Archive for 'Contemporary Art'

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.

 

 

Michael Arcega’s “Rerereading Arrangements” Scores the Museum

When I conceived of the Artists Drawing Club series, Michael Arcega was one of the first artists I envisioned working with to create an event. Rarely have I looked at an artwork and thought, “Wow, what a wicked sense of humor!” I think it is something I have experienced a total of three times in my life, once looking at a Mike Kelley work, another looking at the work of Rachel Harrison, and most recently looking at works by Michael Arcega. It is Arcega’s mastery of humor and language that compelled me to see his lecture at the San Francisco Art Institute last year. The artist’s talent at unfolding and exposing language and modes of expression is remarkable, but when it is handled with comic precision akin to Richard Pryor or George Carlin, the work becomes sharp, funny, and poignant. I was enthralled by each project he spoke about.

With the help of summer intern Jessica Modine Young, we composed a few questions to ask the artist to get a better understanding of his work through humor, language, and history as well as find out what he has planned for the Artists Drawing Club on July 24.

Marc Mayer: Language, the alteration of language, the act of translation, and occasionally a misreading/misunderstanding seem to be constantly at play in your works. How would you describe your relationship to language? In what ways does it inform your practice?

Michael Arcega: My relationship to the idiosyncrasies of language is largely cultural. Wordplay in the Filipino culture is ubiquitous. Punning, flipping, inverting, slicing, and splicing words were common games when I grew up in Manila. This combined with multiple long-term engagements with many nations and colonizers had contributed to the complexities of these games. As a fledgling artist, I felt a kinship with artists like Marcel Duchamp, Gary Hill, Bruce Nauman, Paul Kos, and Carlos Villa. Their exploration into words really opened up my creative world. I started likening them to objects, composing with language, ideas, and loaded objects to make sculptures and installations. Words became another material.

MM: Something I am struck by is the humor that emerges from your work. Conveying humor through visual art, I find one of the most difficult feats to accomplish. Can you describe the impact that humor has on your practice and finished work?

MA: Humor is deeply connected to wordplay. So there is a natural intermingling of the two. What isn’t obvious is how the mechanics of jokes are present in the work. Jokes have a wide range of formats, there’s the timing, a tone, the delivery and a punch line. Also, jokes do not happen in a bubble—it’s a dialog. When I’m crafting a work, I consider the format (context and materials), pacing, tone, delivery (the work revealing itself), and the punch line (hopefully, it keeps unfolding afterwards). Also, there needs to be a balance of legibility and opacity. If the references are too esoteric, no one will get it. But if it’s too obvious, it will be boring.

MM: It sounds like prepping for a performance as a stand-up comic, in a way. Along those lines, how, if at all, do you consider viewers as part of your practice?

MA: Yes, I make work with the intention that someone else will be looking at “this” thing. My practice is built upon a dialog with others who participate in the arts, and any viewer is a participant.

Loping Honoring (a translation/ a correction)by Michael Arcega, 2008. Single Channel video, audio, and framed lyrics, size varies per installation. Courtesy of the artist.

Loping Honoring (a translation/ a correction)by Michael Arcega, 2008. Single Channel video, audio, and framed lyrics, size varies per installation. Courtesy of the artist.

MM: While researching your work, there are two artworks that linger in my mind. One is Loping Honoring (a translation/ a correction) and the other is Decreolization: an arrangement from dark to light. I’m wondering if you would speak about each of those works.

MA: Both these works have a transformative element applied to them. There is a hidden rule that the original has succumbed to. Loping Honoring (a translation/ a correction) was produced by taking the Philippines national anthem, Lupang Hinirang, and processing it through Microsoft Word’s spell check. Decreolization: an arrangement from light to dark was processed through a hierarchic system that favors light over dark, standard over odd. Although, they seem conceptually distant, both works are metaphors for colonization and assimilation. The transformations are driven by an external ideal, one that is imposed by the dominant hand.

