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 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.
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.
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”.
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.