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APAture 2014 Visual Arts Showcase

Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2014 festival opened last Friday with its visual arts showcase at Arc Gallery. The show featured a diverse collection of works in different media by emerging Bay Area artists.

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Although there were quite a few pieces in the show, the gallery presentation was clean and spacious, which always makes it more inviting to spend time with art. There was also a good balance of three-dimensional pieces in the show, so that it wasn’t confined to the walls.

Situated in the center of the main gallery was a set of stoneware heads by featured artist Victoria Jang.

Victoria Jang

The heads appear artificial, identical fabrications reminiscent of characters in anime. But they were each hand sculpted from a traditional process of stoneware and glaze and contain visible flaws. The glaze accentuates the flaws and brings them out for the viewer.

Another sculptural piece that made strong use of the space was Marya Krogstad’s Stone Hills. This visually simple piece was a bringing together of many elements, including bell heather plants, concrete blocks, mirrors, and homemade telescope.

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Nancy Otto’s large abacus with hand-blown glass beads in visually inviting in itself. But as one gets closer, one realizes the beads each bear a headline related to the effects of climate change.

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It is a bit of a mystery how the form of this ancient computing device and climate change are related.

There were also several video installations in the exhibition, including this rather captivating and colorful video performance by Laura Kim.

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Kim places herself in a space filled with basic colors and shapes, taking on the poses and expressions common in popular music videos and live performance. The geometric quality made it fit well as a contrast with the more organic and soft sculptural works. It was also just plain fun to watch.

Another work that was fun but also very meticulously crafted was Yuki Maruyama’s sticker drawings. One first sees a large nebulous field of small red dots, but as one gets closer one can see that each is an individual drawing in itself.

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The small nature of each drawing and the somewhat comical or suggestive quality in many of them invites the viewer to keep looking at them one by one, and indeed to come back a few times during a visit to the exhibition.

There were of course more traditional two-dimensional hanging works as well, including this watercolor by Cathy Lu entitled Girls Playing (float), a riff on the theme of “boys playing” common in traditional Chinese art.

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A darker and more tragic tone is present in Lana Dandan’s digitally processed photographs depicting buildings in Beirut, Lebanon, bearing scars from that’s country’s civil war.

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Despite the emotional tone, I did find myself drawn to the beauty of the buildings themselves, simple modern forms in concrete.

The mathematical concepts and processes in Vincent Yin’s ink-on-paper works also caught my attention. Yin attempts to answer the question “what does probability look like” by representing numerical data with drops in different ratios of color.

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It is interesting to step back and look at the whole rather than the individual elements.

There are more works at the show beyond what I am able to cover. I recommend stopping by to see it at Arc Studios, 1246 Folsom Street in San Francisco, before it closes this weekend.

As a final disclosure, although I have covered quite a few of Kearny Street Workshop’s programs in the past here on CatSynth, this is the first time I am doing so since joining the organizations board of directors. It’s an exciting role to take on, but I do plan to continue providing reports on APAture and other events.

2009 APAture Festival: Opening and Gallery Exhibition

The two-week APAture festival began last Wednesday with a kick-off event at Goforaloop Gallery. The APAture (Asian Pacific American) festival showcases the work of Asian American artists and is produced by the Kearny Street Workshop, who also co-produced the Present Tense Biennial exhibit, and runs from September 16 through September 26. This article focuses on the visual-art exhibition at the gallery. (You can read about the festival’s music night in a separate article.)

There was no single theme or thread that connected all the works, except for the connection to Asian-Pacific American culture either through authorship or influence. However, it was possible to piece together trends such as identity (or various forms of Asian identity) and the relationship of art and technology.


[Heroes, Martyrs, Legends by Taraneh Hemami. Click image to enlarge.]

Heroes, martyrs, legends by featured artist Taraneh Hemami presented images of students and activists who were executed before, during and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The images were created in beads from photos on Internet sites. The beads give these portraits a very grainy quality, which mirrors the pixels found in low-resolution online images. This piece is simultaneously a document of historical people and events, a tribute to activism, and a representation of a technological phenomenon with traditional materials.

Jacqueline Gordon’s Black Matters was interesting as a set abstract objects with a sonic element. The piece consisted of two large black surfaces composed of fabric, and whose shapes were inspired by mandalas. From Gordon’s website, I learned that the speakers are “inked through amplifiers to sine wave oscillators and play a composition of binaural tones.” It was, however, difficult to hear the sounds during the opening reception, with the noises from conversations, the karaoke booth, and such. Fortunately, when I revisited the gallery I was able to get the full experience. There were multiple sine wave oscillators which produced chords that gradually changed over time. Pitches and amplitudes shifted, faded in and out, and when the frequencies got close enough one could hear the beating effects. The oscillators were generally quite stable, but did exhibit minor variations which I found quite interesting.


[Black Matters by Jacqueline Gordon. Click image to enlarge.]

Nearby was Natives and invaders! a large mix-media piece placed directly on the walls of the gallery by artists Natalia Nakazawa and Stephanie Mansolf:


[Natives and invaders! by Natalia Nakazawa
and Stephanie Mansolf. Click image to enlarge.
]

Raised elements of wood, string and other materials pop out from the painted wall in a variety of both geometric and natural shapes. This was one of the more abstract works in the show, and one that I would consider “modernist.” I particular liked its placement next to Black Matters, as the shapes and textures seemed to fit together.

Another work that fused art and technology was a pair of graceful and delicate constructions by Joanne Hashitani made of wires, sticks, LEDs and other natural and artificial materials. They occupied very little space, both in terms of their overall extent and the thinness of the elements, but they nonetheless caught my attention and were among of favorite pieces in the show.