Decreolization: an arrangement from dark to light by Michael Arcega, 2013. Rejected Bahraini pottery. Courtesy of the artist.

Decreolization: an arrangement from dark to light by Michael Arcega, 2013. Rejected Bahraini pottery. Courtesy of the artist.

MM: Metaphors of colonization and assimilation seem to unify a lot of your work, which engage with narratives of colonialism directly, or if it is more subtle it really explores histories of cultural hybridity. Can you elaborate on what holds your interest and attention to keep exploring these metaphors in conceptual frameworks as well as the materials and objects you use?

MA: My relationship to colonialism and post-colonial issues has shifted over the years. I’ve explored it from the perspective of the colonized, then as the colonizer, as the assimilated, and now as an explorer. Overall, the crux is the complex relationship between two or more cultures. Often, one is more powerful than the other—it’s asymmetrical. I feel that this collision and collusion are perfectly embodied in contact languages—Pidgins and Creoles. This is very different from hybridity, which presumes that there is a symmetrical relationship. Contact languages are almost always generated from contact situations where one dominates another. Our contemporary power struggles are far more complicated. It is this system that I’m trying to understand with my current work.

MM: Rerereading Arrangements is a project in collaboration with composer and experimental musician, Chris Brown. Is this your first time working with sound or music?

MA: I’ve always been interested in sound and have had a high respect for those who compose and perform sound/music. I explored it pretty seriously during my undergrad, but it phased out of my practice as I progressed. But lately, my explorations into translations and language have naturally brought me back to sound. Works like Nacireman Inventions: Cultural Phonemes conflate the object with sound (or the idea of sounds). In that piece, I treated each object as sound—like a phoneme (a word fragment), each object was an idea fragment.

This project starts with an examination of the Asian Art Museum’s permanent collection. The history of museums and collections is a colonial one. By looking past the individual items and focusing on the presentation and the taxonomy, we can start to ask questions about the institution. In this scenario, we are trying to reveal the framework through sound.

MM: What role do you hope collaboration plays in the context of this project? What roles has collaboration played in previous projects?

MA: Chris Brown is an extremely talented and knowledgeable artist. I was honored that he agreed to collaborate with me on this work. When Chris and I were in a residency at Villa Montalvo, he was working on a piano piece tuned to a South Asian sensibility. It was later finished as 6Primes. (It was premiered recently at the Center for New Music.) He and I share an interest in drawing together disparate cultural references. This project fits seamlessly with our shared interests.

I haven’t placed many expectations, but I have asked a few questions. Hopefully this collaboration will tease out answers or draw out more questions. In the visual arts, collaborations are difficult. However, in the sound/music world they are essential. Surprisingly, this collaboration has been fluid and fun (as a visual artist, I expected it to be harder—just one expectation). We are finding ways to deconstruct the arrangements at the museum. As a seasoned experimental music player, Chris is able to guide us through the more complicated displays and complex objects. We also chose our own instruments for the project and rehearsing with them has been quite enjoyable.

Chris Brown and Michael Arcega rehearsing "Rerereading Arrangements." 2014.

Chris Brown and Michael Arcega rehearsing “Rerereading Arrangements.” 2014.

MM: Where did the idea for Rerereading Arrangements originate? How has it developed? What contributions have arisen through working with Chris?

MA: Rerereading Arrangements is a continuation of a project/question. It’s an investigation of Western culture through a Pacific-centric lens. The repeating of the first syllable comes from the conjugational rules of Tagalog—repeating turns the root word into a verb. By absurdly applying a Tagalog conjugation to an English verb makes it sound like a scratched record. It also emphasizes a repetitive event. Arrangements is used as a pun that refers to the museum displays and also the musical score.

