Archive for 'General'

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.

 

 

Draw it like you throw it

photo by Quincy Stamper 2015.

photo by Quincy Stamper 2015.

Teresa Williams, public program intern, interviews artist Erik Scollon about his work and his Artists Drawing Club project which took place at the museum, March 19, 2015.

Stepping close, visitors gathered around the Korean moon jar from the Joseon dynasty.  As their eyes swept across the ceramic’s form, taking in its smooth and elegant shape, its simplistic beauty evoked great appreciation.  Erik Scollon, ceramicist and professor, allowed for the object’s beauty to captivate the visitors for a moment before beginning  to describe the process behind creating the object before them. . As Erik described the way the ceramist’s hands slowly created the form, the visitors developed a deeper respect for the work.

Leading the group back downstairs, Erik brought visitors to a long table stocked with ink, watercolor paper, and paintbrushes. He asked the group to imagine themselves in the potter’s seat, building and forming a ceramic piece from scratch. Taking his brush, Erik dipped it in indigo acrylic ink and touched it to a piece of paper to create a blue dot in its middle. He then slowly added simple brush strokes, swirling tightly around the dot, to create the form of a circle. He asked the group to follow his lead. As each slow, methodical brush stroke completed its rotation, the dot grew larger and larger, expanding outward from its center.

 

photo by Quincy Stamper 2015.

photo by Quincy Stamper 2015.

This simple drawing exercise helps Erik meditate on building form in his work. I had the pleasure of interviewing Erik both before and after his Artist Drawing Club program. During these discussions, I learned more about his career as an artist, how he helps shape the next generation of artists, where he finds inspiration, and what he means by “draw it like you throw it.” Here are excerpts from our discussions:

photo by Quincy Stamper, 2015.

photo by Quincy Stamper, 2015.

Teresa: When did you decide you wanted to become an artist? What is it about ceramics that spoke to you?

Erik: I’m not really sure when I decided I wanted to be an artist. I was always interested in making things, I guess because of my Midwestern background. My dad had a workshop in the basement, and he showed me how to use tools. I thought this was something everyone did. In junior high school I had wood shop and metal shop. I don’t think I saw those classes as vocational training—I thought of them as art classes in a different format. So I was always making things. In high school, I took a ceramics class at the local community college and knew that I loved it. I liked ceramics because it was a very physical kind of art making, and it spoke to the athlete in me. I was used to the discipline of being on a swim team, so the years of practice it took in order to make a good pot on the potter’s wheel didn’t seem like a big deal. In fact, I liked that you could only get good through discipline.

Teresa: When you were starting your career as an artist, whose work did you find most influential in shaping your practice? Which artists inspire you now?

Erik: The first artist I remember being really excited about was Jonathan Borofsky, who I discovered during my freshman year of college. My work is not very much like his, but his vision and way of working really excited me. Being exposed to his work expanded my ideas about what art could be, what it could look like, and how it could function in the world.

Today, picking a short list of influential artists is really difficult. I’m overexposed to, and possibly overloaded with, work that I love through sites like Tumblr and any number of art blogs. Lately, I’ve been thinking about color and how slippery and difficult it is to put words to describe it. I’ve been looking at painters and the way they use color to help me think about color in my own work.

Teresa: Can you describe to me the process that you call “draw it like you throw it”?

Erik: Making a sphere on the potter’s wheel is a process where the form emerges slowly. I find the process of meditative drawing feels similar to the way that I throw pots on the potter’s wheel, where I get to evaluate, respond, and adjust until I feel out the form and it feels “right.”

Teresa: You teach students at UC Berkeley and at California College of the Arts. How does your teaching practice shape your artistic practice and vice versa?

photo by Quincy Stamper, 2015.

photo by Quincy Stamper, 2015.

Erik: I think teaching and art making go hand in hand. Each of the projects I assign the students starts with my particular interests, and I teach the kinds of skills I value. But, hopefully, students can find their own voices within the constraints of the assignment. And, because so much of my time is taken up with teaching, I get to keep my mind and hands active by proxy of what I do in the classroom. More than once I’ve realized that I was getting a little too involved in a class demo, because I hadn’t had enough studio time of my own. But watching the students work is always a revelation. They approach something that I think that I know in a different way, in a way that expands my ideas and helps me understand them better. I often get really excited about what they do, which in turn gets them excited about what they’re doing.

