Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, MoMA

For us at CatSynth, no trip back to New York is complete without a visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and this time it was an exceptionally rich one, with interesting exhibitions on every floor even amidst the museum’s massive renovation project.  We begin with a look at an exhibition of prints by Louise Bourgeois that focused on her print-making work.  Although primarily known for her sculptures, Bourgeois produced a large body of printed works on paper, textiles and other materials, especially at the beginning and end of her career.  But the themes and characteristic elements remain similar regardless of medium, and the show placed the printed works in the context of her sculpture.  For example, the main atrium of the museum was dominated by one of her large iconic spider sculptures, with late-career prints surrounding it on the walls.

Louise Bourgeois: Spider
[Louise Bourgeois.  Spider (1997)]


[Installation View]

The prints in the atrium featured curved, organic forms, in keeping with the same natural focus in the spider and many of her other sculptures.  We can see this synergy between print and sculpture throughout the exhibition, with early prints and drawings informing her sculptures of the 1950s and 1960s, which combined geometric and architectural elements with organic shapes and textures.

Louise Bourgeois: Femme Maison
[Louise Bourgeois.  Femme Maison (1947)]

Louise Bourgeois: Pillar and Figure
[Louise Bourgeois.  Pillar  (1949-1950) and Figure (1954)]

The vertical nature of the forms enhances the sense of embodiment in the sculptures, while drawings like Femme Maison (shown above) make the connection literal.  Bourgeois revisited these same themes in many of her later prints, perhaps even drawing upon the earlier sculptures themselves for inspiration.

The Sky's the Limit
[Louise Bourgeois.  The Sky’s the Limit, version 2 of 2, only state (1989-2003)]

In addition to the intersection of architectural and biological forms, Bourgeois’ work often explores themes of womanhood, fertility, and sexuality. Indeed, the 1947 Femme Maison combines all three themes.  On particularly poignant series from the 1990s, late in her life, revisits motherhood embodied in Sainte Sébastienne (presumably a gender switch of the early Christian martyr Saint Sebastien).  Childbirth and pain come together in the first more literal series of images, but there is a softer element to the second series, which includes this image combining the maternal figure with a cat.


[Louise Bourgeois.  Stamp of Memories II, version 1 of 2, state XII of XII  (1994)]

Sexuality comes through abstractly in many pieces, but quite literally in some late-career drawings which have a playful, comic-like quality, as in this page from her illustrated book The Laws of Nature.


[Louise Bourgeois and Paulo Herkenhoff.  Untitled, plate 2 of 5, state X of X, from the illustrated book, The Laws of Nature (2006)]

Bourgeois celebrated both the female and male while turning some of traditional roles and stereotypes on their head.  In the above image, it is the woman who appears to be in control in the sexual moment, with the male figure more passive.  Another particularly amusing riff on gender stereotypes is her sculpture Arch of Hysteria in which a suspended male torso is used to represent “hysteria”.

Art of Hysteria
[Louise Bourgeois. Arch of Hysteria (1993) and installation view.]

Having been on the receiving end of “why are you being so emotional?” comments in the workplace, I rather enjoyed seeing this stereotype turned around.

We conclude with one last piece from the Lullaby series in which a simple red organic form is printed on sheet-music paper.

Untitled, no. 11 of 24, only state, from the series, Lullaby 2006
[Louise Bourgeois. Untitled, no. 11 of 24, only state, from the series, Lullaby (2006)]

Like the drawings from The Laws of Nature, these were done towards the end of the career.  I thought it was interesting that she chose music paper as the foundation for this series.  And for us at CatSynth, it allows us to circle back to music, which permeates our experience of art.

Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait will be on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York through January 28, 2018.  You can find out more information here.

Anne Marguerite Herbst at Far Out Gallery, San Francisco

Far Out Gallery in the Sunset district of San Francisco is currently hosting a solo exhibition of works by Anne Herbst, and we were on hand to see it and cover it on CatSynth TV.