Chris and I grew up in the Philippines and we share a love for crossing over. Already, our rehearsals have been giving shape to the arrangements that are unexpected. With each display, we wonder—what would that sound like? It’s exciting because neither of us know. The displays inspire their own rules on how they are interpreted. Chris is deftly skilled at finding those rules. He brings a deep insight to improvisation, experimental scores, and music history. In many ways, he has been a sonic translator.

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Michael Arcega is an interdisciplinary artist working primarily in sculpture and installation. Directly informed by historic events, material significance and the format of jokes, his subject matter deals with sociopolitical circumstances in which power relations are unbalanced. As a naturalized American, Michael incorporates a geographic dimension to his investigation of the cultural markers embedded in objects, food, and architecture. Michael was born in Manila, Philippines, and migrated to the Los Angeles area at 10 years old. He received a BFA from San Francisco Art Institute and attended Stanford University for his MFA. He is an assistant professor of art at San Francisco State University.

Chris Brown is an American composer, pianist and electronic musician who creates music for acoustic instruments with interactive electronics for computer networks and improvising ensembles. He has invented and built electroacoustic instruments and performed widely as a pianist. In 1986 he co-founded the pioneering computer-network music ensemble The Hub, and he has received commissions from the Berkeley Symphony, the Rova Saxophone Quartet, the Abel Steinberg Winant Trio, the Gerbode Foundation, the Phonos Foundation and the Creative Work Fund. He teaches composition and electronic music at Mills College in Oakland, where he is co-director of the Center for Contemporary Music.

 

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.

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.

Copy Right/Copy Left with Artist Lordy Rodriguez

Untitled 809 (Murakami/Kors) by Lordy Rodriguez 2013. Ink and artificial gems on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery.

Untitled 809 (Murakami/Kors) by Lordy Rodriguez 2013. Ink and artificial gems on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery.

I vividly remember my studio visit with Lordy Rodriguez last fall. It was my first trip to Hayward since I had moved to San Francisco the previous year. The whole experience felt like an adventure. I have a very great appreciation for being invited into artists’ studios, and I felt the same way as I walked into Lordy’s studio. One can tell a lot about an artist’s practice from the way he or she arranges the space and organizes art supplies. One thing is certain: the precision of his drawings is matched by the precision of his organization of materials, from paper to markers.  This video should illustrate what I mean by the precision needed to make these drawings.

Lordy showed me a drawing in progress for his show Code Switch at Hosfelt Gallery, which closed last week. As I pored over the drawing, we talked everything: neighborhoods and cultural districts, brands, language, typography, and topography as they related to this new body of work. Between these ideas, layered with the intricacies of the artwork’s patterns, and combined with a unique system of mapping, there was something different happening with this work. During this visit I learned that Lordy and I share an affinity for reality television, and we are both pretty open about how it inspires each of our respective work. I interviewed Lordy about how his Artists Drawing Club project Copy Right/Copy Left might engage with some of these ideas.

Gangnam America Detail

Gangnam America (detail) by Lordy Rodriguez, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery.

Marc Mayer: When we first started talking about your participation in the Artists Drawing Club, you were in the middle of working on your recent show at Hosfelt Gallery, called Code Switch. During a visit to your studio you showed me a work in progress, now titled Gangnam, America. I was really struck by the work and your use of words/text, but also a certain visual language. Can you describe this work, your original thinking behind it, and the show as it relates?

Lordy Rodriguez: I knew that I wouldn’t have many pieces with text in the show; actually this is the only one. It was just this one piece that helped set the course for the show. I wanted to treat text the same way I was treating the visual languages that I was using. The premise for this show was to experiment with the meaning and cultural context associated with visual languages by using cartography as a “grammatical” infrastructure.

