danh to get a little more insight into his process, how this project developed, and the challenge of creating this event.

Marc Mayer: What were your first thoughts about participating in this program? I know we discussed the invitation over email and on the phone, but I am curious about your initial response.

Binh Danh: Well, my first thought was to say no because I often find these types of projects a challenge—the social practice part of it; it’s not really the way I work. But when you mentioned to me that I could use this opportunity to explore and challenge my studio practice, that itself sounded interesting. It took lots of brainstorming to get to the final conception.

As a photographer I often think the public is not interested in my process. I mean watching someone draw is quite an amazing experience, but watching me take a picture is pretty boring because there is really no art yet until the image is developed. And also everyone already knows how to snap a picture. Yet, as a photo educator, I often wonder does everyone really know how to photograph.

Keeping photography as part of the event was a must for me because it is the way I think as an artist. The other deterrent for me was the title itself, “The Artists Drawing Club.” I was thinking that I really don’t draw, but I do kind of draw with light and I guess that could work. It is interesting to see conceptual artists use photography in their production and how painting and sculpture departments at museums are acquiring artwork made out of photos. But I have gone off topic. Anyway, so I am interested in the practice and production of photography.

One way for me to start thinking about the project was to see if the Asian Art Museum has a photo collection, and surprisingly they do, and it’s accessible to view the images online. So I started there and arrived at this perhaps complex installation that would hopefully engage participants.

MM: Can you tell me a little bit about how Step a Little to the East developed as a project?

BD: Step a Little to the East was the title I came up with when I was thinking of making photographic backdrops with which viewers could interact. The backdrops are made from images in the museum collection. I imagine a commercial studio photographer would ask a client to move left or right to get a nice composition. But in this case with the photographic backdrop, I’m asking the viewer to consider a visit to the Asian Art Museum as a visit to the East, back in time. Especially for Asian Americans it’s a way for us to connect with our imagined past. So I had this idea for a possible event, but we spoke and realized that there had to be more here. What is it about photographing someone in front of this sort of backdrop? And you mentioned that the museum had a no-flash photo policy regarding their collections. I was thinking that we often see a lot of museum visitors photographing themselves with the artwork. I always thought that was fun to see, as if they are photographing themselves in front of a temple.

So the idea started to snowball, and all of a sudden I’m considering my own desire and sexuality for this project. So there is a lot here and a lot will be revealed on the night of the event. But in short, I hope to engage viewers about how the Asian Art Museum influences our imagination of Asia as a land and Asians as a people by looking, talking, and questioning objects of wonder from the East. I say “wonder” because the objects I used to make the backdrops were landscapes viewed through Western eyes (a painting by the American designer and artist Lockwood de Forest [1850­–1932] and an album of prints by photographers from the Collection of William K. Ehrenfeld, M.D., both currently on view).

Lockwood

One of the twenty-four ghats at Mathura, 1894, by Lockwood de Forest (American, 1850–1932). Oil on canvas. From the Collection of William K. Ehrenfeld, M.D., 2005.64.116

Considering all of this I am now thinking of the Asian Art Museum as a place for “desire.” Why do we visit the museum beyond intellectual curiosities? Are we looking for home? Are we trying to travel to the past? Do we wish to take an artwork/artifact home with us? Are we looking for a date or going on a date? Are we looking for some sort of arousal? What are we seeking by visiting this museum?

So I was thinking of these questions for myself about my own relationship to the museum. There’s a lot to discuss here but the turning point for me was when I considered one of my large-format cameras. This 1900s camera is from India. I have used it to photograph the American landscape as if I was seeing it for the first time; I objectified the land like 19-century photographers did in Asia and the Americas. I recall the day I unpacked this camera from its shipping box; there was this amazing musky smell that one could only identify as coming from Asia, the smell of maybe old wood that had rot in a way that is pleasant to the nose. This olfactory experience made me high and nostalgic for India, a place I have never visited before.

From this sense of smell, I made a leap into a sense of sexual intimacy. My own sexual awakening came at a very early age when I was a boy working in my parent’s movie rental shop. To pass the time, I would watch many movies, usually on VHS or laserdisc that the distributor sent us. As I recall, my parents never really selected any movies to display for rental; the movies usually came in bulk, although there was an X-rated section that I was not allowed to browse. One movie in particular had a big effect on me and perhaps informed my own sexual desires: My Beautiful Laundrette, a 1985 British comedy-drama written for the screen by Hanif Kureishi. It wasn’t until later in high school that I truly understood these feelings and came to the conclusion that I would never be straight. My Beautiful Laundrette was the first gay film I had ever seen. So for the Artists Drawing Club, I considered all of these elements and will be creating an installation to address some of these complexities and ask visitors to consider some of these questions for themselves.

MM: This event seems different from your other work. Is it a departure for you? How would you explain this project in the context of your art practice?

