On my first day as a Preparations Intern at the Asian Art Museum, I was assigned the task of touching up the walls and borders of the In the Moment exhibition. I went around the room with a brush and cup of paint and covered up spots and areas that were missed during the first pass of the painting process. During that moment of duty, I thought about the purpose of an exhibition presentation—to bring attention and focus to the works being displayed.
Normally, when I walk through an exhibition, my attention is focused solely on the artwork. My eyes do not wander to scuffs on the walls, dents on frames, and patches of misplaced colors, because in a presumptive sense, there should not be any scuffs, dents, or patches of misplaced colors. However, at times, these slight imperfections can diminish the effect of the exhibition as a whole. It’s much like the use of proper lighting. There are many ways that lights can distract a viewer from enjoying a piece of art. To preserve a light-sensitive piece, the lighting can be too dim to really see the piece. Or if there is a protective layer of glass covering the artwork, the glare from lights could obscure parts of the work.
In the Moment features some theatrical lighting that I believe is ingenious. Lee Gallery features a Japanese screen depicting waves and rocks in an environment of fluctuating lights to mimic the passing of time from morning to noon to dusk; we’ve called it Changing Light. It makes the viewer focus on the artwork as the lights complement and complete the work to represent the cyclical nature of a day. Interestingly, electricity is used to convey a time devoid of electricity, in attempt to emulate natural light. For as the pamphlet provided by the museum mentions, before the advent of electricity, people saw folding screens and hanging scrolls under changing natural light. Paintings, especially screens with gold leaf, look different under bright or dim lighting conditions, and artists in Japan painted with an awareness of variable lighting conditions and their effect of perception.
To provide more insight, I interviewed Evan Kierstead, Principal Preparator and Lighting Specialist at the Asian Art Museum.
Josh Lee: How did the idea for Changing Light come about?
Evan Kierstead: The idea first came up a few years ago by Melissa Rinne (Associate Curator of Japanese Art) for Tadeuchi, the second floor gallery. At one time there was supposed to be a show with the screen and she wanted to do that kind of passing in the daylight. So I kind of figured out at that time how to do it and got the cost information and all that but then it never happened. But then it happened for this exhibit. Actually, the teahouse upstairs has a similar thing. There isn’t a screen in there but there’s a window that’s supposed to be the east and there’s a window that’s supposed to be the west and there’s a light that travels across.
JL: What’s the process in setting up such a display?
EK: Well, we have to figure out how to do it. I already kind of figured it out through the original idea [in Tateuchi] and the teahouse. So basically it was finding all of the equipment and the equipment in the teahouse wasn’t quite right for what we were doing. I was dealing also with an electrician who did the wiring. He had some ideas because he does some residential stuff and he does nothing like what we’re doing. But he and I had some ideas to deal with the dimming system and timing system. So first of all then, we had to figure out how to do it and I had a program figure out how to design it. Then I had to figure out the zones, zone being each area of light and how long each zone is gonna happen. It went from being a little longer and ended up going to three minutes because the sound loop was going to be three minutes long.
JL: Were there any major difficulties along the way?
EK: The whole thing was difficult. Figuring out the technology was difficult. What exactly we were gonna use because there were different systems and it’s hard to deal with the main factors. We ended up actually rigging something, a couple of different things, together. So that took a while. We had to install it. We had to program it. We had to get a laptop and get two different programs that are doing different things. One’s controlling the time; one’s controlling the dimmer. So trying to sync it all up was the challenge.
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) 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.
Thanks again to our amazing team: Carbon Five, who designed and built the website; JVST, who built the Lost Warrior site; Calvin Kai Ku, who made the lost warrior come to life; our senior management team, who supported both these projects; and of course our remarkable marketing department.
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).
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.
Our website made the finals in Best Website, and our Lost Warrior campaign is a finalist in the Best Exhibition Communication category.
Our Lost Warrior says goodbye to our marketing team, Ami and Jenn, at SFO.
Both these projects were huge for the museum, so kudos to the team who made it all happen. Special thanks to our partner Carbon Five, who designed and built the website, to partner JVST who built the Lost Warrior site, and to the remarkable Calvin Kai Ku, who truly made the warrior come to life.
The winners will be announced in a cavern in Stockholm (yes, really, a cavern) on July 5. Wish us luck!
Jennifer with the truck that took the warriors away.
We’re all going to miss those wonderful Terracotta Warriors. But after their stay at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for several months, and then here at the Asian for 13 weeks, the warriors are finally on their way back to Xi’an, China.
Packing up the entire exhibition was a formidable job, as you can imagine, but we got it done in just four days — a minor miracle. We could never have accomplished this huge undertaking without the help of so many people working behind the scenes from the Preparation, Conservation and Registration departments.
We also had a team of three staff from Xi’an helping us pack the exhibition up–Messrs. Ma, Wang and Zhou–really nice guys who were very helpful in assisting us. Now that the warriors are in crates, registrars from Minneapolis Institute of Arts will travel on two separate flights with the crated exhibition objects. (Ship Art International, CASE Company and Exclusive Art Service have offered us excellent assistance as well.)
