Getting Ready for Ghost House

“Obake Yashiki” (Ghost House) officially opens tonight at Arc Studios and Gallery in San Francisco. The project is a collaboration with artists Priscilla Otani and Judi Shintani, and combines sound, Japanese lanterns and “deconstructed kimonos”. Here is a view of the installation:

And the project statement:

An atmospheric space in-between worlds is glimpsed in this installation. Fragments of sound from crickets, chanting monks and Japanese instruments envelope Japanese lanterns, womanly silhouettes and floating deteriorating kimonos. Obake Yashiki or Ghost House, is a dwelling place of spirits that continue to haunt us. They cannot find their peaceful resting place due to tragic occurrences during their lifetimes. The exhibition calls attention to women around the world whose lives have been taken due to earthly disasters and violent human interaction. We honor the spirits who are trapped between life and death in hopes they may find peace and resolution.

A lot of work went into making this installation happen, including hanging the kimonos and approximately 100 lanterns! But three of the lanterns were also outfitted with tiny speakers and MP3 players to create the immersive soundscape in the space:

The assemblage works quite well, and the sounds emanating from the lantern clusters adds to the overall eerie quality of the piece. Of course, portable electronic devices need to be recharged, so we have the odd visual today of Japanese lanterns being recharged via USB cables (i.e., like an iPhone) ahead of tonight’s reception:

Hopefully everything is charged up later this afternoon and ready to go.

If you are in San Francisco this evening, feel free to drop by our free reception. It is at Arc Studios and Gallery, 1246 Folsom St, and goes from 6PM to 9PM. We are also planning an interesting closing program in October.

Election Day (of the Dead)

Well, it is Election Day in the U.S., the closest thing we have to a national civic ritual. And in California, that means another of our exceptionally long ballots. Here is this November’s sample ballot plus voter guide:

[Click to enlarge.]

I have to admit, as voter guides go, this one has a pretty cool cover with a detail of the spiral staircase at San Francisco City Hall. And although it’s not the largest we have had, but still pretty substantial.

[Click to enlarge.]

Indeed, elections here can be a bit unwieldy. I find myself voting on all sorts of things, like arcane budget issues or judges that I feel completely unqualified to make a decision on. Of course, there are fun things like having our Proposition 19 (legalization of marijuana for sale in the state) and serious things like Proposition 23, an attempt to suspend our leading climate and energy law – a law that is actually a point of pride for many of us as we watch the much of the country (and our national leaders) fail on the issue. One sign I particularly liked was a dual “Go Giants!” and “No on 23” banner hanging from a building on 3rd Street, with the subtitle “Beat Texas (Oil)”. As often happens, baseball and elections collide. Our celebrations yesterday may end up being short lived depending on how things go today.

In addition to a sense of civic duty, you get a cool sticker:

I quite like having English, Spanish and Chinese all represented – there is something that feels right about it, a sense of people from different backgrounds coming together for a collective purpose.  Of course it is not all the languages spoken by residents of the city, but it is still a decent cross section.  It also made me think about a statement I had heard yesterday, thinking more optimistically about the future, that demographics is currently on the side of those with a more cosmopolitan and progressive view of the world as the older generations with their traditional notions of racial, linguistic, religious, national and sexual boundaries fade away.  But that’s a story for another time.

My current polling place is at SOMArts Cultural Center, so going to vote also means taking in the current exhibition, the annual El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) exhibition. This years theme was “Honoring Revolution with Visions of Healing”  and featured  “altars and installations that will honor the dead and provide offerings to the living.”  It was certainly interesting to have an exhibition with the theme of “revolution” adjacent to the place where I was voting.  And while the theme may be connected to the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, many of the pieces were more general in nature, honoring loved ones who have passed away, or tied to current events, such as disasters and war. For example, I was drawn to this piece because it featured musicians:

[Judy Johnson-Williams and Judy Shintani. Honoring Construction Workers, Rebuilding of the New Orleans, Revolution with Visions of Healing. (Click image to enlarge.)]

At first I was not quite sure what the construction workers were about. But once I understood that it honored the workers who were helping to rebuild New Orleans, the combination of music and construction made sense. It has a double resonance, looking back on Hurricane Katrina, but there are also echoes of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer. The piece was a collaboration by Judy Johnson-Williams and Judy Shintani. The also had another piece nearby, “All Cats We Have Loved”:

[Judy Johnson-Williams and Judy Shintani. All the Cats We Have Loved.  (Click to enlarge.)]

