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.

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.

KSW Presents Means of Exchange: Program Launch

We at CatSynth have a special place in our hearts for art about our home neighborhood in San Francisco, South of Market (SOMA). Means of Exchange is a new project presented by Kearny Street Workshop that teams up artists Weston Teruya and Kimberley Arteche with local businesses in the neighborhood to create storefront artworks that highlight the history and culture of the neighborhood.

SOMA has a rich and diverse history. Long a sprawling district of warehouses and working-class houses with large streets and small alleys, it became a mecca for artists, bars, and clubs. It was a thriving center of gay culture in the city and still includes the “Leather District.” It is a center for the Filipino diaspora in San Francisco, and includes the SoMa Pilipinas historic district. In the 1980s and 1990s some of its most run-down areas were turned into the Moscone Convention Center and a hub for several museums and cultural centers. And more recently, the neighborhood has become home to many large technology companies, as well as a proliferation of luxury high-rises and not-so-luxury-but-still-expensive apartment complexes. With so many different forces at work, the neighborhood means different things to different people, and tensions and conflicts inevitably have arisen between many of the longtime residents and institutions and newcomers.

The publicly viewable artworks will celebrate many of these aspects of the neighborhood. But the history, contradictions, and conflict were also highlighted by the readers and performances and the launch event this past Friday. The evening opened with a reading by Mary Claire Amable, a Filipino-American writer who was raised in SOMA and the adjacent Tenderloin neighborhood.

Mary Claire Amable

Amable reflected on her upbringing, including the struggles and challenges faced by her immigrant parents, the small apartments where she lived that are now threatened by redevelopment, and the increasing unaffordability of the neighborhood for many longtime residences, particularly immigrants and people of color. Her story provides a different perspective on places and streets I have come to know well.

Next was a reading by Tony Robles, a longtime poet and activist in San Francisco who was a short-list nominee for poet laureate of SF 2017.

Tony Robles

Like Amable, Robles was born and raised in San Francisco, and his writing reflects on the changes in his hometown and the effect it has on his communities, on artists, and on those facing displacement. He spoke both nostalgically and somewhat cynically of San Francisco’s mythic past and of the struggles of people to survive here in the present; but he also shared writings from his visits to the Philippines, including a humorous piece about “The Province.” You can get a feel for his writing Maryam Farnaz Rostami, a San Francisco-based performance artist who has staged several solo and ensemble shows, including her latest Late Stage San Francisco.

Maryam Farnaz Rostam

Rostami also works as a designer in the architectural world, and her performance cleverly weaves that experience into laments about gentrification and displacement in the city. She decries the traditional “enforced cuteness” of San Francisco architecture, but also questions contemporary minimalism, as it applies both to design and life. She took us on a tour of The Battery, an exclusive club that popped up a few years ago and most of us loved to hate from the moment we heard about it. The descriptions of glass and metal contrast with the ugliness of the institution’s sensibilities and target clientele. But Rostami also offered notes of optimism and hope, such as ways we could organize the city more equitably and sustainability (e.g., more high-rises, but also a lot more natural space). And she did this with a heightened exaggerated style from her drag performances.

We had a large and appreciative audience for the event, full of familiar faces from the KSW community as well as newcomers. I look forward to seeing the full art project as it unfolds on the streets of my neighborhood.

APAture 2015: Music and Comics

Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2015 festival continued this past weekend with more showcases in multiple fields. I was able to attends parts of two of them, and share these brief notes.

The Music Showcase took place last Friday at Bindlestiff Studio in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco (it’s our home neighborhood at CatSynth). There was a wide range of musical styles present.

The evening opened with reggie-infused sounds and rhythms from Iridium.

Iridium

Next up was ebolabuddha, an intense metal band that featured reading of books in addition to the playing of instruments (quite loudly).

ebolabuddha

The band featured some familiar faces, including Eli Pontecorvo on bass/vocals and Mark Pino on drums with Steve Jong on guitar and vocals.

ebolabuddha

Combination of the forceful and physically driving music with the book readings (in addition to guest performers, everyone was invited to come up and read) was quite fun.

The tone and energy changed abruptly with MC a.K.aye (aka Ahmed Kap Animo), whose words with both playful and at times featured strong messages that resonated with many in the audience.