Teresa: Can you tell me about your work Using Erik Scollon? How did the idea come about?

Erik: Using Erik Scollon came about when I was invited to participate in a figurative clay show in Ohio. At that time I was making mostly vessels and functional objects, often with a participatory twist to them. So, I just fused the ideas of “figure” and “vessel” together. At the start of the show there was a wall of cups; when placed together, the paintings on them created my figure. One by one, visitors would take a cup from the wall if they agreed to make a video of themselves using the cup. In this way the portrait slowly disappeared. I was interested in how people responded and interpreted the simple cup object. Some of the response videos were stunning and enlightening. The idea underneath the whole thing had to do with a subtle queering of the objects and how that provoked viewer responses. There was one person who created a really beautiful video of a cup being used a bunch of different ways during the day.

Join us at the next Artist Drawing Club event on May 28, 2015, as we welcome artist Ma Li to the Asian Art Museum. We hope to see you there!

The Plight of the Wild Rhino

Update May 22, 2015: Rhinoceros poaching continues to escalate in South Africa according to National Geographic. The slaughter continues despite news reports — National Geographic and PBS – that rhinoceros horns have no medicinal value nor curative properties. The Asian Art Museum does not condone nor promote the slaughter of rhinos.

The contest to find a nickname for the beloved rhino-shaped bronze vessel allows the museum to offer insight on the significance of art works made from rhino horns, as well as the endangered state of today’s wild rhino.

The rhinoceros was of special importance to the ancient Chinese, as the museum’s famous rhinoceros-shaped vessel, which dates from 1100–1050 BCE, attests. It is an awkward fact that great artworks are sometimes created amid deplorable circumstances. It is hard not to think of the current plight of the rhinoceros when viewing artworks made from rhino horns, or indeed of that of the elephant when viewing objects made of ivory. The rhinoceros was almost extinct in China by the time of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) due to hunting and habitat destruction. On November 10, 2011, the western black rhinoceros was declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and all rhino species are currently endangered. So what are we to make of rhino horn art?

Rhinoceros horn was (and still is) valued for its medicinal properties, and considered an antidote to poison. Often carved into cups, it became a prized medium of artistic expression, and Chinese artists created great works of art from it; the period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was one of particular excellence.

Examples of rhinoceros horn objects are on view in the museum’s Gallery 17, on the second floor. By displaying these objects we hope to improve understanding of traditional Chinese art and also to heighten awareness of the current threat to an animal long esteemed in Chinese culture, and admired by people the world over. For more information about rhino conservation, visit the World Wildlife Fund.

Jung Ran Bae breathes a dream into the museum

"TEAter-Totter," 2014, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Porcelain. Lent by the artist. Photo courtesy of Michael Rauner Photography.

“TEAter-Totter,” 2014, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Porcelain. Lent by the artist. Photo courtesy of Michael Rauner Photography.

I distinctly remember my first meeting with Jung Ran Bae last year and her response to Samsung Hall. She was in awe of the space. As I learned about her work, so many possible project ideas entered my mind, from engaging her practice as a ceramicist in connection with the museum’s collection, to developing a project around time, which is an element that seemed to creep into many of her works. Trying to contain my excitement, I realized again that I had to give myself over to the artist and her process, keeping my own ideas to myself. The artist was going to have to drive the project. As we walked around the space, she puzzled, “How could I possibly fill up this space?” We talked about installation, light and sound. This question became the touchstone of the project, something from which Jung Ran Bae could build. As we embark on the final project of the Artists Drawing Club of 2014, I sat down with the artist to discuss her art, including her performance work and her upcoming project Breathe, which will take place on Thursday, August 28 at the museum.

 

Marc Mayer (MM): What is it about ceramics that appeals to you?

