In Cultural Transcendence, five Asian American artists bring distinctly individual styles to installation art, pushing new media forward in an intriguing way.
Lost and Found, 2004. Horatio Law. “Lost and Found” by Horatio Hung-Yan Law is a lovely first course. On a delicate screen on one end of the room, the faces of Chinese children and their adoptive parents fade in and out, while a rhythmic Buddhist chant plays softly. On closer inspection, the screen turns out to be silk rose petals sewn loosely together with red thread. Law, born in Hong Kong and living in Portland, notes that couples eventually look similar because they take on each other’s facial expressions. Is it the same with adoptive families?
Brent Watanabe’s “Sun” is a fun, deceptively simple interactive piece that draws you in. On a wall, an agitated cartoon bird with three candles on its head prances back and forth. Cranking an old-fashioned record player soothes the bird with animated musical notes and a song from a music box. I loved the addition of two non-functioning tin cans strung between the record player and the bird. The Seattle artist programmed the interaction between the bird and music box with “Flash using ActionScript and Make Controller.”
“Shin’im” is another interactive installation. In a darkened room, subtle water-like light designs shift gently across the wall and floor. Kang invites you to put on a jacket suspended from the ceiling. As you move, the water designs move to rippling sound. South Korean artist Eunsu Kang explains that “Shin’im” is a contraction of the Korean words for “body” and “sound.”
Heidi Kumao’s “Transplant” pays homage to Japanese Americans who tried to live a normal life inside internment camps. Her video shows people hoeing and planting gardens against a backdrop of the stark landscape, using silhouette animation with archival film footage and photographs. Fragments of images are captured on a paper banner inside a bell jar.
Robert Hodgin’s “Infinite Views of Mount Fuji” is based on a strong childhood memory of walking with his parents through fog and dense bamboo along the mountain’s base. However, his mother said that it never happened. They were actually in a park with Mount Fuji in the distance, no fog. The strength of Hodgin’s fabricated memory comes through in the video, in which bamboo and grass wave in the wind, with Mount Fuji in the distance and a full moon traversing the sky. It’s beautiful.
This show stands out not only for the artistry and imaginative use of technology but also for its use of sound: Law’s steady Buddhist chant, Watanabe’s clinky music box, Kang’s subtle water sounds, and Kumao’s ambient sounds and Japanese songs that accompany her video. It’s fitting since you enter from the West Lightwell containing “Letter Cloud,” the sound/art installation by Erin Shie Palmer and Susie Kozawa, in which voices read letters between immigrants and their families in the home country.
Cultural Transcendence is on display through September 19, 2010. Featuring artists: Robert Hodgin, Eunsu Kang, Heidi Kumao, Horatio Law, and Brent Watanabe. At the Wing Luke Asian Museum, 719 South King Street, Seattle, WA 98104.
More information at www.wingluke.org