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.

SF Thomassons Performance Tour

Two Saturdays ago, I attended the SF Thomassons Performance Tour, a collaboration by Kearny Street Workshop and Kaya Press that paired live performance art and installations with examples of hyperart, otherwise known as Thomassons, around San Francisco.

The tour was inspired by the book HYPERART: THOMASSON by Japanese conceptual artist and writer Akasegawa Genpei. Genpei and his colleagues began discovering instances of architecture, structures and objects that exist (or persist) outside of the original intended function, such as an inaccessible door leading out of an upper floor of a building, or a staircase leading to nowhere. Gempei named these objects “Thomassons” after the baseball player Gary Thomasson (incidentally, a member of the 1978 World Champion New York Yankees). Thomasson was recruited by the Yamamuri Giants and apparently paid quite well, despite the fact that during his tenure his bat almost never made contact with a ball. In addition to publishing an English translation of the Genpei’s book, Kaya Press maintains a Thomasson website that allows people to upload examples from around the world. We at CatSynth have actually presented several Thomassons in our Wordless Wednesday photographic series, including these stairs leading into the San Francisco Bay.


Our tour started at the Mint Mall in SOMA (South of Market). In the men’s bathroom in the basement, we were introduced to our first Thomasson: a small door in the wall of one of the stalls.

[click to enlarge]

The door purportedly opens to nothing, and contains nothing. Of course, we had to open it to make sure. It turns out that the door was not quite empty after all, and actually contained artist (and model-turned-actress) Philip Huang, who emerged bearing sake and assuming his role as host for the remainder of the tour.

We then boarded the official tour bus and proceeded to our next stop, the 3rd Street drawbridge (not far from AT&T Park), for a performance of a “living sculpture orchestra” by artist Anthem Selgado. In this piece, the familiar boxes for dispensing weekly newspapers become the members of a classical string quartet.

[click to enlarge]

The 3rd Street drawbridge crosses Mission Creek, you can see some previous photos from nearby sections of the creek here and here.

Our next stop was along 16th Street in Mission Bay (near the new UCSF campus), where a series of rusting pipes rise from the sidewalk. A sculpture and performance, again by Anthem Selgado, consisted of large balloons tied to the pipes.

[click to enlarge]

One set of balloons was attached to an old tape recorder with clips from the infamous “Balloon Boy” incident. The balloons (along with the Balloon Boy and family) were set aloft and last seen drifting towards the Pacific.

En route to the next stop, Philip taught us the Korean rabbit song “San toki toki…” complete with choreography.

We next found ourselves in a warehouse-heavy section of the Dogpatch neighborhood (not far from Pier 70), standing outside a loading dock that really no longer is a loading dock, given that it is completely blocked by plywood. This site served as stage for a dance/movement performance by Christina Miglino and Adderly Bigelow.

Although the piece contained moments of bold movement, I particularly liked this moment of stasis, with both dancers balancing against the former loading dock. With their pose and dress, they seemed to become architectural elements of the site itself.

We then moved on to what was advertised as “the largest Thomasson in San Francisco”, the former St. Joseph’s Church at the corner of Howard and 10th streets in SOMA. The church building has been vacant and closed for quite some time, although the gardens are still tended. Whether or not an entire building can count as a Thomasson was a subject of some discussion on the bus. Nonetheless, the next performance was in an alley behind the church grounds, and featured Rob Trinidad as a priest inviting the audience to confess their sins.

Our final stop was in the Mission, at the site of some large unused beams jutting out from the back of a warehouse – actually, this was the back side of the building complex housing Cellspace.

Kennedy Kabasares, an aerial artist specializing in static trapeze made good use of these beams with his impressive aerial choreography and gymnastics.

[click to enlarge]


Although the tour officially ended at this point, there was one more “bonus” stop that took us across the city to Crissy Field in the Marina District, not far from the Golden Gate Bridge. Here we found ourselves in the midst of a large pro-life rally and were treated to an impromptu performance of Philip “testifying”. You can see the full video here, or in the clip below. Incidentally, I think that is probably me shouting “l’chaim” at the end of the video.

Our actual destination was the Wave Organ, a sculpture along the waterfront where the action of the wave interacts with a series of pipes to produce very musical sounds. Although the pipes and architecture of the Wave Organ suggest a splendid ruin, this is a fully functional piece of architecture and thus is not technically a Thomasson. But it did make for a nice coda to the afternoon. Look for an image of the Wave Organ to be featured in our upcoming Wordless Wednesday photo.

Art and music notes. Friday, December 18

Last Friday, I managed to visit four different art and music events in one evening. Below are some reflections from each.

Our first stop was the offices of Kearny Street Workshop for their SF Thomassons Holiday Party. Readers may recall KSW’s APAture Festival and the Present Tense Biennial.

“Thomassons” are architectural elements that exist (or persist) outside of the original intended function, such as an inaccessible door leading out of an upper floor of a building, or a staircase leading to nowhere. The term was coined by Japanese conceptual artist and writer Akasegawa Genpei, and the Thomasson website allows people to upload examples from around the world. We at CatSynth have actually presented several Thomassons in our Wordless Wednesday photographic series, including these stairs leading into the San Francisco Bay. KSW’s “SF Thomassons” project involves photography and performance art centered around Thomasson sites in San Francisco. The party was a preview to coincide with Kaya Press’ publication of the first English translation of HYPERART: THOMASSON, and included a performance-art piece set at one of the largest sites in the city, an abandoned church at Howard and 10th streets that happens to be across the street from KSW’s offices.


After that, it was off to Gallery Six at 66 Sixth Street. The current exhibition, entitled “Every Single Where”, features new works by local artist Pakayla Biehn. The paintings each carried superimposed images that are similar but not identical, as if multiple exposures from a camera. According to the press release, Biehn has a congenital visual disability, and her paintings attempt to “give the viewer an understanding of her own optical condition.” Although they share the common theme, each work was stylistically quite different.

Actually, the work in the gallery that caught my attention was not in the featured exhibition, but on display in the back room from a previous exhibition, a small geometric print entitled “Bird’s Nest” from Charmaine Olivia’s Urban Managerie.


From Gallery Six, we then went to Gallery 16 for an exhibition celebrating the 25th anniversary of Emigre. Emigre was a combination digital type foundry and publisher founded by Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko, and is known both for its typefaces and the design journal Emigre Magazine. The exhibition included examples from the magazine and other designs featuring Emigre fonts.

The prints had a very clean quality, with bold colors, large shapes, and of course text. I particularly liked the works based on Licko’s abstract Puzzler font, with it’s arrangements of dots and other elements into larger complex patterns. One of the large prints (again combining text and geometric elements) also featured a large barcode with a valid ISBN number. Thinking myself quite clever, I performed a quick internet search to find out what it was – I suppose I should not have been surprised that it was issue #67 of Emigre Magazine, although the cover image from the magazine looks nothing like this print.


The final stop was Cafe du Nord for a party and concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of KFJC Radio. This was the last of several events marking the anniversary, including the concert at FLUX53 that I attended earlier in the week.

Because of the busy schedule for the evening, we only caught two of the many bands performing. First was the band al Qaeda (I am sure they were aware the name was already taken). Their music combined driving punk-style drum and guitar elements with experimental electronics elements and electrical noise.

Al Qaeda was followed Arrington de Dionyso. I had seen de Dionyso perform in a trio at FLUX53, but this time he was with his band. Once again, he performed a combination of bass clarinet with various vocal techniques, including throat singing, set against standard rock drum, bass and guitar sounds. On the screen behind the band, increasingly complex black-and-white drawings (or paintings) were being created live.