Jung Ran Bae (JRB): I consider myself a sculptor who works mainly with clay for its pliable quality. When I first went to school, I wanted to be a fashion illustrator or go into fashion business. In the curriculum, you had to take mandatory classes of 3-D art. I took a ceramic class and fell in love with the material. I was hooked by clay. Like when you fall in love with someone, you don’t know why. But I realized that one thing I liked about it was how malleable it is—you can create anything you want. In visual images like illustrations for sewing designs or architectural drawings, they use dotted lines to show an unfinished shape. When I work with clay and imagine a sculpture, I constantly see those types of dotted lines. Then, I can make exactly what I imagine with clay because it is moldable, supple.

MM: Are there any works of ceramics that are touchstones for you? What are some other sources of inspiration?

JRB: I have always really liked images of Salvador Dalí and surrealism. I find inspiration in Robert Arneson’s and Claes Oldenburg’s work. Viola Frey was my teacher. I was inspired by her passion, scale and devotion to her work. Later, Ann Hamilton’s impressive installations sparked something in me. I like life-size and large works with delicate details. Large-scale objects excite me and feel more real. I like for my work to give visual pleasure and provide visual impact.

MM: You were part of the affiliate artist program at Headlands Center for the Arts, in Marin, for two and a half years, where you started to develop a new performance-based practice. In what ways are your ceramics related to your performances?

JRB: In graduate school, I spent about seven months challenging myself by creating the biggest ceramic installation possible. This blobby piece was 12 x 10 feet and 8 feet tall. It was huge. I was so proud to show my work to my professor. She listened to my explanation and said to me, “Ran, if someone just walked into your space, what if they could sense your story through just an image or through their sense of smell? Wouldn’t that be great?” I was shocked. I felt like she was telling me this was not enough.

Yet her comment was a totally new concept for me and led me to experiment with exactly what my teacher was talking about. I wanted to experience performance art, because it seems it is the total opposite of making objects, and it made me think differently about “art.”

The environment at Headlands led me in a certain direction. I always wanted to do something more experimental and wondered how I was going to capture people’s attention. It was through performance. I later realized that my ability to make sculptures and my experimental mind in performance merged naturally.

MM: For you what is important about creating an environment that appeals to the senses?

JRB: Emotions play an important role in creating work, and my desire as an artist is to share that with viewers. My favorite part of performance art is connecting directly with my audience. Even though I don’t do as much performances these days, I still have the desire to connect with the viewer. So creating a sensorial experience offers the viewer a way to connect. Art is such an emotional and thoughtful practice. Whether viewers are aware or not, I believe emotions play an important role for artists. I like to create the same emotion in the viewer’s mind. If I’m able to do this, I feel like my artwork is fulfilled.

"Human Betweens," 2014, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Ceramic. Lent by the artist. Photo courtesy of Michael Rauner Photography.

“Human Betweens,” 2014, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Ceramic. Lent by the artist. Photo courtesy of Michael Rauner Photography.

MM: TEAter-Totter and Human Betweens are on view in the museum’s Korean art galleries. Can you tell us more about each work?

JRB: Human Betweens includes several small houses with differently posed figures placed on top. The surfaces of the houses are scratched, textured. The figures do not have mouths. I tried to create a unique human experience through each of the gestures and postures.

TEAter-Totter has three stacks of teacups, ranging from 3½ to 6 feet. They are very stable as a piece itself but look off-balanced and unstable. It creates a sense of tension. I actually made this teacup tower as part of another installation. For TEAter-Totter to become an independent piece, a fulfilled artwork itself, is exciting. Somehow these components of the installation became centerpieces. It both pleases and surprises me. But again, you never know what life will bring when you do something new.

MM: Local Korean artist Yoong Bae was a mentor for many Korean artists in the Bay Area before his death in 1992. Can you tell me about your relationship with Yoong Bae?

JRB: I met Yoong Bae in my second semester at college. My first spring show was scheduled so I called and told him about my show. We hadn’t met at this point, but I had heard about him from the local community. I didn’t expect him to come but he came! When I visited his studio, I asked him what he thought was the most important thing for a successful artist. He said that if you can manage to go to your studio every day, then you are able to create work. If you are able to create work for a long time, then that is success. He wasn’t really a talkative type, but I could tell that he was sincere. I think he believed that it was his role to encourage young, enthusiastic artists. I am so honored that my new works are on view with his paintings.

