IDCA Awards: Silver!

You may recall that we were finalists for the IDCA awards for our Lost Warrior campaign and our website. Well, the results are in, and we received silver in both categories.

Congratulations to the winners: Paris 3D in the website category and Pablo Picasso vs Marcel Duchamp at Moderna Museet in the Exhibition Communication category. It was an honor to be up against such great projects.

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.


Stepping a Little to the East with Artist Binh Danh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

IDCA Awards: We’re Finalists!

We’re very excited today because we are finalists in two categories of the International Design Communication Awards.

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 at SFO

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!

Goodbye, Terracotta Warriors


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.


Sharon packing some of the treasures into a case.

Proximities in public

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proximities, getting closer

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

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

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

—Glen Helfand, Curator

Artists Drawing Club: Between, with Amy M. Ho

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

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

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

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

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

Carey Lin

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

Jamie Emerick

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

Dave Lyons

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

Brandon Drew Holmes

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

Amy Ho

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

Owen Lawrence

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

Marc Mayer

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






Beyond II, Amy Ho

Beyond II, Amy Ho

On March 28, artist Amy Ho presented the next Artists Drawing Club to investigate the museum’s architecture from its history starting as San Francisco’s public library to its transformation into the Asian Art Museum. The session, titled “Between” looks at the between space in the museum whether it is space between the old and new architecture or between light and dark of collection galleries. Structured as a non-traditional museum tour, participants explored the museum’s architecture looking for shadows, spaces, and sounds and came together to discuss their findings and assemble a collaborative map of the building.

In preparation for the session Amy and I discussed how this project came about, how it relates to her artwork and areas of interest, and how she hopes to engage museum visitors through this event.

-Marc Mayer, Educator for Public Programs

Marc Mayer: I was really excited about your Artists Drawing Club session because of your work and interest in space. The architecture of the Asian Art Museum is something intrigues and perplexes me. I am curious what about space of the museum that drew your interest.

HeadShot-AmyHo-webAmy Ho: Last year, I was able to take an architectural tour of the museum as part of Imin Yeh’s SpaceBi project. Since then, I’ve been attracted to the museum’s transformation from a public library to an Asian art museum. It is interesting to walk through the space and take note of how certain parts of the library have been preserved while other parts have been adapted to accommodate the current use of the building. The combination of the new and the old architecture also creates an interesting backdrop for the exhibition of the artwork. In touring the museum, I keyed in on certain interesting facts about the buildings construction, but I’m also fascinated by the architectural elements of the museum that were supposed to be invisible or ignored. Since the architectural tour, I’ve returned to the museum several times to look at the in between elements of the museum. I’ve been paying attention to the way certain walls or rooms were constructed or ways lighting is controlled. All of these elements choreograph our experience of the museum but we are inclined to ignore them and take them for granted.

MM: What elements of the building intrigue you or stand out in your mind? 

AH:There are a lot of elements of the building that stand out to me every time I visit the museum. In the atrium downstairs, I am amazed by the way sound echoes. You not only hear the sounds of the people talking and moving about, but also the sounds of the building. The sound of the air being pushed through the atrium and other background mechanical noises are all amplified by the space. If you step from the atrium into any of the exhibition spaces downstairs or the museum store, the sound suddenly becomes muffled and muted. All conversations become whispers and the soft sounds of people shuffling through the room become apparent.
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.


SFUSD Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum


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



Student Terracotta Warriors.

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



Professional Development Work Honoring Legacy. Credit: Marissa Kunz

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


Redding March By City Hall

Redding March By City Hall

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

Artists Drawing Club is here


Towards a Creole Procession

On Thursday, February 28 the Asian Art Musesum launched a new contemporary art program series called the Artists Drawing Club. The Artists Drawing Club is a salon of sorts.  Every month a local contemporary artist is invited to use the museum as a project platform, drawing inspiration from the collection, special exhibitions, the building, or the surrounding neighborhood to create an interactive event for the public to engage with museum through the artist’s process.  The inaugural event featured artist Ranu Mukherjee and future session will include artists Amy M Ho, Julie Chang, Weston Teruya, Binh Danh, Lordy Rodriguez, Toyin Odutola, and Ala Ebtekar over the next eight months. I spoke with Ranu just before the first event about the project and the process of working at the museum.

Marc Mayer: The Artists Drawing Club grew out of conversations I had with Imin Yeh and other local artists while working on the event at the museum, Taking Up Space which was part of Yeh’s larger project SpaceBi. Knowing the development of this series, what interested you about this opportunity?

Ranu-HeadshotRanu Mukherjee: I was excited about the idea of doing a site specific project in the museum that would respond to the objects and their positioning as historical and cultural artifacts. This opportunity seemed like it would challenge me. It is outside of my comfort zone, yet it also connects with some very core elements of my work. I was sold on it by your enthusiasm and vision, as well as the fact that it felt like such a perfect way to engage the class of graduate students I am teaching at California College of Art (CCA) this semester. It seemed to be a really nice scale of event. Rather than a bigger spectacular kind of proposition, I really liked the sense that the event might be a place to actually experiment with ideas in a public yet intimate format.

