Art & Development, Community, Travelogue

thameside art highlights

Shadows and lights on the Queen's Walk, Thameside, London. Sorry, none of the exhibitions allowed photography. What you see is what you get.

Shadows and lights on the Queen's Walk, Thameside, London. Sorry, none of the exhibitions allowed photography. What you see is what you get.

Some highlights from my recent trip to visit museums in London. It seems like there’s never enough time in London, but I hope to make it back for galleries and more fun.

Annette Messenger
Mark Wallinger Curates The Russian Linesman
Hayward Gallery

Messenger is amazing. The exhibition makes evident how she was influential in the development of installation art. The work highly symbolic and theatrical — “a dreamscene tableaux,” as Claire Bishop might describe it — so it’s not exactly my favorite type of installation art, but I was profoundly moved nonetheless. In particular, I really liked “Articulated/Disarticulated,” (see a photo on Urban Landfill blog) a recent, room-sized installation where stuffed human and animal forms were mechanically tortured. It really captured the essence of her dichotomies — both comical and horrifying, humorous and tragic, magical and corporeal. “Casino” is a giant installation — the most phenomenological of the works on view, I think — and it’s stunning.

Wallinger curated a show that probed perception and thresholds. Artifacts are mixed in with contemporary and historical works. It’s a really perceptive show. Fred Sandback’s space delimitations looked fantastic. I knew that the rectangular outline was comprised purely of black string, not glass or some other solid surface, but I tried to bring myself to interrupt the immaterial plane and I couldn’t. Good stuff.

Wallinger’s also got some of his own work, mixed in with a series of 3-D viewfinders of historical photos. They set a high expectation for excellence for the show, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Roni Horn
Rodchenko & Popova
Tate Modern

Horn’s work is highly idiosyncratic. I’m still mulling it over — especially the strange groupings of photographs, including the signature weather/model image — but two things immediately stuck. First, of course, I enjoyed “The Opposite of White” dyad — giant, solid cast glass sculptures in transparent glass and opaque black. Two irreconcilable, but true facts: white reflects light, hence its opposite is transparency; or is its opposite that which absorbs light (black)? Second, you have to see Horn’s hermetic, strange drawings. Reproduction doesn’t do them justice. They’re extreme — a pattern is loose and gestural, pencil marks diagrammatic, and cuts and inlays mechanically precise. They’re astounding, quiet feats, really.

Rodchenko & Popova is a major survey of the dynamic output of two pre-Stalinist artists. Paintings, graphic works (pleasingly tight in pen, weirdly wonky in color crayon, of all things), letterpress publications, films, textile design, furniture, posters, 3-D constructions, photographs and did I mention motion graphics?—means that there is loads to look at and appreciate. I really ‘get’ the Constructions in Constructivism now, and formally appreciate the simple compositions of repeated lines and circles. Most of all, I came away with the sense of avant garde fearlessness, as the couple was unafraid to make clean breaks from previous art styles, even their own. They formulated many new platforms and embraced integration and service to the public.

Tate Britain

Nicolas Bourriaud curated this triennial of mostly British artists. Bourriaud has coined “Altermodern” to describe an in-progress theory about the globalized, interconnected epoch to follow Postmodernism. He casts the artist as “homo viator, a traveller whose passage through signs and formats reflect a contemporary experience of mobility.” When I turned my gaze from the Tate Britain’s impressive pediment towards the Thames (where it’s easy to recognize the seat of imperial power), I wondered how fully a British art institution could embrace a new, multi-polar, Zakarian world. My skepticism was corroborated, when, in Global Modernities, the coinciding symposium, Walter Mignolo labelled the theory “a Eurocentric critique of Eurocentrism.”