"Portable Years," 1997, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Paper Cups, aluminum and nylon wheels. Photo courtesy of the artist. © Jung Ran Bae.

“Portable Years,” 1997, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Paper Cups, aluminum and nylon wheels. Photo courtesy of the artist. © Jung Ran Bae.

MM: Time has a kind of haunting presence in Still, Portable Years, and TEAter-Totter. What role does time play in them?

JRB: There are a lot of elements of dealing with time in my work. Yet I don’t consider time as the initial concept for any of my works. Still took twelve years, but I never planned for it to take so long. For Still, I was excited by the contrast between significant and insignificant deaths, combining dead insects and obituaries. But if I only had a few of these together, I realized it was not going to have the impact I wanted. So it became part of my daily routine, a simple act of collecting an insect and cutting out an obituary. It was a small act, but after fourteen years it resulted in twelve long coffin-shaped frames filled with dead insects together with obituaries. To me, the most important part of this artwork is my experience over those fourteen years. It started out with simple curiosity but after three years, I had created an art form. I started feeling greedy. I wanted as many insects as possible, to fill up those twelve coffins. I realized that I couldn’t rush this process without going out and actively catching insects; I had to find a way to settle and feel satisfied with the daily ritual.

"Still" (detail), 2005, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Insects, pins, newspaper obituaries, fabric, wood and glass. Photo courtesy of the artist. © Jung Ran Bae.

“Still” (detail), 2005, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Insects, pins, newspaper obituaries, fabric, wood and glass. Photo courtesy of the artist. © Jung Ran Bae.

MM: Since long spans of time seem to be an inherent element in your process, do your works ever become “complete” or feel finished?

JRB: At a certain point, I do feel my works are complete and finished. Before I start any work, I spend quite a long time thinking about how I will frame this work into an art form. When I have a clear vision, there’s no hesitation at all. You just have to keep going, keep repeating. I’m not sure why, but I tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. I don’t think it’s about the material I’m collecting; I think it’s about that moment. I like to save or collect the moment. Whether I’m having a sad thought or good day, I am collecting my moments. Moments of reflection. Moments of thought. Moments of wisdom. Moments of insight. Moments of emotion.

"Still" 2005, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Insects, pins, newspaper obituaries, fabric, wood and glass. Photo courtesy of the artist. © Jung Ran Bae.

“Still” 2005, by Jung Ran Bae (Korean, b. 1955). Insects, pins, newspaper obituaries, fabric, wood and glass. Photo courtesy of the artist. © Jung Ran Bae.

MM: What was the inspiration for your Artists Drawing Club project Breathe?

JRB: The whole idea was inspired by the space and scale of Samsung Hall. It’s grand. I wanted the challenge to figure out how to fill up that huge space. I think the only way I could do it is with sound. The room is beautiful and elegant, but at the same time it is rigid and cold. I wanted to play with contrasts of textures. The room is Beaux Arts architecture, so it is very classical style. I wanted to continue to play with visual contrast by using some kitschy material in the project and tease those sensibilities a little. The fake white fur I am using is soft, playful and kind of cheap looking.  I really wish the contrast of these materials with architecture enhance the beauty of Samsung Hall. Textural, visual, and conceptual contrast inspired me for the Artists Drawing Club.

Jung Ran Bae’s studio, in preparation for "Breathe."

Jung Ran Bae’s studio, in preparation for “Breathe.”

MM: How would you describe your project, Breathe, for the Artists Drawing Club?  What experience do you imagine a visitor might have?