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Next was The Vibrant Things featuring Amy Dabalos on vocals. Dabalos had a fantastic and inspiring voice that worked well the group’s mixture of jazz, R&B and cabaret sounds. I also always enjoy seeing other groups with Nord keyboards.

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One of the more unique showcases of APAture is the Comics and Illustration showcase, which took place on Saturday at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Comics and Illustration showcase

At first glance, the event has a nerdy vibe and many familiar styles and tropes of popular Asian comics. But many of the artists also featured strong messages in their work. Artist Bo explores queer and transgender identities in his comics. Pixelated follows the experience of a biological female passing as a male and suddenly being assumed to have strong technical skills, poking fun at gender stereotypes around technology.

Featured artist Thi Bui presented meticulously drawn art including her graphic novel The Best We Could Do, an “immigration epic” about her family. She also made drawings of visitors to the event as a fundraiser for Kearny Street Workshop.

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[© Kearny Street Workshop/ Shuntaro Ogata]

I particularly enjoyed Cecilia Wong’s colorful illustrations, many of which featured cats. I of course had to purchase a copy of one. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

Cecilia Wong

Wong also gave a presentation of color, with tips on both theory and practice. It gave me a few thoughts for color in future graphic designs to complement my usual black&white styles.

Also present at the event was the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a “non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers.” I was not familiar with them, but on reflection I’m not surprised that many comics artist may need such defense, especially when the challenge traditional norms and authority (something that we at CatSynth wholeheartedly support).

APAture 2015 Visual Arts Showcase

Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2015: Future Tense is underway. This year’s festival invited 65 emerging artists to “imagine what’s possible for the future, with particular interest in how social change might be exhibited in their work.” As in past years, the opening night featured the visual arts showcase with performances and food.

APAture 2015 opening

Here we see part of the wall-sized piece by featured artist Kimberley Acebo Arteche. Traditional clothing patterns are reimagined on a larger-life-scale with pixelated digital prints on cloth. The work brings together traditional practices and a bit of personal nostalgia with a modern ubiquitous technology for images.

Another large piece that makes use of technologies and mixed media was Grace Kim’s room-sized installation Breathing Wall IV, which combined LED lights, sound, tape and other media into a visually captivating immersive space of colors, light and lines. You can experience a bit of it in this short video, though it truly must be seen in person.

Grace Kim. Breathing Wall IV. Mixed media and electronics. #APAture #apature2015

A video posted by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

We at CatSynth are always on the lookout for cats in art exhibitions, and we weren’t disappointed. Alan Khum’s art frequently features cats – I had just seen many of his feline works at a completely separate show for First Thursday the night before – and here he combines house cats together with one of their larger wild cousins.

Alan Khum

I particularly like the expressiveness of the cats.

Another playful piece was Austin Boe’s mirrored pieces exploring queer identity. This one featured a mirrored surface and the French phrase je vous aimas (I like you).

Austin Boe

We can see Grace Kim’s piece in the background, along with a video piece by Tianxing Wan called Invisible Man, juxtaposing a ghostly figure simultaneously in San Francisco’s bustling Union Square and in a Chinese village.

Another challenging work was Nicholas Oh’s ceramic piece. A sideways glance suggests a simple ceramic tea set with traditional materials and configuration, but on closer inspection one realizes that the figures on the set represent the Japanese Americans held at internment camps during World War II. Indeed, Oh uses his medium of ceramics to lay bare images of racism.

Nicholas Oh

Jeremy Villaluz’s photograph series Midnights was, by contrast, quite comforting, despite the dark and moody nature of the images. Here we see the dark but nonetheless alive corners of urban life.

Jeremy Villaluz

There is a starkness to these images and lots of space, but also a familiarity with these edges of the urban landscape, and perhaps a bit of sadness (on my part) that such places are fading.

In additional to the visual art, there were presentations and performances. Kimberley Arteche had a chance to speak briefly about her work and her participation in this year’s festival standing in front of her piece.

Kimberley Arteche

Caroline Calderon presented poetry and music around issues of community, identity, and social justice.

Caroline Calderon

Her spoken-word and musical tributes to her complex relationship with the city of San Francisco rang pretty true for me as well, as I continue to feel in love with this city while simultaneous feeling a bit more alienated at times.

Joseph Nontanovan presented poetry and food and words about food, in particular about his Lao heritage and the characteristic ingredients of Lao cuisine. He treated us to words as well as the aromas and a chance to sample a traditional dish made from fermented sausage, vegetables, rice, and of course cilantro. It was delicious.