Their accompanying statement was very touching:

For all our kitties who have been run over by autos, are missing in action, and disappeared into the ethery to go onto their next lives. Hopefully you are having fun pouncing and are purring up a storm! We miss you! Meow!

The passing of a loved was also the subject of one of the featured pieces, an alter by artist Adrian Arias to his mother who passed away this year.  The large installation was almost entirely white, but with bits of color in the arranged objects.  Please visit his blog for images of this piece, including a performance by the artist.  Individual remembrances were also part of Susana Aragon’s Life is a Revolution.”  This piece featured tribute images on transparencies arranged on the wall, a series of moving screens onto which images were projected, and a mirror in which ones own reflection was project (as the artist suggests, it was a bit of a challenge to make the reflection work).  The piece has a very moody but also clean quality to it that kept my attention:

[Susana Aragon. Life is a Revolution.  (Click image to enlarge.)]

In their piece “Trapped”, Ytaelena and Bruce Lopez present a narrow and dark cave-like space which viewers can enter.  It seems inviting enough, with a warm earthy aroma.  But inside there is the faint sound of a person calling for help, and a detached hand in the middle of some vegetation.  The piece is inspired by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the earthquake in Chile.

Finally, on a more positive note, Lanell Dike invites viewers to write messages of love and gratitude, and place them on an array of lights in her interactive piece “Make a Love Offering.”

[Lanell Dike. Make a Love Offering (close-up view)]

I did decide to participate and left a message, not far away from where I cast my ballot only a little earlier.

(re-)Claim, SOMArts

I continue to work through my backlog of shows and exhibits to review, with a focus on exhibits that are still open. One of these is (re-)Claim, which will remain at SOMArts through Friday May 28.

(re-)Claim is part of the United States of Asian American Festival sponsored the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center (APICC), a month-long festival that celebrates “the artistic accomplishments and the cultural diversity of San Francisco’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities.” The exhibition features work made from discarded objects and materials explores “the redemptive process that renders an object ‘fundamentally new'”. I have seen several exhibitions this year on similar themes – perhaps a sign of the times – and in fact some of the same artists are featured in (re-)Claim, including Truong Tran and Christina Mazza. The other artists featured in this curated show include Mark Baugh-Sasaki, Kathy Fuji-Oka, Su-Chen Hung, and Judy Shintani.

We had last seen Christina Mazza’s work in the SF Recology Artists Program in January, where she also focused on found objects and materials from the San Francisco dump. For this exhibition, she created an impressive 9-foot-by-12-foot site-specific installation.

[Christina Mazza. Site-specific installation. (Click to enlarge.)]

Up close, one focuses on the individual wooden panels that compose the work, and which reminded me a little of the panels from her “Contained Spaces” series from SF Recology (a few prints from that series were included here as well). From a distance, one could better see the landscape elements and the textures that combined both geometric and natural qualities.

Truong Tran featured several works that I recognized from his solo exhibition the lost & found back in February. All of his works in that show were meticulously constructed from recycled objects and materials, many of which he found on his frequent walks around the city’s neighborhood (an activity that we at CatSynth wholeheartedly support). His pieces fit perfectly into the theme of the (re-)Claim show, where they would be seen alongside and compared to the works of the other artists. There was at least one piece that I didn’t recognize from the solo exhibition – it is shown here.

[Truong Tran. (Click to enlarge image.)]

Sculptor Mark Baugh-Sasaki took a very different approach to reclamation. His large sculptures are composed in part from manufactured or processed materials, but have a very natural quality to them, as if they are part of some imaginary ecology. In his artist statement, he refers to them as “objects that are inhabitants of or illustrate the evolving systems and interactions in this new landscape.” I also quite liked his large wooden sculpture A Form Derived from a Constructed Landscape (shown below) and his metal sculpture Relic.

[“A Form Derived from a Constructed Landscape” by Mark Baugh-Sasaki. Image from the artist. (Click to the enlarge)]

We conclude with a mixed-media piece “My Friends” by Su-Chen Hung in which a pair of figures is constructed from a variety of household objects.

[“My Friends” by Su-Chen Hung.]

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the taco trucks that were on hand for the opening. Fusion taco trucks (i.e., assembly of spices and main ingredients from other cuisines in proper taco form served out of a truck) are a mainstay of street cuisine here in San Francisco, and there were two on hand for the opening. I have enjoyed the Asian asada from Kung Fu Tacos at several past events. But I was particularly fond of the paneer and extra-spicy sauce taco from Curry Up Now.