JRB: Imagine walking into Samsung Hall and hearing the sound of deep, soft breathing or a heartbeat. Viewers will see a landscape of white fur hills, creating pathways through the space. While walking these paths visitors can touch the fur hills, feeling the softness on their hands or even their faces.  Finally the path leads to a tiny house.  As each person approaches this 7-foot-tall house, also covered in white fur, there is a small door at face height and the viewer is invited to open it. Looking through, he or she will see a breathing face at the end of the corridor, corresponding to the sound in the room.  When visitors turn around, they will find a hidden heart on the back of one of the fur hills and can touch the gently beating heart and feel it beat. I want sound of breath and heartbeats to help make the experience sensual and give life to Samsung Hall. I also want to create comfort and inspire a sense of playfulness in contrast to the impressive architecture. For example the shapes of the hills look like some sort of creatures making humorous gestures. My desire is to create a sensory experience, much like a dream.

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.

*********************

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.

 

Ajit Chauhan explores memories of memories of the memory

Untitled (Memories) by Ajit Chauhan. 2014.

Untitled (Memories) by Ajit Chauhan. 2014.

I discovered Ajit Chauhan’s work while I was reading about an upcoming exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum titled The Possible. I came across a work that still lingers in my memory, titled RERECORD. The artwork included 162 record album covers, altered through erasure, abstracting the images. I was haunted by how images were obscured, and started to fade away. I was intrigued, which led me deeper into the artist’s work. I was excited by his interest in language, pattern, poetics and forms of abstraction, and I knew that working with Ajit would yield an interesting and thoughtful project. I have been so impressed with his care for materials, language and audience that at moments it has forced me to rethink a certain perspective I might carry. I wanted to learn more about his work, process and upcoming Artists Drawing Club project, Palimpsest.   

 Marc Mayer (MM): If someone were to see your work for the first time, what work(s) would you want them to see? Can you tell us a little about those artworks or projects?

Ajit Chauhan (AC): Well the title of this project is Palimpsest. Latin palimpsestus, from Greek palimpsēstos—scraped again; from palin + psēn—to rub, scrape; akin to Sanskrit psāti, babhasti—he chews, literally meaning “scraped clean and used again.” I was thinking of the echoes of this building’s former life as the Main Public Library. I don’t know if it was Robert Duncan or H.D. who said, “Palimpsest is not only that of image over image or person over person, but of time over time.” To answer your question I’ve often wished I could forget my past work, or at least relive the memories without cavities. I suppose that’s more tabula rasa than palimpsest. If I were forced to choose, it would most likely be something from the show From the Pencil Area at the Jack Hanley Gallery in New York. I felt like that was a very conscious decision to try to make something more restrained, more poetic; that was the intent. Maybe an erased piece titled Last Address. It was a grid so the emphasis was on where the lines cross, their relationship to one another, basically a drawing of a weaving. I remember my friend Kevin Killian telling me, “You’ve pulled all the sense out of me,” after he saw the show, and that made me laugh.  It made me think about the word bewilder, be + wilder. I would like people to see the show Larry Rinder curated with Colter Jacobsen and myself at SVIT Gallery in Prague, Inner Sleeves. Jiri Kovanda made the poster (which was also in the show) for the band that played at the opening.

Inner Sleeves by Ajit Chauhan. 2012. Erased Record (Album) Covers

Inner Sleeves by Ajit Chauhan. 2012. Erased Record (Album) Covers

From the Pencil Area by Ajit Chauhan. 2011. Erased Record (Album) Covers.

From the Pencil Area by Ajit Chauhan. 2011. Erased Record (Album) Covers.

Inner Sleeves, 2012, by Ajit Chauhan. Erased record (album) covers. Courtesy of the artist.

Inner Sleeves, 2012, by Ajit Chauhan. Erased record (album) covers. Courtesy of the artist.

MM: Your work and practice seem to have an important and dynamic relationship to language. What role do words, text, and writing play in your work?