Joseph Nontanovan's culinary offering

It often seems that food, words and images intersect at Kearny Street Workshop events, a combination which is welcome and also reflects to increasing shift of programs back to the organizations roots in combining arts with identity and community activism. I look forward to more of this year’s APAture festival over the coming weeks. You can see a full schedule of events at the official website.

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.

APAture 2013 Music Night

The 2013 APAture festival concluded with a diverse evening of music, ranging from avant-garde jazz to metal to rap. The event took place at SUB/Mission in San Francisco. Featured artist Karl Evangelista opened the evening with a group that included Francis Wong, Margaret Rei Scampavia, Cory Wright, and Jordan Glenn.

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[© 2013 Karen Ng/Kearny Street Workshop]

The music was a frenetic style of avant-garde jazz, which moved freely in and out of more conventionally harmonic sections. Many of the pieces were inspired by Evangelista’s own personal history and his Filipino heritage. It was also fun to see Francis Wong, whom I usually encounter in more rarefied venues, at punk club in the Mission.

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[© 2013 Karen Ng/Kearny Street Workshop]

The Evangelista group was followed by something completely different both sonically and visually. Bestiary, a solo project of Rai Yin Hsu featured experimental noise guitar and a rather unique black-and-white suit.

bestiary

There were a variety of long sounds processed through effects, with a few sharper elements as well.

Some of the evening’s entertainment happened in between the official musical acts, with our hosts Rupert Carangal Estanislao and Jennifer Chu keeping the crowd energized.

Jen and Rupert
[© 2013 Karen Ng/Kearny Street Workshop]

Next up was The Residuals, a self-described “hardworking, Do-It-Yourself metal band.”

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[© 2013 Karen Ng/Kearny Street Workshop]

As expected, they were quite loud, and Joshua Lykkeberg provided vocal fry. But the group, which also featured brothers Anand Jobanputra and Rohan Jobanputra was quite tight, with unisons and fast syncopations.

From metal we then moved to rap, with a set by Joal Vargas that focused on community issues as well as his experience as a teacher.

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[© 2013 Karen Ng/Kearny Street Workshop]

The diversity of the evening continued with a cabaret style performance by Bellows, featuring chanteuse Kyle Casey Chu and Rachel Waterhouse on keyboards.

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[© 2013 Karen Ng/Kearny Street Workshop]

After the fast energy of the previous two sets, the mellow and expressive style was welcome, and their stage presence was a lot of fun.

Bellows was followed by Little Sister, an East Bay rock trio featuring Erica Benton, MonBon and Nada Diaz.

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[© 2013 Karen Ng/Kearny Street Workshop]

They had a contemporary rock sound that was quite moody and a bit melancholy at times, but they still had a warm stage presence. Benton and MonBon traded off guitar and bass duties during the course of the performance.

There was still more music to come in this rather long event. I unfortunately had to depart after Little Sister, but glad I had the opportunity to be there for most of it and hear such a cross section of music in the Bay Area.

(For a review of the APAture opening-night event and gallery show, please visit this link.)

APAture 2013 Opening Night

After a four year hiatus, Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture festival is back. The previous APAture in 2009 was my first look into the Bay Area’s vibrant scene of emerging Asian Pacific American artists. This time around, I not only attended the festival and gallery exhibition opening, but participated as well as one of the featured musicians. I created a set that featured the dotara, a South Asian folk instrument, as well as a sketch box, DSI Evolver, and analog modular.

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The presence of blue and purple in the setup is not an accident, as the color blue was central to this performance. It was part of my costume and the lighting as well.

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[© 2013 Susa Cortez/Kearny Street Workshop.]

The piece unfolded with the usual black-cat-blue-light opening, followed by a gradual swelling and fading of sounds from the modular. The dotata and sketch box were fed into the Make Noise echophon for effects reminiscent of old studio tape delays, alongside more modern noisy elements from the other modules. Overall, the performance was well received. For some, it was their first experience with electro-acoustic improvisation, and expressed to me their curiosity about it afterwards.

The opening night also included an opportunity to see the work of the visual artists participating in APAture. There was quite a range of work, and several pieces were quite strong both technically and conceptually. Jessica Tang covered an entire wall with panels connected by strands of red string. A closer look revealed that the panels were successive runs of Google translator on a block of text. The view can observe the decay of meaning and language through her piece:

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Yuki Maruyama’s wooden blocks function as 3D versions of manga (comic) frames. The blocks can be assembled into new comic narratives, i.e., an “exquisite corpse”. Having three dimensions, however, allows for more combinations and interpretations of the assembled comic.