Of course, the cat-imagery particularly caught my eye, but there are many layers beyond that. Even in the cats, one can see some of the other elements that permeate Herbst’s art, including undulating lines and traces of her body that are used both as textures and bounding elements.

There are also the frequent connections to her personal history in the inclusion of faces and hints of other people. The connection to blood comes up both in the use of color, imagery, and the context of a couple of the paintings. It features in a self portrait as well as a piece for her father’s 90th birthday, both of which are featured in the video.

Anne Herbst

Herbst took the personal history to a new level for this exhibition by re-imagining childhood drawings with her current artistic style and practice.

We see the lines, shapes, and character of her current work brought to the original cat figure from the drawing. One can also notice the blood-like elements and color in this piece.

Creatures of all sorts abound throughout. In addition to the cats, the turtle seems to be a recurring animal, and was featured prominently in the work we most associated with the exhibition title “Ripples.”

Far Out Gallery has been a great discovery for us, a place connecting us more deeply to that sometimes remote western edge of San Francisco. We are happy to have been there for both Anne Herbst’s show and Kasper Rodenborn’s earlier this season. We hope to see more in the future.

Arma Agharta and Song & Dance Trio, Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco

Today we look back at the recent show featuring Song & Dance Trio and Lithuanian sound-and-performance artist Arma Agharta at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco. It was the subject of a recent episode of CatSynth TV.

I have seen the members of Song & Dance Trio, Karl Evangelista (guitar), Jordan Glenn (drums) and Cory Wright (baritone saxophone) many times before in many musical contexts, but this was the first time I saw them as a trio. As one can hear in the video, they mixed complex virtuosic avant-garde performance with familiar jazz idioms. And they made it work. There was a strong rhythmic sense throughout the set, with the musicians moving freely between a relaxed shuffle and frenetic staccato runs. The familiar jazz figures sprinkled throughout were fun, but the more experimental interludes were a palette cleanser that made the grooves stand out more strongly.


[Song & Dance Trio (Evangelista, Glenn, Wright)]

Next up was a solo performance by Arma Agharta, a Lithuanian sound-performance-artist who was kicking off the west-coast swing of his United States tour. I didn’t know quite what to expect, even after looking at his interesting setup with a mixture of sound-making objects and electronic instruments.


[Arma Agharta’s colorful electro-acoustic rig]

And then he took the stage wearing a large pointed had and colorful robe. Things started quietly but very quickly turned to a loud, frenzy of sound, movement, and vocals.


[Calm and anything-but-calm moments with Arma Agharta]

This was one of the most physically and sonically intense solo performances I have seen in a while, and the energy was nonstop for most of the duration, with just a few ebbs and pauses. An endurance test for performer and audience alike. I haven’t heard anything quite like it, and it is hard to do justice either in written or video form. The intense sounds were from many layers of electronics, including recorded sounds played at high volume along with Arma Agharta’s own powerful voice howling, bellowing, and other vocalizations.

It was interesting to see such different performances in the same show and to assemble them into a single 3-minute video. But it worked both live and recorded. We wish Arma Agharta well on his next tour (last we saw he was in Turkey) and hope to hear more from him. We, of course, will continue to follow Evangelista, Glenn, and Wright on their musical adventures here in the Bay Area.

Serena Toxicat and #OaklandCatFashionWeek

Today we look back at the recent art and fashion show featuring the work of Serena Toxicat. I was fortunate to be a part of this show as a model, and it was featured in Episode 9 of CatSynth TV.

Serena Toxicat is a multi-disciplinary artist, working as a writer, visual artist, musician, and now a fashion designer – longtime readers may recognize her via our reviews of her band Protea. Her paintings were featured on the walls of Farley’s East in Oakland as the fashion show took place in the lobby. She also had her music, books, and cat-themed tarot cards on hand.

One sees themes that repeat throughout her work in various media. There are of course the cats – I particularly liked the painting featuring manuls or Pallas cats – and felines reminiscent of Egyptian iconography. But there are themes running through as well with the bright high-contrast colors and dreamlike arrangements of forms. The feline, color, whimsy and spiritual dimensions are all of a piece and come together in her life experience as well as her outward creativity.