Packing objects into cases.
But now we’re getting the galleries ready for Larry Ellison’s wonderful Japanese collection. Of course, we’re looking forward to the shift into an entirely different exhibition. But I was the last to see the warriors as they drove away, and honestly, it was sad to see them go.
Proximities 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.
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.
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 was assigned to the back staircase. Here’s her graph of the sound in the space.
Jamie Emerick was up in the third floor galleries. Here is a sketch she made of an art piece and its shadows.
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 stayed downstairs in the South Court. Here is a sketch he made of how the light changed.
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 went up to the Loggia. Here is a sketch of the architecture.
Marc Mayer stayed in the Contemplative Alcove in the Japan Galleries. Here is his sketch of the floating wall.
On March 28, artist Amy Ho presented the next Artists Drawing Club to investigate the museum’s architecture from its history starting as San Francisco’s public library to its transformation into the Asian Art Museum. The session, titled “Between” looks at the between space in the museum whether it is space between the old and new architecture or between light and dark of collection galleries. Structured as a non-traditional museum tour, participants explored the museum’s architecture looking for shadows, spaces, and sounds and came together to discuss their findings and assemble a collaborative map of the building.
In preparation for the session Amy and I discussed how this project came about, how it relates to her artwork and areas of interest, and how she hopes to engage museum visitors through this event.
-Marc Mayer, Educator for Public Programs
Marc Mayer: I was really excited about your Artists Drawing Club session because of your work and interest in space. The architecture of the Asian Art Museum is something intrigues and perplexes me. I am curious what about space of the museum that drew your interest.
Amy Ho: Last year, I was able to take an architectural tour of the museum as part of Imin Yeh’s SpaceBi project. Since then, I’ve been attracted to the museum’s transformation from a public library to an Asian art museum. It is interesting to walk through the space and take note of how certain parts of the library have been preserved while other parts have been adapted to accommodate the current use of the building. The combination of the new and the old architecture also creates an interesting backdrop for the exhibition of the artwork. In touring the museum, I keyed in on certain interesting facts about the buildings construction, but I’m also fascinated by the architectural elements of the museum that were supposed to be invisible or ignored. Since the architectural tour, I’ve returned to the museum several times to look at the in between elements of the museum. I’ve been paying attention to the way certain walls or rooms were constructed or ways lighting is controlled. All of these elements choreograph our experience of the museum but we are inclined to ignore them and take them for granted.
MM: What elements of the building intrigue you or stand out in your mind?
AH:There are a lot of elements of the building that stand out to me every time I visit the museum. In the atrium downstairs, I am amazed by the way sound echoes. You not only hear the sounds of the people talking and moving about, but also the sounds of the building. The sound of the air being pushed through the atrium and other background mechanical noises are all amplified by the space. If you step from the atrium into any of the exhibition spaces downstairs or the museum store, the sound suddenly becomes muffled and muted. All conversations become whispers and the soft sounds of people shuffling through the room become apparent. MM: Considering sense perception, what elements help define space for you?
AH: I find that our understanding of space is very much determined by light. We interpret the environment around us through light. A brightly lit room in the daytime and a dimly lit room at night can feel like entirely different places. Light allows us to determine dimensionality and perspective, for example a space can feel claustrophobically small or infinitely huge, but many times that sense is shaped by how it is lit. I am fascinated by how our sensory experiences affect our emotional experiences and how we can assign particular moods to different physical spaces. Our sensory experiences of light and space seem like they should be objective observations, but they are inevitably tinted by our consciousness and psychology.
MM: Your installations seem to demand a certain openness or presence. How do you want your work to impact viewers?
AH: I hope that my work brings attention to the immediate environment around us and to experience itself. In daily life, we often forget to stop and experience the world around us. It has become even easier in contemporary times to ignore the physical environment by withdrawing into the digital world of smartphones and computers. In my work, I distill certain elements and present environments that focus on particular sensory experiences. I hope that by focusing on and exaggerating certain physical aspects, that the viewer will have a bodily and mental experience of the space around them. Certain fields of science and philosophy have focused on trying to explain how concrete elements can combine to create consciousness. Although humanity may be moving toward a better understanding of neurology, I believe that subjectivity and the sanctity of every single person’s experience can never be explained through objective terms. I believe that we can only understand consciousness by examining and embracing it though experience.
MM: What are you planning for the Artists Drawing Club on March 28? What do you hope that participants will get out of the experience?
AH: For this Artists Drawing Club session on March 28th, I aim to engage the participants to create a collective and collaborative “map” of the museum by exploring the “between spaces” of museum that might be defined by sound and light, but more so by each person’s observations and experiences. I am excited to see how others consider, define, and understand space. As group I wonder if this exercise will allow us to look at the museum differently and to appreciate the various elements that contribute to the overall experience visiting the museum.
On a larger scale, I would love to see the heightened perception practiced during the event transferred to life outside of the museum. In our busy daily routines, we often don’t take the effort to experience the physical world around us. If we can dedicate a few moments each day to just feel the spaces around us, I think we can lead more enriched and centered lives.
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