 AC: I’ve always had an interest in misreadings. At times I’ll read an entire passage in a text that isn’t there, shifting the words that are there into a new order and context, that carries over to a kind of visual dyslexia as well. English is my father’s fourth language, so he would always combine clichés, which I appreciated. It made me spend time with them. Words are really loaded, and I don’t mean that just with negative connotations. Norma Cole has poems or meditations on single words, tracing them back with all their entanglements and shifts in meaning over time (Yellow and…: A Response to the Poetry of Marjorie Welish). I’ve just been reading the George Lakoff book Metaphors We Live By, which talks about the pervasiveness of metaphor in our lives and how we perceive and process the world through them, so really how they govern our lives. When I’m at the library sometimes I’ll need a break so I’ll spend time with the Josef Albers’s Interaction of Color book that is part of their reference collection. It’s really a series of individual folders but it emphasizes the point of the transitory nature of color, how it’s largely based on context, and if color itself is that way you can imagine how slippery language can be.

Writing has come up in my own work most directly through concrete poetry, with typewriter patterns or typesetting, playing with palindromes and anagrams. When one titles work and it doesn’t serve as an interpretation or explanation but as a part of the piece, I think that’s an important part of language in an (art) practice. Mostly I think just reading or listening to poetry helps but I couldn’t tell you specifically how or why, but it probably has something to do with what Marianne Moore said: “So that in looking at some apparently small object, one feels the swirl of great events.”

 

Untitled, 2014, by Ajit Chauhan. Typewriter carbon on paper. 5.5 x 8 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Untitled, 2014, by Ajit Chauhan. Typewriter carbon on paper. 5.5 x 8 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Untitled, 2014, by Ajit Chauhan. Typewriter carbon on paper. 5.5 x 8 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

Untitled, 2014, by Ajit Chauhan. Typewriter carbon on paper. 5.5 x 8 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

MM: You were recently part of the exhibition The Possible at the Berkeley Art Museum. Can you tell us about the exhibition and your experience there?

AC: When I talk about the exhibition I refer to it as the “dreamtime.” It was nice to regularly spend time in the Berkeley Art Museum, which is a distinctive modernist building. There’s a great tumblr, http://fuckyeahbrutalism.tumblr.com, if you like brutalist architecture. I remember during a few of the thunderstorms the acoustics of the space were incredible. Everyone was extremely generous. I would surmise that was what the exhibition was largely about, that exchange. I was a complete novice but spent the majority of the time in the weaving section, and we’ve become pretty knit. I selfishly appropriated a loom and spent the majority of the time weaving. There was a lot of crosspollination though and I learned how to bind books with the Publication Studio equipment. I spent time in The Reading Room with Barbara Guest books and in the library that Anzfer Farms furnished. The mail-art correspondences for The Possible were on display next to vitrines of fluxes art boxes, the S. M. S. publications by William N. Copley, General Idea’s FILE magazine and others. Ultimately I think it was that dream we’ve all had, that ideal we all thought school was going to be, a place full of encouragement and direction, with hands-on learning. I think it was an opportunity for all the participants, and we controlled the parameters of our involvement but everything was available. 

MM: You mentioned a new interest in weaving that came about while using the studios that were part of The Possible. What is it about the medium and the process that resonates for you? Do you think there is a relationship between weaving and writing? If there is, how would you describe it, in the context of your work?

AC: It’s a slippery slope! There is a kind of alchemical instant gratification in seeing two materials interlace and be “woven” together. I was grateful to be introduced to weaving during The Possible exhibition. As I mentioned earlier with certain grid pieces I was essentially making drawings of weavings so it was a very natural extension or step to come to weaving. I had a conversation with the artist Hadi Tabatabai, who deals a lot with pattern and grid. We talked about our affinity for repetition. It does require a certain sensibility to repeat something again and again. But tedium has always been part of my practice. I have heard it characterized as “painstaking” but there is rarely if ever any pain involved. It is simple, easy, repetitive, time-consuming work, which, if you have the sensibility for it, is extremely rewarding.

This project with the Asian Art Museum, I chose to address the remnants of the building’s former life, in particular the inscriptions that are still housed in this building. One of the inscriptions I chose was “To ‘dis-cover’ was to pull away the covering cloth,” so to learn to make cloth seems appropriate. I do see a correlation between weaving and writing, although again I am cautious about making analogies. But the next time you print something from your computer, that is essentially what weaving on a loom is, building something horizontally (the weft) sequentially line by line.

Last Address, 2011, by Ajit Chauhan. Courtesy of the artist.