I think altermodern an interesting term, and it may be useful for categorizing some existing themes in art — transitional sites (e.g., Walead Beshty’s FedEx boxes, “transit-specific works” as Galleon Trade colleague Eric Estuar Reyes would put it, see video at the Whitney 2008 Biennial site) and liminal states (Spartacus Chetwynd’s beanbag installation with psychedelic performative video, or Gustav Metzger’s crystal light show — I shit you not). The triennial is sort of, well, triennial-y: giant, well-executed spectacular installations, some big names, and limited thematic connections. Here’s what stood out:

Franz Ackermann posits what seems to be a critique of immigration and national identity. (Pics on ArtNet.)

Darren Almond delivers surprising, stunning photographs as usual.

Peter Coffin‘s staged projection- and installation-based museum exhibition, where photos and videos are projected on works from museum collections, e.g., bees on a painting by Joseph Albers. A virulent strain of MJT uncanny.

Navin Rawanchaikul‘s hand-painted Indian-style movie billboard is a riot; the accompanying documentary video of interviews of Indians who’ve relocated to Thailand seems pedestrian and conventional by comparison.

Bob and Roberta Smith create a “junk space” (as identified by Irit Rogoff, the consequences of global modernity) littered with disused stuff and the characteristically ironically upbeat-but-sad-sack enamel signs. One, “I wish I could have voted for Barack Obama,” (pic on ArtNet) is paired with a colorful plastic tricycle, highlighting the wishful thoughts of Britons. Smith pointed out that the exhibition is meant to be interrogative, but I think it’s pretty cool to have an explicitly didactic space within it via his signs. Extra points to Mr. Smith for avoiding the common UK mispronunciation of Barack (“BER-rick,” as opposed to “Buh-RAWK).

Simon Starling illustrates his brilliant reduction of forms with a series of desks commissioned by emailing low-resolution photographs to furniture makers. There’s more to it, of course, having to do with Francis Bacon and others, but the gesture is pure poetry.

Tate-to-Tate ferry
Brilliant, easy, scenic, affordable. You know, art institutions usually have short hours, so minimized travel during open hours is appreciated. Also, “Tate-to-Tate” is a nice sounding phrase, like a mirror, and also reminds me of the 1980s TV show, “Hart to Hart.”

Reconnecting with Mediha

This quote.
As an existentialist, I tend to agonize about my art/legacy/life becoming fodder for “the dustbin of history,” so it was surprising to hear the ever-optimistic M.D. say: “The great thing about history is that things disappear” in regards to the dominating influence of Conceptualism and Minimalism in contemporary art today.


art on Mrkt St

Jenifer Wofford, artist, teacher, friend and Galleon Trade mastermind, is gracing Market Street with Flor de Manila y San Francisco, a new graphic novel, with help from the SF Arts Commission. The preview photos look great! So nice to see public art relevant to the area. Can’t wait to see them in person. Here’s a sample!


First Impressions of the fall art season

A quick jaunt around Geary Street galleries today resulted in some decent impressions:

Andrew Schoultz at Marz and Zavaterro
A reluctant but resounding WOW. Reluctant, because I’d like to chalk up this dude as a one-trick pony (OK, the tree, the brush strokes, the symbols of capitalism recurrent in graf culture—I get it), but resounding, because he’s intensely prolific, evolving, and confident, and he pulled off a spectacular installation. There are a ton of students in the Mission School, but Schoultz is one of the deans. A lot of people enjoy art where they can discover new things every time they look at it, which tends to favor complex, layered, representational/figurative work. I’m not necessarily of that camp. Still, Schoultz’ paintings have gotten so layered they resist reading, but the density of brush strokes and mixed media (like dollar bills and glitzy stickers slashed like daggers) creates a manic, paranoid hurricane. Combined with a ridiculous, oversized sculpture of a scale on pyramids that spans the gallery, his critical position moves beyond mere painting subject to a convincing investigation.

Chuck Fahlen at Steven Wolf Fine Arts
I’m completely beguiled by Darkside, Fahlen’s wire and wood-bead sculpture that hangs from small hooks at a disconcertingly subtle downward angle on the wall. In the gallery, the yellow and black beads become doubled with shadows, and it looked to me like a messed-up, collapsed molecular model. Actually, I was off, by magnitudes—the sculpture is essentially a ball pressing down on a net, like a physics model of the universe. Of course! Endearing.