[Untitled by Joanne Hashitani. Click image to enlarge.]

The abstract shapes, which were very linear, but not particularly “angular” seem very natural and ethereal, but at the same time the LEDs and wires make it very modern and technological. They could blend subtly into the wall, which is perhaps the direction that modern technology is taking. From Hashitani’s artist’s statement:

The effects of light alternately make pieces appear and disappear, while moments later they might create a web of shadows. Air currents cause pieces to sway back and forth. Together with the ambiguity of the space and the shifts in scale, I hope this allows the work to reveal itself slowly.

Warren Jee takes a less subtle look at technology with Bug Robot, a life-size humanoid robot with a very “boxy” 1960s/1970s appearance. In the middle of its torso is another, smaller, humanoid robot. This was not an infinite regress, just two levels of “robot inside robot”.


[Bug Robot by Warren Jee. Click image to enlarge.]

Jee’s biography for the exhibition discusses how popular culture recognizes robots as or lacking emotion and other ‘human’ qualities”. Yet in this robots one recognizes all the basic signs of humanity that one recognizes in representations of humans in primitive art. I personally have a soft spot for robots, and the imagined future with humanoid robots that never happened.

The combination of technology and Asian identity was explored in Hui-Ying Tsai’s video and mixed-media installation Who R U. Two video screens, decorated with flowers a large stuffed rabbit, depicted the artist presenting her body in various, poses, motions and frames of reference, with a particular focus on hair (her own and a wig with exaggerated straight black hair). From her statement: “Through repetitive self-deconstruction and re-construction in this video, the contradiction of fitting myself in the stereotype beauty, and at the same time, resisting become the fetishistic object creates a dialogue between my objectized self and my self-awareness.”

Charlene Tan’s Eat Me, I’m Asian was a very playful and very literal take on Asian identity. Like her Cornucopia from the Present Tense Biennial, it featured photocopied replicas of commercial food packaging, this time arranged as a shelf in a grocery store, perhaps from the aisle that carries Asian or other “ethnic foods.” Among the items were various Happy Panda products, and a box of soup base with a cartoon fish (yes, I like cartoon fish).

Sandra Ono’s conceptual works combined seemingly natural and surreal elements. She presents a surface that is at once completely artificial made of fabricated cells, but seems so much like wine grapes or other natural (and edible) objects that one wants to reach out and touch it. Indeed, it seemed to be one of the more popular pieces in the show, with groups gathering around it. Ono’s other work Leak could easily be missed if one did not look down at the solidified puddle of black tar that seemed to be seeping out from under one of the walls.

The Kearny Street Workshop blog has a behind the scenes article that includes additional background and some images of the artists installing their works.

A few additional pieces that caught my attention: Raymond Wong presented a pair of photo-realistic paintings entitled 40:22 based on still images captured motion pictures. Lordy Rodriguez presents a fictionalized map of Wyoming with territories out of place and marked by varying types of ownership (part of his States of America series). Thalia When’s meticulously created You can’t have my soul but everything else is free features an array of hand-drawn faces and stories for each.

The opening night of course featured drinks and music. While the main musical attraction for many attendees was the karaoke booth, I was more drawn to the occasional tracks of long-forgotten 1970s Asian pop being played by DJ Victor Chu. I wish I could find some of these albums myself.

The APAture festival continues this coming Wednesday (September 23). Visit the official website for program details.

APAture Festival: Music Night

The APAture Festival (Asian Pacific American artists) is currently underway here in San Francisco. It began last Thursday (September 18) and continues until next Saturday (September 26). The APAture festival showcases the work of Asian American artists and is produced by the Kearny Street Workshop, who also co-produced the Present Tense Biennial exhibit.

We actually begin with the second night of the festival: “Music Night” at the Poleng Lounge. The music was relatively mainstream, focusing on hip hop and rock artists who all happened to be of Asian or South Asian heritage.

Nomadik Messengers opened the evening with Bay Area hip-hop by way of the Philippines. Hip hop is generally about the words, but I find myself focusing on the beats, samples and instrumental sounds in the background, and I liked their use of classic funk and R&B from the 1970s (for which I have a soft spot). In his set, Mandeep Sethi (originally from the Los Angeles hip-hop scene but now residing in San Francisco) did call out the mighty MPC 2500 while creating words about social consciousness and cultural issues. Compared to the other hip-hop artists, Hopie $spitshard’s sounds were less old school and more infused with electronics, sirens, and synth noises reminiscent of contemporary dance clubs. Her words and stage presents was also fun, including her line “I’m glad you guys are here because it makes it more funner…and less creepy.” Her high energy vocals seemed to melt from one line into the next, and were full of electronic effects.

Lumaya’s music was a stark contrast to the hip-hop sets, and quite reminiscent of 1990s indie rock from my college years. As one would expect from an indie-rock power trio, it was loud and hard, with both blues and chromatic elements. Lead singer Olga Salamanca’s vocals and presence were the central element and her ethereal but forceful voice seemed to blend musically into the rock vibe, but it was somewhat hard to hear what she was saying due to sound issues in the room.

Johnny Hi-Fi’s style of pop rock seemed to be from a different era than Lumaya, either a decade earlier (1980s) or later (2000s). I think this as much due to lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist Eric Hsu’s visual style as well as the style of the music. The keyboards gave the group more of a singer-songwriter sensibility as well. Sometimes it seemed a little over-emoted, at other times a bit light, like a small-club rock show where people dance and hop around. I did like the last songs, including their soundtrack to a documentary on domestic violence (a topic in sharp contrast to the otherwise light and fun nature of their music); and especially the encore song which was sung in Hsu in Chinese. I thought this was a fitting way to conclude the event.