Last Address, 2011, by Ajit Chauhan. Courtesy of the artist.

Bumps and Whispers, 2014, by Ajit Chauhan. Courtesy of the artist.

Bumps and Whispers, 2014, by Ajit Chauhan. Courtesy of the artist.

Untitled (weaving, from The Possible), 2014, by Ajit Chauhan. Courtesy of the artist.

Untitled (weaving, from The Possible), 2014, by Ajit Chauhan. Courtesy of the artist.

 MM: What is your project for the Artists Drawing Club? How did the idea come about?

 AC: The title of the project is Palimpsest, something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface. The Asian Art Museum’s building, formerly the Main Public Library, contains traces of this building’s former life. The twenty-four quotations chosen by former mayor Edward Robeson Taylor, inscribed in the toast-tinted travertine above the grand staircase, are the set of echoes that I chose to focus on. I was immediately drawn to them. They are very strange. Like something you would find at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, “…guided along as it were a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life.” Andrea Grimes, a former librarian in the old main library and now in the 6th-floor San Francisco History Center of the new main, was very generous, suggesting archival material, printed matter and ephemera. She gifted me an inscriptions book that she wrote the preface for, VITA SINE LITERIS, which was Taylor’s personal motto (borrowed from Seneca), translated as: “Life without letters is death.” It was introduced in the bookplate design that was adopted by the San Francisco Public Library.

Andrea also did further research on the inscriptions, giving a broader context to the source material. Taylor did not include sources for any of the quotations and freely adapted the wording to fit the inscriptional spaces. The Charles Caleb Colton inscription “Handle A Book As A Bee Does A Flower Extract Its Sweets But Do Not Injure It” is actually “I have somewhere seen it observed, that we should make the same use of a book, as a bee does of a flower, she steals sweets from it, but does not injure it.”

For this project I chose to make boxes that will be gifted to visitors. The boxes have inscriptions imprinted on the inside with text that deals with the ephemeral, with thresholds, with transitions. I hope the boxes echo the concept of container, housing and shell, and lead visitors to reflect on the Asian Art Museum and its former life as the Main Public Library. It was interesting having the boxes die-cut and printed. I felt adamantly against doing an insert with premade boxes. I thought the housing of the inscriptions in the museum and in the boxes were a set of formal echoes and correspondences through which they answer each other. I also reproduced a booklet on the actual inscriptions for visitors to take and reflect on.

Sante Johnson student project for the Royal School of Embroidery

Sante Johnson student project for the Royal School of Embroidery

MM: Risk is part of the Artists Drawing Club series. I am asking you to try something new with a public audience. What do you want to achieve through Palimpsest? What do you want to take away from this experience? What do you want audience members to experience during this event?

AC: I don’t really believe in reinventing the wheel or that space of what’s “new.” That always seemed a little reactionary to me. I’m more interested in following the tiny inspirations that may or may not appear. I’m more interested in what has value and meaning to me that may be the only part that speaks to other people. “Achieve” is another interesting word because I think process is important. It’s a sort of problem-solving process, and you deal with frustrations and compromises but ultimately it’s a learning experience. I’m grateful and feel fortunate to have spent time in this building and with all the ephemera surrounding this building, telling the histories of the lives that passed through it. Ultimately I hope visitors reflect on some of these histories. I hope they will reflect back on themselves at a very basic level.

The Friends of San Francisco Public Library

The Friends of San Francisco Public Library

 

Which Gorgeous artwork are you?

You know, you’re a real piece of work—a work of art, in fact! Are you calm or chaotic? Tacky or tasteful? Grotesque or genteel? Take this quiz to find out which Gorgeous artwork you are!

See Gorgeous in person – the exhibition opens today!

We’re on Khan Academy

“Museums—having increasingly positioned themselves as educational resources—have the potential to fill the gaps left by the inadequate resources on Asia in schools throughout the nation.” – Bridge Program Evaluation

It has always been our goal to spearhead efforts to close these gaps. That’s why we’re really excited about our new online courses on Asian art history at Khan Academy. As a Khan partner, we are among world-class institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the California Academy of Sciences, who are all doing their part to bring knowledge to the people in new and different ways.