The name Gangnam, America came from the popular YouTube music video Gangnam Style, a pop song by South Korean rapper and singer PSY in 2012. At the time I was working on this piece, this song was at the height of its long popularity. The music video takes tropes from western rap, hip hop, and pop videos that seem to concentrate on emphasizing personal style and identity. The name Gangnam itself is derived from the Gangnam District, which is a very affluent area in Seoul. It is similar in stature to Beverly Hills or Ginza in Tokyo. PSY uses the cache of Gangnam to represent an ideal identity. This kind of identity appropriation is seen a lot in American music videos, and PSY capitalizes on that so well with this video. By using the cache of a place and the visual languages that are used to support that kind of identity appropriation—it was this idea that really set the foundation for this piece.

All the names in this piece are the entertainment districts in the U.S. that I gathered from Wikipedia and Google searches to create a data set of sorts. The core of “mapping” is the data set. By using a source that is most commonly available, I’m getting the most accessed data set regardless of its accuracy. Accuracy has never been a focus of my work.

These neighborhoods run the range from corporate entertainment districts by developers like Omni in Miami, which centers around the Omni Mall—once culturally thriving, gay neighborhoods that have gentrified and became popular shopping districts like South Beach in Florida and North Beach in San Francisco—and old historic neighborhoods that are now hosts to clubs and bars like the Gaslamp District in San Diego. The neighborhood you live or where you go out can act as a signifier in the same way that the clothes you wear, the music you listen too, and the TV you watch do. All of these elements, the visual look of the text, the background water of the Burberry pattern (another visual signifier with cache), and the reference to the music video Gangnam Style are all concepts that set the foundation for the rest of the work in the show. It really serves as conceptual guide to the various ways I use visual languages in the other works in the exhibition.

MM: I find the title of show really interesting. Code Switch can be applied in so many ways. What significance does the title have for you?

LR: I am making a direct correlation between visual language and verbal/spoken language. Code switch is a linguistic term that refers to conversational switching between differing languages. That term has expanded to include other elements like accents, slang, and individual utterances. An example of this linguistic code switching is “Have a hotdawg, y’all.” The code switch is starting with the New York accent of hotdawg and switching tone with the southern vernacular term y’all. I like to think that I am doing the visual equivalent of code switching. By using popular and recognizable visual patterns that already have a meaning in the social dictionary, I can make “etymological” lineages or connections between those visual languages without changing the original meaning.

MM: How did your thinking for this project develop?

LR: My work using the concept of mapping is essentially a way to explore notions of identity. At first, I used it to figure out my own identity and how complex it can be. Now it is more an exploration of the things that can signify identity like how we consume entertainment and culture, from the ways we embody music or wear fashion to reflect or even influence identity. It is interesting to think that some of the most “successful” artists are the ones who seem able to create a “brand” for themselves and their work.

An art collection is also loaded with signifiers as well, things that might tell us something about the collector, whether it is their personality, interests, a certain perspective with which they view the world. I learned that Larry Ellison’s Japanese art collection was coming to the Asian Art Museum and I wanted to see how his collection might reflect some element about his sense of the world. To be transparent, my mother works for Oracle so the company “brand” has become of part of my family. This brand culture trickles down from the corporate identity, which impacts her experiences, and trickles down further when it influences my siblings and my interactions with her too. This is kind of where the project started.

MM: Can you describe your project Copy Right/Copy Left?

LR: For Copy Right/Copy Left I am appropriating a few of the most recognizable patterns from objects in the exhibition In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection. I will create a template where people can play with these patterns (as I interpreted them), mixing and matching them to create land masses on a map, which might look similar to one of my drawings. It is a way to get people thinking about patterns and give them a focus to view the exhibition.

People will then go into the galleries and look for a pattern they find interesting. Through their eyes, they will draw a swatch of the pattern as they interpret it. There is a little flexibility in creating this swatch. This should not be an “amazing” drawing, but more a study or a diagram that shows how each person interprets a pattern. Once someone comes out of the exhibition with this study, I will then give them a postcard-size drawing, partially completed. The drawing will show a land mass filled partly with one of the patterns I created. But this is an unfinished drawing. I am going to ask each person to take his or her study as guide and draw a pattern to complete it. I am excited to see how other peoples’ patterns interact with the patterns I created. Will the patterns match, clash, line up or not register at all? It is going to be interesting to see how these different patterns relate and speak to each other. After the drawing is completed it will be documented. Participants will give me the study or diagram they did in the galleries in exchange for the drawing they completed.