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More traditional artistic media were represented as well. Wenxin Zhang’s presented stark versions of portraiture and architectural photography.

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One of the more amusing pieces was an interactive conceptual work by Alison Ho, in which she invited visitors to stick gold stars with various Asian stereotypes on a blown up image of her face. Her piece was intended to challenge the notion of Asian American’s as a model minority. Clearly, many people were having fun with it.

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[© 2013 Susa Cortez/Kearny Street Workshop.]

Other works that piqued my interest was Mido Lee’s starkly beautiful photographs of dead/forlorn trees, including some from desert landscapes; and a minimalist ring of light presented by featured artist Michael Namkung.

APAture has continued throughout October with events focus on different media, including writing, performance, and comics/zines.   The next event will be music night on Friday, October 25, at SUB/Mission (2183 Mission Street, San Francisco). If you are in San Francisco, do check it out.

Kearny Street Workshop and SOMArts: A Sensory Feast

Art in general, and the art reviewed here at CatSynth in particular is very focused on sound and sight. “A Sensory Feast”, an exhibition co-presented by our friends at Kearny Street Workshop and SOMArts Cultural Center, expands into other senses, including touch, smell and taste. Each piece in the show touches in one way or another on the subject of food, sometimes directly with scents and textures, sometimes indirectly through memories, metaphors and cultural contexts.

[Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, MCDXCII, chocolate wrappers, sugar, curry powder, and acquired objects, 2010.  Press image courtesy of Kearny Street Workshop.]

Aroma along with taste and sight featured prominently in Sita Kuratomi Bhuamik’s site-specific installation MCDXCII (1492). The central material of the installation, curry powder, can be very powerful – cooking with it will fill a room with its scent, touching it leaves a lingering yellow stain. Here the artist has blanketed surfaces with both intricate floral patterns on the ground and abstract geometric textures on the wall. In the middle is a bench covered in a combination of gold wrappers and curry. The installation also referenced one of the most powerful and captivating food substances of all: chocolate.

Curry also featured prominently in a sound piece by Brandon Bigelow. Sound is a bit more detached from food than the other senses, but is nonetheless interesting to hear “sound of a curry dinner” decomposed electronically. As a musician, I tend to get more into the structure of the sounds themselves rather than the source – I would not have necessarily placed the sounds in the context of food without the associated description – I mostly thought of it as an escape from the other senses during the opening.

[Yosh Han, installation view with perfume bottles.]

Yosh Han’s fragrance bar was all about scent. Guests were invited to sample and choose on of her scents to carry on a cardboard mustache. It was clear that the scents evoke very strong identifications, some seemed more “right” than others, but there was still room for surprise. My initial assumption is that I would find the strongest resonance with the “Intellectual”, which did evoke cooler colors and flavors (rosemary was one of several components); but upon trying the “Bon Vivant” I immediately knew it was right. The scent had layers of spice and tomato, in other words rather fiery. And while I don’t really associate myself with jeux de vie, it did fit with my being a “pitta” in Ayurvedic terms. Maybe the sense of smell tells us things we otherwise overlook or hide.

Amy M. Ho’s Collection of Food Costumes focused on the tactile sense through fabric. It was quite popular, with people takings turns embodying a pineapple or a slice of pizza (just don’t ever put the two together, as pineapple pizza is an abomination). In addition to the human costumes, she did have at least one intended for cats.

[Amy Ho, Food Costume for a cat.]

I thought this durian for cats was very cute, though I doubt I could convince Luna to wear it.

A cat also featured prominently in Catcakes, one of several works by Kira Greene.

[Kira Greene, Catcakes, 2010.  Image courtesy of the artist.]

The piece is an interesting play on space and dimension. The cat, fish and surrounding elements are very flat and reminiscent of Asian paper cutouts. The plate of three cupcakes, however, is very three dimensional, and realistic enough to evoke the sugary texture and aroma. Nonetheless, I did see the cat first, texturally camouflaged but very prominent with its blue color.