[Photo from @serenatoxicat on Instagram]

The show itself was a fun experience. Each of us modeled two looks over the course of the evening, with more formal runway-style processions interspersed with more freeform dance sections.

A good time was had by all.

In addition to Serena and myself, the models included Ariel McEtchin, Gina Ghorbani, Charlena Verrette, Kristine Katalyst, Maya Imani, Sam Isis, and Jessa Nico.

Although the art show is now over, you can see and learn more about Serena Toxicat’s work via her Facebook page.

Pet the Tiger in Golden Gate Park

Today we look back at the recent performance by Pet the Tiger invented instrument collective in Golden Gate Park. It was part of a series hosted by Dan Gottwald featuring invented-instrument performances in the tunnel near the Conservatory of Flowers. You can see and hear excerpts from the concert this CatSynth TV video.

The centerpiece of the performance was the harmonic-series gamelan, a set of instruments that employ tuning based exclusively on the harmonic series. This leads to just-intonation relationships among pitches, but not necessarily those of conventional Western twelve-tone music. The results are haunting and exquisite. This is especially true of the 5-octave metallophone demonstrated by David Samas in the video, and played by Samas and others in the concert.

There was also a large kalimba-like instrument performed primarily by Samas and Derek Drudge, and a large instrument created and played by Bart Hopkin.

In addition to the metallophones, there were various wind instruments. Peter Whitehead played an instrument that resembled a longitudinal bass flute, and whirling tubes, all of which also conformed to the harmonic series.

There was also a stringed instrument performed by Ian Saxton.

Harmonic series relationships are well known to be very pleasant to the ear, and there was an overall pleasing tone to the music, amplified by the acoustic properties of the tunnel, the lighting and the fellowship of performers and audience. In addition to the long meditative pieces, there were sections combining music with anxious dystopian poetry, and even a rendition of George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Overall, it was a lovely and poignant evening, with the light show from the Conservatory of Flowers in the distance and a warm friendly atmosphere in the tunnel that mitigated the approaching chill of the night in Golden Gate Park. The series is over for the season, but we do expect to hear more of Pet the Tiger and these inventor-musicians in the near future.

Elliott Sharp, Tania Chen + Wobbly, Euphotic at Canessa Gallery

Today we look back at last week’s show at Canessa Gallery in San Francisco, featuring Elliott Sharp, Tania Chen + Wobbly, and Euphotic. This show was the subject of CatSynth TV Episode 8, and you can see and hear a bit of each set.

We were quite pleased to see Elliott Sharp. We saw him back in the 1990s, but it’s been a while since he made it to the Bay Area.

Elliott Sharp

He has a unique and idiosyncratic sound, with fast runs, harmonics, and extended techniques, along with electronics. The electronics, which appeared to include some looping, sampling, and delay, did not overpower his guitar playing, and the individual gestures, from frenetic fingerpicking to expressive scratches, came through strongly. Although his style is unusual, it is still quite melodic and harmonic, something that comes out particularly in a solo-performance setting.

The evening opened with Euphotic, a trio project featuring Tom Djll (electronics, trumpet), Cheryl Leonard (instruments from natural found objects) and Bryan Day (invented instruments).

Euphotic (Day, Djll, Leonard)

The sound was subtle and detailed, with a lot of short sounds clustering like schools of fish. Djll’s electronics bridged the space between Cheryl Leonard’s organic sounds and Bryan Day’s more chiseled electro-acoustic creations. There was also a quality in Day’s performance that foreshadowed Elliott Sharp’s sound and style later in the evening.

Euphotic was followed by a duo featuring Tania Chen on electronics, voice and found objects, with Wobbly (aka Jon Leidecker) on electronics. He had an array of iPads linked together.