BD: Yes, in a way this project is a little different from my signature work, at least the way it looks, but conceptually it has issues and concepts I have been thinking about: what make us, us? What makes me, me? How does our experience shape our lives, both real and imagined—our hopes, fears, desires? I feel that all these “worries” do play out in my work, but this is the first time I am dealing with sexuality and in particular my own, because June is gay pride month. So, happy gay pride everyone; I hope you come to the event next Thursday, June 20.

MM: How do you want to interact with visitors/participants? What do you want people to get from this event?

BD: First and foremost, I want visitors to have fun. I’m going to suggest to them some “tasks” to perform during the night with objects in the collection. Many objects in the museum feel really serious because some of them are religious, but I imagine the stories they hold are much livelier than how they are displayed. Many of the items are functional objects like jewelry or ceramics. I think that, secretly, many of us would want to wear or use these items. “How would these beautiful earrings look on our girlfriends?” I’m sure men would want to imagine themselves wearing the samurai armor. I imagine how amazing a delicious Thai dinner served to us on Thai ceramics would taste. And those lingams, phallic Hindu sculptures—ok I’ll stop there. I’m going to have participants consider some of their own desires and seek it out in the museum.

SFUSD Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum

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“What’s this?  Student work in a museum?  What a wonderful way to support art in schools!” commented a visitor who’d come to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit and discovered the San Francisco Unified School District’s Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum.  The Asian Art Museum had the extraordinary opportunity this spring to host the 27th annual SFUSD Arts Festival from March 2nd through March 10th.  The Arts Festival is the culmination of a collaborative effort between the SFUSD School District and the Asian Art Museum to fulfill the district’s Arts Education Master Plan “for equality and access in arts education for every student, in every school, every day.”  Public school arts teachers from across the city submitted student work to the Asian Art Museum, resulting in a week of vibrant art installations, poetry readings, screening of student films, and musical performances.

 

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Student Terracotta Warriors.

After a year of planning, the actual installation of the festival brought museum curators, exhibition and preparation staff, education department staff, and museum and SFUSD volunteers together to showcase 500 two-dimensional and three-dimensional student pieces.  Display cases were pulled out of the basement, given a fresh coat of paint, and student work curated for display.  Over 50 student groups performed in Samsung Hall during the festival, showcasing styles from taiko drumming to choral music.  Meanwhile, yellow school buses brought over 4,000 students from city schools to see and participate in the Arts Festival.  “This is what education is all about,” stressed SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza at the festival’s opening ceremony.

 

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Professional Development Work Honoring Legacy. Credit: Marissa Kunz

One of the major themes of the Terracotta Warriors exhibit is legacy, and museum staff applied this theme to the Arts Festival to showcase and preserve the legacy of San Francisco teachers and administrators in art education.   Professional development throughout the week for San Francisco principals, elementary, and secondary school teachers created an opportunity for district and museum staff to dialogue about the connection between arts education and the museum’s collection.   During the awards evening,  Dreamcatcher Awards honored individuals who inspire the educational community with “the power to capture dreams.”  Eight individuals from local schools and arts programs were recognized, including: Melecio Magdaluyo as Artist Partner, Elizabeth Brodersen as Community Arts Partner, Jan Link as Administrator, Eric Guthertz as Principal, Carla Lehmann and Jackey Toor as Credentialed Arts Teachers, and Sandra Berger and Jeff Larson as Arts Coordinators.

 

Redding March By City Hall

Redding March By City Hall

In collaboration with the Arts Festival, Japanese artist Takayuki Yamamoto brought his “Children’s Pride” project to both Rosa Parks Elementary School and Redding Elementary School in San Francisco.  Yamamoto’s artistic process includes working with school children from around the world on co-created art.  Students worked with Yamamoto to identify a personal desire for change to make their world a better place, representing their desire on a placard.  Students then took their placards, advocating everything from “No Guns!” and “Be a Better Reader!” to “Turn into a Fairy!” on a protest march with their classmates to the Asian Art Museum.  “It is okay for them to be different, to want different things, and to advocate for them,” says Yamamoto.  The ability to share their personal perspective through art is something Yamamoto’s students will take with them from their experience of the SFUSD Arts Festival.  And every student who visited the SFUSD Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum will take home with them the importance of art in public education.  “Just as athletes need to exercise every day, children need to make art every day,” concludes Ruth Asawa, San Francisco arts educator.

What Poets Conjured for MATCHA: Phantoms Arise!

Farnooshi Fathi reading in Phantoms of Asia

Farnoosh Fathi reads her poem to the Matcha audience.

As a recent addition to the education department at the museum, I was excited about planning public programs for Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past, as well as cultivating new collaborations. For our latest Matcha event I considered how the museum could tap creative communities in the Bay Area in order to help demystify contemporary art and illuminate ideas and connections between artworks, but also open up the museum as a platform to present new works.

I was curious about the role poets and writers play in the exploration of themes and ideas around different cosmologies, the after-life, myth and ritual, and sacred spaces. For MATCHA: Phantoms Arise! I was lucky enough to collaborate with Litquake, the organization best known for organizing San Francisco’s Literary Festival.