If you haven’t heard of them before, Khan Academy is a non-profit educational website that aims to provide no-cost, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Courses range across all types of topics, from math to humanities. It’s not surprising that they reach over ten million students a month.

When Khan Academy came to us, they had little information on Asian art history. Once they saw our rich repository of videos, essays and more, they knew that we would be a good fit. We were likewise excited by the opportunity to reach a new audience, so we worked together to create the course. Now you can dig deeper into Asian art history while getting stats on yourself and earning fun badges. Check it out!

Khan Academy

Honoring James Francis Cahill

Landscape with fisherman, 1629, by Guan Si (1590-1630). Illinois. Ink and colors on paper.

Landscape with fisherman, 1629, by Guan Si (1590-1630). Illinois. Ink and colors on paper.

The Asian Art Museum displays a landscape painting in Gallery 17, dated 1629, by Guan Si in remembrance of scholar and friend, James Francis Cahill (1926–2014), who passed away on February 14, 2014 at his home in Berkeley at age eighty-seven. The painting was purchased by the Peabody Family Trust upon the advice of Cahill, and then donated to the museum in his honor. The painting will stay on view through July 13, 2014

The painter Guan Si was skillful at reinterpreting fourteenth-century masters, and his personal style evolved from complicated to simple. The subject of fisherman in landscape is a familiar theme in traditional Chinese painting, and the sparse brushwork and simple composition of this landscape exemplify Guan’s mature style. The painting was purchased by the Peabody Family Trust upon the advice of the influential art historian James Cahill, and then donated to the museum in his honor.

Cahill began collecting paintings as a Fulbright scholar in Japan during the 1950s. He served as a curator of Chinese art at the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC, from 1958 to 1965, and then taught at the University of California at Berkeley from 1965 to 1994, during which time he mentored many scholars of Asian art, some who worked and still work at the Asian Art Museum. Among his numerous publications, major works include his first book, Chinese Painting (1960), and a multi-volume series on later Chinese paintings, including Hills Beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty (1976), Parting At the Shore: Chinese Painting of the Early and Middle Ming Dynasty (1978), and The Distant Mountains: Chinese Painting of the Late Ming Dynasty (1982). The College Art Association awarded him its Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art in 2007. In 2010 the Smithsonian awarded him the Charles Lang Freer Medal for his lifetime contributions to the history of Asian and Near Eastern art.

Cahill gathered his lectures and essays as well as other writings on a variety of topics at www.jamescahill.info. The Asian Art Museum also has a two of Cahill’s talks on iTunes that can be downloaded.

Cahill’s ashes will be scattered at his favorite beaches at Pt. Reyes, north of San Francisco.

Lunar New Year traditions

Lunar New Year is the most important traditional holiday in Korea. Many people return to their hometowns to visit their parents and other relatives for the holiday. Among other traditions, we perform an ancestral ritual called “charye,” preparing fine foods and honoring our ancestors. We get up earlier than usual on the Lunar New Year and dress up in colorful traditional Korean clothing called “hanbok.”
For breakfast we eat “tteokguk,” soup with sliced rice cakes. We say that once we’ve finish eating tteokguk, we have gotten a year older.

Korean Culture day food

After breakfast, children wish their elders a happy New Year by performing a traditional deep bow and saying, “Have a blessed New Year.” The elders reward this by giving the children New Year’s money in luck bags made with beautiful silk designs and offering “deokdam,” or words of wisdom and well-wishing. Parents and grandparents might say, “I wish you health and no troubles,” or “I hope you get into the college of your dreams.”

Then family members get together to play “yunnori,” a traditional board game. Usually men and boys fly rectangle kites called “yeonnalligi,” and play “jegichagi,” a game in which a light object is wrapped in paper or cloth, and then kicked in a football-like manner. Women and girls play “neolttwigi” – a game of jumping on a seesaw.

Maybe traditional Koran culture seems complicated, but whenever I recall the days of Lunar New Year in Korea, it was always fun, warm, and exciting!

Written by: Mee Ran Hong