Mysteries at Stephen Wirtz
Despite a strong history of conceptual art in SF, most commercial galleries seem bent on showing paintings or photos. So this show, which features 12 “conceptually-oriented” artists curated by Melissa E. Feldman, is welcome. Thanks to Feldman for bringing the work of Jamie Isenstein to the area. I also really liked Janice Kerbel‘s contribution—an oversized playbill for a mysterious sideshow attraction. Just reading the text gave me such a strong visual impression, it was a wholly effective art experience.

Xuchi Naungayan Eggleton at Togonon Gallery
Since I first encountered Xuchi’s strange graphite- and crystal-like sculptures at the Oakland Art Gallery, I’ve been really impressed with her formal approach and execution. To me, her work is especially about materials, tactility and luminosity, hence the contrast in material properties, and the use of semi-transparent resins. Unfortunately, the space and lighting didn’t display the work to its best. (Side note: she’s exhibiting a pyramid of bricks painted pitch-black, an unexpected synchronism with Anti-Campfire, my sculpture of charcoal bricks in Galleon Trade at YBCA.)

Art & Development, Research

in Guangzhou this weekend?

The Guangzhou Triennial opens this weekend, and the program sounds fantastic.

I really enjoyed my 2001 visit to Guangzhou (Canton). Guangzhou is the major city in Guangdong—the large southern region including the Pearl River Delta and original home to something like 90% of Chinese immigrants who came to California prior to the 1965 Immigration Act. Guangdong is also where my maternal and paternal ancestral villages are; both family lines can be traced back several generations (as many as 26, on my mom’s side) in that region.

Anyway, during my visit I found Guangzhou to be really cool—a bustling metropolis full of young people breaking from the past. The triennial program sounds like Guangzhou is finally getting into the game with some forward-thinking contemporary art practices—a contender to Hong Kong’s and Beijing’s dominance as top art centers in China! I’m especially fascinated with the program’s theme.

For the curatorial discourse of this Triennial, we propose to say ‘Farewell to Post-Colonialism’. This represents the theoretical basis from which we hope to explore our critical vision. The Triennial attempts to open new frontiers for creativity with a critical review of the role cultural discourses of Post-colonialism and Multi-culturalism has played in contemporary art. While affirming Post-colonialism’s achievements in exposing hidden ideological agenda in society and inspiring new art, this Triennial also critically examines its limitations for creativity, and calls for a fresh start.

We hope to uncover elements of the paradoxical reality veiled by contemporary cultural discourse, to make contact with realms that slip through the cracks of well-worn concepts such as class, gender, tribe and hybridity. We hope to think together with artists and investigate through their practices to find what new modes and imaginative worlds are possible for art beyond those already heavily mapped out by socio-political discourses.

GZ Triennial will host 181 artists from over 40 countries around the world, including 50 films/videos from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa under the projects “Middle East Channel”, “East-South: Out of Sight” and “Africa: Personal Poetics”….

(By the way, if you think that China is monolithic and closed, as most Americans think, I should mention that one of the things I learned on my visit were the significant numbers of African immigrants in China, who often study in the universities.)

The 7 “Forums in Motion” of the 3rd Triennial is a long expedition that traverses across a wide terrain of ideas which focus on Farewell to Post-Colonialism, Limits of Multi-Culturalism, Thinking Through the Visual, … Anxiety of Creativity and Possible Worlds and Farewell to Post-colonialism — Towards a Post-Western Society?

Saying farewell to post-colonialism and peering into the future for glimpses of a post-Western society— or the century to follow the American Century—is something that really resonates with my installation, Binary Pair, in Galleon Trade: Bay Area Now 5 Edition.