In a sense, this project is a code switch between my own visual language and the code created by each participant’s visual interpretation of patterns in the exhibition. People will be able to leave with the drawing, and I will study and interpret their diagrams and patterns to interpret and try to incorporate it into some drawings done on site. But this project also might tell a bigger story of the connective transfer of visual language and meaning that I have through my mom, Oracle, Larry Ellison, and his art collection. It becomes signatory of the evolving meaning of visual tropes, giving one more way to create a workable structure in understanding visual languages. It is more than just copying.

Come to the museum on Thursday night, July 25 at 6:30 to be part of Lordy Rodriguez’s project Copy Right/Copy Left. RSVP here and share with your friends.

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.

Proximities in public

Proximities_25Proximities 1 is open to the public and it has been a thrill to see the first phase as an actual exhibition. It looks like it was intended to—lush, colorful, a little bit critical.

The gallery now seems a contemporary interjection between areas devoted to traditional galleries of Korean and Japanese objects, a spot within which to ponder notions of time and place.

As the show faces a public, this is also an opportunity for feedback. The week before the show opened, I began to hear, second hand, questions about who is included in the show—particularly why it is that there are mostly non-Asian artists in What Time Is It There?. The beauty of having the blog platform is that it allows for this issue to be acknowledged. Here are some curatorial notes:

One of the show’s goals is to create new connections between the museum and the local contemporary art public. As I began the process, I considered the idea that the museum was interested in broadening its audience and addressing a community of artists who live and work here.  I began with my own position: Why wasn’t I more connected to the venue? Partly it’s because I am not schooled in Asian art history, and partly because my interests are more focused on contemporary art, which is only sporadically presented at the Asian. I figured I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.  (It turned out that a surprising number of the artists in the shows had never actually been to the museum before, and in that regard, the show has begun to do its job of broadening the scope of visitors.) And of course there is always the question of identity as an entry point: Does an artist or viewer have to be Asian or Asian American to consider the subject? Spending time at the museum, it’s clear that the audience and staff are a diverse bunch.

With the first show, I wanted to create entry points for artists and viewers of all stripes. There was a directive from the museum to address “Asia” as a totality, which is a huge, unwieldy theme. I considered artists who had some connection to this vast idea; the more unlikely the connection seemed the most interesting to me. When I told colleagues about the show, they assumed that it would only include Asian artists, making the idea of thwarting expectation all the more appealing. James Gobel, for example, seems like the last person you’d expect to be showing in this particular museum, and yet his abstract painting reveals fitting connections to the themes (Manila being his subject). Hopefully his work suggests more entry points to the museum, and who has a connection to it, than we might initially consider. There are Asian and hyphenate artists in the trio of exhibitions; the artists selected are those who had not exhibited in an “Asian” context before (in upcoming shows you’ll see Barry McGee, Kota Ezawa, Imin Yeh, Michael Jang, and others).

The first show is purposefully about distance from place, about imagining the far away. I was initially inspired by Raymond Roussel’s 1910 surrealist novel, Impressions of Africa, which revels in the notion of the imagined place through a formalized lens. In Proximities, we are viewing the concept of “Asia” from California, in a museum that is very much a constructed presentation of culture and an institution beset with unavoidable cultural baggage. I think the first show offers its criticisms subtly. It’s a small show, but hopefully one that will generate some productive discussion along with its aesthetic pleasures.

Proximities, getting closer

The upcoming exhibition, Proximities, takes place in a single gallery over the next several months, but it’s rooted in a larger dialogue, and metaphorically in various spaces. The show is ostensibly about conceptions of an unwieldy, geographically and culturally vast idea termed “Asia,” but it’s also about engaging different communities and considering the Asian Art Museum’s connection to contemporary art—from Asia and beyond. The series emerged from conversations about institutions and audiences, and how the museum is connected to the large community of artists who live and work in the Bay Area. I’m honored to have been invited to curate this project.