MM: What are some of those “core elements” of your work that have a connection to the museum?

RM: I’ve been working with Indian mythological images from the 19th Century for a few years now. I am interested in the way that these images are so familiar and accessible and have become part of popular culture, yet were not addressed in the my art school education, which was based in Euro-American art historical framework. I like to think about and question patterns of cultural influence and how objects embody those patterns.

I think that many of the artifacts in the museum’s collection possess the power of being immediately accessible, even if the specific stories attached to them are not. I am intrigued by the consistent presence of the archaic or ancient in the contemporary moment and the difficulty to imagine a future without these influences. While my reasons for being interested in the idea of Asia have a personal origin, they also engage with current narratives about the ‘rise of Asia’ and how those stories might manifest at the intersection of culture, matter and economics.


Ranu Mukherjee, Orange Chimera, Narottam Narayan,2012. 19 x 19inches. Ink on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

MM: Can you tell me more about the class you are teaching at CCA?

RM: The class is a studio lab comprised of 6 MFA students, and part of CCAs Engage program.

It is called ‘Towards a Creole Procession’ and looks at ways that mixed cultural heritage can appear in aesthetics as well as how artists think and work with the idea of ancestry, whether in line with dominant cultural heritage or in contrast. I was excited to work with students to explore the idea of ancestry in relation to contemporary art, because these can seem incommensurable. Framing an artwork as a cultural or historical artifact positions it as a vessel for understanding a larger society and conditions wherein it was produced, while framing work as contemporary art brings the subject of the artist to the forefront. I think good work is always both, yet it matters how the work is contextualized. How does one balance this delicate act, merging the historic/cultural with the contemporary? The class allows us to focus on some of these questions.

The second half of the class will continue a conversation we have started with Leah Gordon, a London based artist, filmmaker and curator. She has been curating the Ghetto Biennale in Haiti with Andre Eugene of the Grand Rue sculptors group, Atis Rezistans. The class will be held at the Luggage Store Annex/ Tenderloin National Forest for the rest of the semester and will culminate in a workshop with Leah and Eugene about the ever presence of ancestors in Haitian culture,  tactics used by artists like Atis Rezistans, and ways these artists’ work is received outside of Haiti.

MM: What are you planning for the Artists Drawing Club at the Asian Art Museum this Thursday?

RM: I, along with the six MFA students in the class (Dimeng Brehmer, Jamie Emerick, Maral Hashemi, Laura Arminda Kingsey, Opesanwo Omoifa and Tali Weinberg) will conduct a procession that travels through the permanent collection galleries on the third floor and concludes in Samsung Hall. Each artist is devising a piece that responds to a specific object in the collection. Some performances will be ongoing throughout the procession and others will halt the group to let an artwork unfold. It is an attempt to re-animate some of the objects or images we see in the vitrines or on the walls in the museum. All of us are engaging with distortions of history, personal associations, interpretations and translations to intervene and reimagine these works as artifacts for the future.

MM: What interested you about the concept of a procession?

RM: Originally I had thought of the procession as being a fiction around which we could make artifacts. I wanted to take the format of the procession as the starting point for our studio lab. The procession embodies and honors mixes of culture and heritage. I think the format, especially considering our project at the museum, allows each person participating to work with what is meaningful for them, while tackling some of the complexity around cultural representation in the context of cultural heritage. I also liked the idea that a procession physically maps out a place while also blurring boundaries. The procession can blur the role of audience from spectators to participants. At a most basic level, if you walk with us, you become part of the procession.

MM: What has the process of working on this project been like for you and your students?

RM: We have been working at the museum for the last month. During our first class we explored the collection galleries. Each of us chose a few objects that spoke to us in some way. We narrowed it down further selecting objects that might be more dynamic in the context of audience engagement. During the next class we had the opportunity to research these object in the museum’s library.  We also met with multidisciplinary artist Dohee Lee who discussed her performance-based work. As visual artists, we are not as well verse in performance yet it is a skill we need to employ for this project. Dohee’s perspective and insights gave us strategies to help animate the procession.

The process has made me realize that making an ephemeral work in the context of a museum, with all its limitations is going to contribute a lot to the content of the project. It has been really exciting to start the class right in the middle of this amazing collection-outside of a classroom- because we are immediately steeped in the ideas that the course was designed to consider. It has been remarkable to witness the way that these objects affect us in the present, through watching the students’ responses unfold.

For more information about Ranu’s work you can visit her web site.

Mukherjee’s studio research lab is part of ENGAGE at CCA, an initiative merging project-based learning with community engagement.