On first viewing, Lynne Yamamoto’s “Genteel” seems minimal for an exhibition. Occupying one small room at the rear of the Greg Kucera Gallery, the show is composed of three artworks, all white. This austere installation is in fact densely layered with meaning, every aspect carefully considered. The objects incorporated or reproduced, the materials from which they are made, and the manner in which they are presented all have significance. The pieces are connected by a complex narrative web: to each other, to Yamamoto’s personal and family history, to the history of Hawai’i where she grew up, and to the currents of Pacific rim immigration.
“My life experiences are associated with a specific place that has relationships to a larger world. I also wanted to look at history in a complex manner,” she states. Each work in Genteel is identified with a location. These locations radiate outward in size and geography: Lana’i City, Hawai’i, Pacific Asia and U.S.
“Grandfather’s Shed (Lana’i City, Island of Lana’i)” is a model of a small outbuilding that Yamamoto’s grandfather constructed of scavenged materials in his backyard. She remembers it as a place where “something magical occurred. He was extraordinarily creative,” making Japanese-style dolls and other woodworking projects. She credits his artistic endeavors as an inspiration for her own career and has produced several works based on his shed. The original model in balsa wood and paper was digitally scanned to produce this version, which is laser-cut from marble and hand-finished. A building of throwaway materials has been transmuted into an object for the ages, its size and material intended to evoke funerary urns and monuments. “These works are touchstones of memory,” Yamamoto says.
Grandfather was an immigrant to Hawai’i, as were the construction methods and materials of his shed. “Insect Immigrants, after Zimmerman (1948) (Hawai’i)” confronts the theme of immigration more explicitly. Yamamoto has embroidered 42 white cloth doilies with larger-than-life images of insects, none of them indigenous to Hawai’i, based on drawings from entomologist Elwood Zimmerman’s nine-volume catalog of insects of the islands. The backs of the embroidery are displayed, the knots deliberately made a visual and textural part of the composition. The doilies are grouped on one wall, mounted on long pins like specimens in a science museum. Found at antique stores and online, the doilies themselves are immigrants, emblems of the upper class New England gentility that 19th century Christian missionaries tried to impose on Hawai’ian culture. The visual mass of insects speaks to the transformation of Hawaii’s natural environment by industrial scale agriculture and its attendant immigrants: human, animal, plant, and insect.
“Provisions, Post-War (Pacific Asia and U.S.)” is a display of packaged foods on a simple wood shelf. They are the archetypal food products of post-World War II Hawai’i: Spam, sardines, Vienna sausage, corned beef, evaporated milk, Cup ‘o’ Noodles. Yamamoto recalls them as “foods that we ate a lot when I was growing up in the 1960’s.” She has elevated the containers’ stature as art and artifact by stripping them of their labels and casting them in shiny white vitreous china, discards made precious like “Grandfather’s Shed.” Products of economic necessity, they were disseminated throughout the Pacific by a later wave of immigrants, the U.S. military.
Using objects to tell stories has been a theme of Yamamoto’s work for over a decade. In that time she has expanded her context from familial to global, adding a historical perspective. She has exhibited nationally and received prestigious artist residencies in North America and Europe. But she returns to Hawai’i to mine the memories and details that engage viewers on a more personal level. She resurrects those memories but presents them in an altered state that forces the viewer to reconsider. “The work originated from what’s dear to me, where I’m from,” she states, “The meanings and implications that emanate from the work – that is what I’m interested in.”
“Genteel” is on view through October 2 at Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle. (206) 624 – 0770. www.gregkucera.com.