I worked closely with Robin Ekiss, Poetry Curator and coordinator of Litquake’s Lit Crawl SF, a “bar crawl with literature—where hundreds of literati get drunk on words!” Robin and I assembled a list of artworks and a roster of poets to invite. We wanted to stay true to the spirit of Lit Crawl, but instead of jumping from bar to bar, participants would gallery hop around the museum. We commissioned new work from seven Bay Area poets: Justin Chin, Paul Hoover, Arisa White, Farnoosh Fathi, Kevin Simmonds, Mari L’Esperance, and Truong Tran. Robin and I assigned each poet an artwork from the exhibition, but we didn’t provide any information about the artwork or artist. We wanted to privilege each poet’s experience with the piece, allowing the art itself  to serve as the initial spark of inspiration. Here is Paul Hoover reading his poem “Krishna Takes a Picture”:

You can explore more poetry from the evening on YouTube.

Please join us for MATCHA: Shamanism featuring artist Dohee Lee on Thursday, August 23.

Asian | Education: Our New Site for Teachers

Education website homepage

Today we’re proud to announce the launch of our new site for teachers.

The new site features lesson plans, videos, discussions of artworks, activities, school tours, professional development, and everything else you might need to bring Asian art and culture into your classroom. You can even save the things you like so you’ve got your materials all in one place.

We’re adding more content all the time, so if you don’t find what you’re looking for today check back later or let us know and we’ll tell you when it’s coming. And we’d love to hear your feedback: leave your comments in the blog or contact our education team.

This site was made possible by the generous support of Bank of America and The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phantoms of Asia: New Hell Project


Contemporary artist Takayuki Yamamoto got together with the Asian Art Museum and local art education non-profit Artseed to create the latest chapter of his ongoing artwork called What Kind of Hell Will We Go To.

Da Juan poses with his creation

Under the artist’s direction, and with help from staff and volunteers, children in the after-school program run by Artseed at Leola Havard Early Education School in the Bayview district of San Francisco devised and constructed their own “hells”.  These are places where they imagined miscreants of all types might end up.  The young denouncers were then filmed describing their creations; the transgressions, and the curious, often torturous, and sometimes hilarious, situations that awaited the guilty within.

Organizing and scheduling all the different players and components took super-human effort by the artist, staff, volunteers, and parents.  One initial challenge was in finding the perfect group of kids to partner with. After a lot of searching Artseed’s after-school program was recommended and we knew it’d be a great fit.

The week of the project itself was an eye-opening and invigorating spin-cycle of activity.  Takayuki’s calm confidence and child-like sense of playfulness and curiosity brought a sense of shared purpose and joy to the children and adults alike.  The results are funny and cute, bitter and grim, and altogether quite thought-provoking.  We’re all looking forward to seeing Takayuki Yamamoto’s (and the kids’) What Kind of Hell Will We Go To on display as part of the Phantoms of Asia exhibition beginning May 18. Yamamoto will also be participating in our teacher program Shh! We’re not Supposed to Talk About Religion and a panel discussion with other contemporary artists on May 12.  Hope to see you in new hell!

The Year of the Dragons

One of the cool things about working at the Asian Art Museum is that I get to meet artists from all over the world who are creating some fascinating works, big and small.

A few days ago, I received a holiday card from an AsiaAlive alumnus, Japanese bamboo artist Tanaka Kyokusho. He also sent me a photo of his latest work, a fifty-foot-long dragon made entirely from bamboo.

Tanaka's bamboo dragon display in Tokyo.

Another Japanese artist, Paris-based artist Natsusaka Shinichiro, recently sent us the new year’s netsuke he created specially for the museum. This is his third year designing netsukes for our education programs; he previously created netsukes for the year of the tiger and the year of the rabbit.

Natsusaka's dragon netsuke is about an inch tall.

 

Unlike Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities, Japanese people celebrate the new year on January 1. This change from the lunar calendar was made during the Meiji Restoration Period, in 1873. Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese new year starts on January 23, 2012 (it changes every year according to the lunar calendar), so you will have three extra weeks to make new year’s resolutions.

Next Saturday, December 31, museum visitors can ring the new year in with our annual Japanese bell ringing ceremony, make their own netsukes at our family art activity, and welcome the Year of the Dragon in style.

Here/Not Here – Jakkai Siributr

Dubbed “one of Southeast Asia’s leading contemporary artists,” Jakkai Siributr is noted for his detailed tapestries and installations that comment on the religious, social and political issues facing Thailand today. Asian Art Museum Art Speak interns sat down with Jakkai to discuss his three works in the exhibition Here/Not Here: Buddha Presence in Eight Recent Works (on view at the Asian Art Museum from April 1–October 23, 3011) and his perspectives on politics, art school, free time, and much more:

Jakkai on His Recent Works


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