In 2002 Diet as a Periodic Table, Arthur Huang recorded and classified all the food he ate in 2002 into a table with three-letter abbreviations and numerical and spacial classifications reminiscent of the chart we know and love from science classes. There different classifications for diffent foods, such as fruits, vegetables, meats, condiments, etc. I tried to follow the color and number pattens and had fun with some of the symbols: “Pzz” for pizza, “Ccc” for chocolate chip cookies, and “Cos” for a cosmopolitan among many others. The piece fed into my interest (no pun intended) in statistics and information as artistic material.

Rounding out the exhibition were Jean Chen’s Food Coloring Photographs and live tattoo applications during the opening; a rather pornographic video featuring fruit by JD Beltran, Vita and Bryan Hewitt and Emannuelle Namont-Kouznetsov; and a presentation from the National Bitter Melon Council including videos, small cultures a manual “Better Living through Bitter Melon”. I know this vegetable by the name “bitter gourd” as a very strong Indian side-dish to be enjoyed in small doses.

The exhibition will remain open through Thursday, February 24 with an artist talk and closing reception that evening.

Truong Tran: the lost & found

Another review of art from the month that has past. In mid-February, I attended an artist talk with Truong Tran, part of a month-long exhibition of his work at Mina Dresden Gallery. The exhibition was presented by our friends at Kearny Street Workshop.

The gallery itself is a narrow and starkly white space. Upon entry, one is drawn first to the illuminated shapes and color fields that dot the walls. Moving closer to a particular artwork, one begins to see the meticulous detail and the variety of elements from which it is composed.

[Truong Tran.  Installation view.  Photo courtesy of the artist. (Click to enlarge.)]

As suggested by the title of exhibition the lost & found, the pieces are created primarily from found objects and materials. Tran is a self-described collector, indeed he admit, “I was a collector long before I was an artist.” This brought to mind the artist in residence program at the SF dump that I reviewed back in January. Far from a simple presentation of found objects, he constructs large-scale works from these constituent parts, placing them into boxes and the combining these boxes into larger structures. This process of found objects, containment and construction is perhaps most apparent in tower, the largest piece in the show:

[Truong Tran, tower.  Photo courtesy of the artist.  (Click to enlarge.)]

Tran cites Joseph Cornell and Donald Judd as influences, and one can see the combination of “things contained in boxes” and large minimal geometric elements reappearing in many of the works. There is also a certain polished quality to many of pieces, particularly the illuminated works that most caught my attention. For example, the piece broken and whole, shown below looks to be a very minimalist installation with lights, rectangles and solid colors. On closer inspection, one can see that each box contains bones, presumably part of a “collection.”

[Truong Tran, broken and whole. Photo courtesy of the artist. (click to enlarge)]

Truong Tran, a ladder to. Photo courtesy of the artist. (click to enlarge)

The use of found materials within a larger minimal pattern of boxes and solid colors appears in many of the works. The contained materials at times are provocative, such as the syringes that are placed in each box of a ladder to.

Tran is as established writer and author of several collections of poetry and a children’s book. With this exhibition, he is moving into a new medium of visual art and sculpture. However, his poetry is also very visual, as in his book within the margin where a single line of lower-case text is presented on each page. His other books published at Apogee Press have a similar visual quality to them. You can see some excerpts from a couple of the books here. Similarly, text enters into many of the visual pieces in the exhibition, such as the large letter “A” in tower. In both his written and visual works, there is a strong sense of things being “constructed”, and indeed he emphasized the concept of construction during his talk at the gallery.

One work that did not get mentioned during the talk but which drew my attention the invisible city. Once again, found materials (in this case, multicolored golf tees and thread) were arranged into a repeated rectangular pattern, but this time set against an image of a city skyline. While many of the pieces have an architectural quality to them (i.e., as “constructions”), this was only one where the image contained within was itself architectural.

[Truong Tran, invisible city. Photo courtesy of the artist. (click to enlarge)]

However, there is another level of containment, as each of the buildings contains a pornographic image – I believe they are all images of men. This is another recurring theme in many of the pieces, perhaps best exemplified via boy with butterflies which at a distance appears to be a flock of hundreds of colored butterflies frozen in mid motion. Upon closer inspection, one sees that the butterflies are cut from pornographic magazines, and it is the sections of the male bodies in these images that give the butterflies their colors and patterns.

You can see some more photos of other works from the exhibition at The Lost and Found, a visual blog created by Tran. You can also see photos from the well-attended opening at KSW’s blog.