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review: APAture

This year’s APAture exhibition at Kearny Street Workshop is different, and you can tell right away.

APAture is Kearny Street Workshop’s juried annual multidisciplinary arts festival. I’ve been involved in past APAtures and KSW, so this will be part review, part proud stock-taking of how far KSW has come.

It’s tighter and more focused, with fewer artists, more work of a higher caliber, and more professional exhibition strategies. The result is less misses and more hits. Cheers to everyone for making it all happen: for putting in the work, but also being brave enough to break from tradition and raise the stakes.

Past shows have leaned heavily towards emerging art, and, for lack of a better term, “Asian America 101” art. In this show, some work dealt with identity issues, but the overall show was much more contemporary in tone. Short artists’ statements on the wall labels helped to convey the artists’ intentions and broad range of investigations.

Here’s what caught my attention:

dinesh_perrera

Prints by Dinesh Perrera

Dinesh Perrera’s screenprinted revisions of Art Nouveau-style Ceylon Tea posters are beautiful and demonstrate stylized drawing skills, but I’m not convinced that they fulfill their stated mission “to recontextualize Sri Lanka’s tea industry from being a British luxury import to a product that is integral to Sri Lanka’s cultural identity.” The artist swapped out Mucha’s fair-skinned feminine beauty for a Sri Lankan feminine beauty. In place of romanticized botanical motifs, tame elephants and critters serve The Lady tea in dainty teacups and saucers. The idealized Western images and their corresponding values — leisure, afforded by wealth — have too much of a presence, and the posters still function like ads, inspiring class aspirations, but with modified cultural symbols.

Projected interface for Takashi Kawashima's Ten Thousand Pennies project

Projected interface for Takashi Kawashima's Ten Thousand Pennies project

I was really amused by Takashi Kawashima‘s Ten Thousand Cents, a participatory project in which he contracted, at the cost of one penny each, drawings of tiny fragments of a $100 bill. He reassembled the drawings to form a counterfeit image, and developed a really cool, simple interface that allows viewers to click on a pixel and see the original fragment side-by-side with a video of the drawings-in-progress. Kawashima’s project is complicated and yet cleverly circular (the labor costs were $100, and the participatory process is mirrored by interactive viewing), with a straightforward display.

Viewer in Amy M. Ho's Beyond II

Viewer in Amy M. Ho's Beyond II

Amy Ho presents a ceiling-mounted mirrored box full of cut paper that resembles leaves of grass. Viewers ascend a ladder to insert their head and see an infinite room. It’s difficult not to associate this experience with Misako Inaoka’s room-sized installation currently on view in Bay Area Now at YBCA. Inaoka’s dropped moss ceiling was interrupted with small dome-like portals to take in animated sculptures, sounds and even a view of grass. It’s an unfortunate but inevitable comparison. I was also puzzled about the placement of the box, a few feet away from an actual skylight in KSW’s ceiling. This was made up for, though, in oodles of surprise and delight when the artist appeared in a handmade durian costume.

Is that a durian costume? You bet!

Is that a durian costume? You bet!

Detail of a work on paper by Weston Teruya

Detail of a work on paper by Weston Teruya

Weston Teruya is the Featured Artist in the show, and he contributed two collages/works on paper. Teruya’s work is always fantastically well-made. His imagery are piles of junk — chairs, rubbish, coolers, ladders — in what seems to be the middle of a hurricane. Flying objects may seem fanciful, but given the tumult in the world these days, the images strike a chord with the nervous sensation of impending collapse.

Custom lighting appliances for Mark Baugh-Sasaki's sculpture

Light-boxes for Mark Baugh-Sasaki's sculpture

Mark Baugh-Sasaki makes sculptures that literalize the awkward tension between nature and industry. His hanging sculpture of two naked tree boughs mechanically splinted together is more subtle and poetic than previous works, but I’m an admitted light bulb nerd, so sue me if I was fascinated by his custom designed lighting fixtures: clamp lights embedded in low pedestals. The geometry of it all (square-circle-circle) and unexpected surfaces were just nicely weird and matter-of-fact; no illusions or pretenses. The bulbs were slightly menacing when you realized how much current passes just under the glass at foot level…

Another artist contributed a narrative photographic triptych, but she sort of approached-me-but-not before I could snap my note-taking photo of the wall label. I have seen women-in-costumes-in-the-forest photos before, but there was something ironic about these staged images that I wanted to hear more about. So I asked her. In a very brief, cagey conversation, I learned that the photos were “about race and gender.” She recasts herself as the shining prince in the fairy tale, but I was less than charmed by her reticence in person and in the exhibition materials to contextualize her work or motivations.

Barbara R. Horiuchi’s aluminum panel is basically an abstract painting, but even I found its visual drama breathtaking, and found it even more curious after learning about the strange materials behind it.

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