Tania Chen + Wobbly

The performance centered around “Feasibility Study”, an episode of the television show Outer Limits, slowed down beyond recognition. Chen’s vocals and found-object performance featured material and ideas from the episode, including chomping on biscuits and pop rocks to represent the rock-like aliens in the video. She also performed a melodic section on an iPad, which complemented Leidecker’s complex electronic processing. His sounds were slower and more undulating, providing an eerie setting for the overall performance.

We had a great time at this show, as did the rest of the audience that filled Canessa Gallery to capacity. We look forward to more interesting music from these artists and from this venue. And thanks to Bryan Day for continuing to host this series.

APAture 2017 Book Arts Showcase

Today we look back at last weekend’s APAture Book Arts Showcase, hosted by Kearny Street Workshop. You can see a bit of the event, and three of the artists, in our companion video on CatSynth TV.

In the video, we see a reading by featured artist Innosanto Nagara of his recent book A Night at the Planetarium, which introduces readers to the culture and history of Indonesia, and one particularly intense night under Indonesian military rule (while “the general” is clearly Suharto, he is not mentioned by name). It is partly a memoir of the author at a young age and relates the story of a crackdown on his father’s dissident plays. Nagara is although the author of the award-winning and quite delightful A is for Activist (we love the black cat on the cover).

Innosanto Nagara books

“Book Arts” covers quite a lot of territory in terms of discipline and media. There are formal, published books like Nagara’s, but also other print media like self-published zines. Mixed Rice Zines is the ongoing project of Jess Wu-O, and features voices that are often underrepresented, such as queer voices in the Asian American and mixed-race communities. One edition Queer Azn Musicians particularly spoke to me as a queer musician of South Asian descent.

The zines are self-published, as were many of the other pieces featured in the show. Bridge Ho presented these zines featuring her photography along with words by Michelle Velasquez-Potts. The published pieces are works of art, showing semi-abstract imagery on various printed materials including vellum.

Overall, however, most of the work in the show centered around illustration. Minnie Phan presented a variety of printed illustrations, including on cards, booklets, and her comic book They Call Us Viet Kieu, written after Phan visited Vietnam in 2013. You can hear her talk a bit about the experience in our CatSynth TV episode.

Minnie Phan

Similarly, we saw a variety of illustrated printed material from Cheez Hayama including these cat cards – each one is hand drawn and slightly different – and California activity book featuring our state bird.

Cheez Hayama

More traditional “comic books” were on display as well, including the Time Fiddler by Ellis Kim. The series, told as detailed and well drawn graphic novels, follows a young woman on an adventure through time travel, space, and romance. And of course, there is a cat.

And with books and graphic novels, we come full circle with This Asian American Life by Katie Quan, featuring the everyday adventures of an Asian-American protagonist. Parts of autobiographical from Quan’s experiences, but also includes shared experiences from friends as well as entirely imagined scenes.

Katie Quan - This Asian American Life

It was a well-attended show with many artists presenting – and selling – their work. We regret not being able to visit or include everyone. Congratulations to KSW and everyone involved on a great event.

Kasper Rodenborn, Art for the Naked Eye. Far Out Gallery, San Francisco

Today we look back at last weekend’s opening of Art for the Naked Eye at Far Out Gallery in San Francisco. The show covers twenty years of work by local artist Kasper Rodenborn.

You can see and hear a bit about Rodenborn’s art in his own words in our most recent CatSynth TV episode.

Rodenborn’s work falls into several periods and categories. First, there are the more traditional paintings, with surrealist quality that particularly reminds us of Yves Tanguy.

Kasper Rodenborn.  Installation View
[Installation view]

Many of the works feature wildstyle, an homage to Rodenborn’s early days as an underground graffiti artist. But he combines this with other elements, including some that project out of the canvas in the sculptural realm, as in the Rauchenberg-esque elements in Aside from Concrete Existence displayed below.

Aside from Concrete Existence
[Kasper Rodenborn, Aside from Concrete Existence. This piece will be hanging in CatSynth HQ after the show!]

