Welcome to our annual fall arts guide in which we get to extend our Arts Etc. calendar to include highlights of the fall season.
In the visual arts, we are fortunate to have a number of fresh young artists making their mark. Diem Chau has for the last couple years wrested from memory, history and culture her own voice that speaks through ancestor’s stories in varied ways. We talk to her about an upcoming show of new work. She is also part of our annual “Arts Etc.” event on Nov. 4 which showcases Asian American artistic talent, including the all-girl Asian band, the Buttersprites. In the last 30 years, the contemporary art movement in Asia has gained increasing global attention, and at least two contemporary Asian art magazines to cover it. We include coverage of the work of Xiaoze Xie and Ying-Yueh Chuang, two contemporary Chinese artists that have shows in Seattle this fall. Currently, ReAct Theater mounts a play, “Uncle Hideki and The Empty Nest” to benefit Northwest Asian American Theatre. Also, we preview films to entertain you the this fall season.
As always, there is a wealth of arts events coming up, so take time out from your busy schedule and nourish your soul. Items with *asterisks denote events I find potentially interesting. Enjoy! – Arts Editor Alan Chong Lau
BY DAWN-THANH NGUYEN
Nothing is “ordinary” in Diem Chau’s modern-day interpretation of Chinese fables and bedtime tales fused into ordinary objects. Each story is a thread that connects us to each other, the storyteller holding one end and the audience the other. Chau provides the basic foundational elements; the audience is asked to interpret the events in his/her own way.
“Bits and Pieces,” Chau’s solo exhibit at Cornish College of the Arts, displays artwork revealing her extraordinary ability to return to basics, and her maturing movement towards the building of modulars. Each piece is made up of a fractoid, smaller things coalescing to make up bigger images. The whole provides a fuller setting for audiences to visualize her stories.
“My work evolves from my experiences, and much of my experiences have existed ‘inbetween’ defined realms,” she says. “I grew up always ‘inbetween.’ I was Chinese in Vietnam, Asian in America, and Americanized within my Asian family. I’ve come to understand the world in bits and pieces and whatever stands out I just make sense of along the way.”
Chau forewarns the audience to “expect the unexpected” in “Bits and Pieces.” Each installation is meant to turn the mundane of real life into something magical. Many of Chau’s ideas are consciously and subconsciously gathered from childhood memories and contributions from friends and families. The broken chair in the art piece “Brothers” represents the reality that, unfortunately, being “inbetween” means sometimes having to leave and separate oneself from the older cultural ceremonies when forming a new life with someone who is of a different culture.
The majority of the installments are miniature representations of common, everyday things with a twist to the ordinary setting. Materials chosen are from ordinary items found around the house such as toothpicks, paper, cardboard, fabric and a bowl. Other materials are locally bred such as Northwest fir to instill a comforting, warm affinity.
Each installation utilizes basic materials she has instinctually been familiar with since childhood. As an only child, Chau often played with her food, rolling things up into a ball and experimenting with different shapes it could take. Spending a summer at Pratt Art Institute’s middle school summer outreach program allowed her to realize her artistic abilities.
Rather than voluminous, Chau has intentions of filling up most of the 2,000 square-foot space with “enough space to fill people’s imagination.” The exhibit, which leans towards smaller thumb-sized objects and Chau’s more recent sculpture crayon carvings, are a physical divergence from four-foot by four-foot paintings. Those favoring immensity will not be disappointed as there will be one large piece which features long branches of hanging leaves set against an intense red backdrop.
Chau’s minimal work environment has led her to maximize limited resources to create surprising, amusing pieces of art. The end result is a spectacular representation of the artist’s own creative process of bits and pieces of stories unfolding. Tree branches in the “Brothers” and “Slumber” installations are made of rolled paper pieces assembled together to make a whole.
“Everything’s fresh, different – unexpected children’s perspective is open to different interpretation.” Chau explains. While keeping the authenticity of Chinese stories, her translations are a more fitting, modern interpretation in hopes of simplifying the many twists and complications often found in Chinese folklores, including shortening the five-plus multi-syllabic names assigned to each person.
Art piece “Slumber” unconsciously came to represent the story of LiPo, the 300 A.D. or older poet who becomes homesick after looking out from his bed to see the ground lit up by snow under a bright moon, reminding him of the comfort of his old home.
Folklore fables and magical fairy tales play an essential role in passing history and culture from generation to generation. Each story slightly deviates from the previous version, including replacing Cinderella’s ball feast with Mung, red and soybeans. These oversimplified tales, however, are functions to provide society with moral baselines, rules that, when broken or ignored, could have possible tragic consequences for all, naughty kids or heart-broken mermaids alike.
Using her art to visually express stories, Chau hopes that any emotions or memories stirred up will enable audiences to live a more vivid life, evoking the “same delight and anticipation” as she experiences with each tale told. Diem Chau’s “Bits and Pieces” exhibit will definitely be a refreshing escape from reality.
When eyeing the installments, poking one’s nose into a deep bowl may offer a reward for curiosity. Audiences can meet this amazing storytelling artist at the opening reception on Sept. 21, 5-8 p.m. Don’t forget to ask Chau to share a folktale!
“Bits and Pieces” runs through October 20, M-F, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Art Gallery on the first floor at CORNISH COLLEGE OF THE ARTS, 1000 Lenora Street, Seattle, WA 98121, (206) 726.5151, www.cornish.edu.
Diem Chau is also one of the highlighted visual artists of the International Examiner’s upcoming Arts, Etc. event on Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Port of Seattle Pier 69.