I began by questioning my own relationship to the museum and to the idea of Asian art. In many ways, it’s a specialized field, and one that has aspects of identity embedded—do you have to be schooled or part of the family in order to fully appreciate what is on view in the museum? Sometimes it can seem that way. You could do an informal poll and find similar questions about any number of cultural institutions in San Francisco—the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora, Mission Cultural Center— that are there to address an invested constituency. Each, however, is very interested in sharing a specific culture, and the set of concerns and ideas that emerge from their perspectives.

Contemporary art also has its degree of insider-ness, its issues du jour, and its rising stars. But these aspects of art tend to get more complicated when the overlays of globalism appear. I’m certain I’m not the only Westerner who calls Cai Guo Qiang the fireworks guy because I’m never quite sure how to pronounce his name. He’s an artist who emerged during a heyday of contemporary Chinese art, yet currently lives in New York. Does that still make him an “Asian artist”? It’s a fascinating question—where we are we in relation to “home”?– which is just one of the subtexts of Proximities. Perhaps a more salient theme is bridging some boundaries between the museum and artists you might not expect to see in it. “Asia” covers a lot of territory. The intention is to use this blog forum to address ways in which the show enters into various locations and ideas. We’re getting closer. Proximities 1: What Time Is It There? opens on May 24.

—Glen Helfand, Curator

Artists Drawing Club: Between, with Amy M. Ho

Artist Amy M. Ho talks about her Artists Drawing Club:

For the March edition of the Artists Drawing Club, I led a group of museum visitors on a sensory exploration of the space.  I started out explaining my own interest in the subject matter.  Most of my artwork is installation based and deals with our understanding and experience of the spaces and environments we inhabit.  Our relationship to space is key to our emotional and physical experiences but we often take it for granted.   In walking through the museum, I was hoping that the group would learn something new about their own experience of space and see how lighting, architecture and sound work together to choreograph our experiences.

After the introduction and as an icebreaker of sorts, we each mentioned a favorite space or an experience with space that we’ve had.  It was great to hear how experiences of space can shape our memories.

Next, I gave a short tour of the spaces that stood out to me in the South Court area of the museum.  We looked at some of the various shadows cast by the light coming in from above.  We closed our eyes and listened to the sounds echoing though the atrium.  We went to the back of the escalator to a nook that is often ignored.  Finally, we explored the corridor behind the museum store.

After the short tour, each person was assigned to a specific part of the museum and was asked to spend the next twenty minutes there observing the lights, sounds, architecture and anything else that stood out to them.  Each person was asked to sketch, photograph or write about what they saw.  Below are some of the photos and sketches.

Carey Lin

Carey Lin was assigned to the back staircase. Here’s her graph of the sound in the space.

Jamie Emerick

Jamie Emerick was up in the third floor galleries. Here is a sketch she made of an art piece and its shadows.

Dave Lyons

Dave Lyons was assigned to the Chinese Jade Gallery on the third floor. Here’s his image of the underside of the display.

Brandon Drew Holmes

Brandon Drew Holmes stayed downstairs in the South Court. Here is a sketch he made of how the light changed.

Amy Ho

I assigned myself to the escalators and the landing at the top of the escalators. Here is a view of the building across the street through the streaked window.

Owen Lawrence

Owen Lawrence went up to the Loggia. Here is a sketch of the architecture.

Marc Mayer

Marc Mayer stayed in the Contemplative Alcove in the Japan Galleries. Here is his sketch of the floating wall.


 

 

 

 

 

Beyond II, Amy Ho

Beyond II, Amy Ho

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.

HeadShot-AmyHo-webAmy 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.
Blue2-web
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.