Over time, we observe his work to move in the direction of collage and ultimately assemblages, as in these intricate pieces.

Kasper Rodenborn Collage and Assemblage

The most recent works are a return to flat surfaces. But these flat pieces have depth and motion, as they respond to changing light colors. They were displayed illuminated by rotating-color LED bulbs.

Light-moving painting

It was a strong exhibition, we are glad to have attended. And Far Out Gallery was an excellent discovery in the Sunset District of San Francisco – we expect to be back for future shows.

Kearny Street Workshop #APAture2017 Opening Night

Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2017 Festivalkicked off with a bang this past weekend. A large crowd packed into ARC Studios and Gallery in San Francisco to see the Visual Arts Showcase and KSW’s first ever APAture Focus Awards. You can get a little taste of the event in our latest CatSynth TV Episode.

The awards made this opening night a little different from the past, with the awardees sharing the spotlight with the artworks. But it was a great addition, especially as KSW celebrates its 45th Anniversary. Comedian and performance artist Kristina Wong and visual artist Michael Arcega were on hand for their awards, while comedians Ali Wong (you may have seen her show Baby Cobra on Netflix) and Hasan Minaj (Daily Show) accepted in absentia. There was also a very touching presentation to the late poet Justin Chin, which included an introductory statement written by our friend Maw Shein Win. As a former APAture artist myself, it’s always amazing to see how many people have come through the festival over the years and gone on to do great things in their fields.


[Kristina Wong (right) receiving her APAture Focus Award from Weston Teruya]

This year’s featured visual artist was Rea Lynn de Guzman, a works in a variety of media including painting, printing, and sculpture. For APAture, she created a textile sculpture representing a traditional Filipiniana “Maria Clara” dress that floated in the middle space. It was very much in keeping with this year’s theme of “Unravel”, as de Guzman states in her own words:

Among the other pieces that particularly spoke to me was Jerome Pansa’s Stands (Body of Six), with its six polls topped with triangles painted in solid geometric patterns. It would work at CatSynth HQ!


[Jerome Pansa. Stands (Body of Six)]

Webster Quoc Nguyen packs many symbols into his triptych Double Consciousness. The figures use a bold, illustration style that is both fun and a bit dark at the same time as he juxtaposes symbols of Western influence, Asian stereotypes, and Catholic iconography and practice.
[Webster Quoc Nguyen. Double Consciousness.]

As it was crowded that night, I will need to go back and see these and the many other pieces in more detail on a quieter day. We at CatSynth are also looking forward to the upcoming APAture events featuring other artistic disciplines:

Music Showcase: Saturday, 10/7, 6PM. f8 Nightclub & Bar | 1192 Folsom St
Film Showcase: Thursday 10/12. 7PM. Z Space (Z Below) | 470 Florida St.
Book Arts Showcase: Sunday 10/15 1PM. Arc Gallery & Studios | 1246 Folsom St.
Performing Arts Showcase: Saturday 10/21 2PM. Asian Art Museum | 200 Larkin St.

All locations are in San Francisco, California.

CatSynth TV Episode 1: Sahba Sizdahkhani & PC Muñoz / Karl Evangelista Duo

We proudly present the inaugural episode of CatSynth TV!

This first episode visits the Luggage Store Gallery for the regular Thursday night new-music series. This particular evening had two intriguing and performative sets: a solo for santour and drums by Sahba Sizdahkhani and a duo by PC Muñoz and Karl Evangelista on percussion/electronics and guitar, respectively.

Sizdahkhani’s set was a thing of beauty, with layered loops from the santour providing a rich harmonic and rhythmic background. The drums in many ways functioned as the melodic instrument, with expressive phrasing of the rhythms and textures. Muñoz and Evangelista had some powerful jams in odd-time meters, along with some more subdued moments featuring pedals and Muñoz on Korg Delay Monotron and spoken word.

CatSynth TV is not replacing our long-form articles, but rather a complementary offering. Please do subscribe to our new channel to catch more installments. There is another coming this week 😺