THANKS to everyone who made it to the opening last night! I had a blast and it was so nice to see smiling faces and hear respected colleagues’ impressions of the work! If you missed it, stop by YBCA before October 19 to catch the show — it’s almost all new work, featuring 5 CA artists paired with 5 Manila-based artists.

Art & Development, Community

they’re prepared

This is my first time working with an institution as large as YBCA, and it’s been really neat.

Over the past few days, I’ve been installing my work for Galleon Trade: Bay Area Now 5 Edition (which opens Thursday, Sept. 4) with help from the lead preparators, Justin Limoges and Justin Wyckoff. They’ve been friendly, calm, helpful and meticulous. YBCA’s also got a on-call, kick-ass installation team, which includes the fabulous Tammy Kim, who have transformed the Terrace Gallery in no time at all.

I often exhibit at spaces with fewer resources, and I am happy to bring my own tools and install my own work, but working with YBCA has been a welcome change of pace. For example, my kinetic sculpture needed to be mounted on YBCA’s 14-feet-high ceiling and I’m not really a fan of heights, so I was looking forward to handing that off to a professional! It was nice enough that someone would go up on a ladder to hang my heavy, unwieldy sculpture of moving parts, but I wasn’t prepared for the moment when Justin took out a tape measure to get the baseboard just 1/8″ over, making it parallel to the lighting track. That kind of obsessive attention to detail is usually exhibited by artists installing their own art, so to have it automatically extended to my work, even as a zillion other installation details need to be attended to, made me feel extremely grateful for this exhibition opportunity.

Thanks to the hard work of the installation team (and their sacrificed holiday weekends!), the opening is three days away but the gallery is already looking great. Megan’s site-specific installation is looking great, and works by the paired photographers (MM Yu and Gina Osterloh) and painters (Johanna Poethig and Norberto Roldan) are looking really cohesive.

Hope you can come see Galleon Trade!
Opening: Thursday, Sept 4, 5-8 pm, YBCA

Cheers to the unsung heroes of the art world.


Galleon Trade opens at YBCA Sept. 4

galleon trade opening reception

Galleon Trade Opening Reception
Thu, Sep 4, 2008, 5–8 pm

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-3138
tix 415.978.ARTS
FREE with gallery admission

Join us as we celebrate the opening of Galleon Trade: Bay Area Now 5 Edition, a collaborative project for Bay Area Now 5 guest-curated by Jenifer Wofford.

Galleon Trade builds international bridges between the Bay Area and other cities on the globe through a process of exchange and dialog. Taking the historic Acapulco-Manila galleon route as a metaphor of origin, the Galleon Trade exhibitions seek to create new routes of cultural exchange along old routes of commerce and trade. Galleon Trade I brought work by twelve California artists to three galleries in Metro Manila, Philippines in summer 2007. Galleon Trade: Bay Area Now 5 Edition addresses the deeply transnational ties between the Bay Area and the Philippines by pairing artists from both places. It features work by local artists Jaime Cortez, Megan Wilson, Johanna Poethig, Gina Osterloh and Christine Wong Yap, all of whom went to Manila with the project in 2007, and met many local artists. Their work is in conversation with the work of five artists from Manila: Poklong Anading, Norberto Roldan, Maria Taniguchi, Yason Banal, and MM Yu.

Art & Development, Travelogue

Postcards from Manila, Part II

the living room
Carlos Celdran’s Living Room in Manila.
Galleon Trade’s home base in Metro Manila was also an artist’s residency and alternative arts space. It’s a large, beautiful room with a view of Roxas Blvd (which is sort of like Venice Beach) and the South China Sea. When a spacious, well-appointed room with lots of light is the first ingredient in building an artistic community, it shores up the importance of ‘home.’

stephanie syjuco looks at poklong's anading's photographic installation at finale gallery
My shot of Poklong Anading’s installation at Finale Gallery in Megamall.
Stephanie Syjuco is on the outside looking in, a fitting symbol, I think, for the experience that many of the US-based artists engaged as visitors to the Filipino art community.

reception food
It ain’t a party without pancit. It’s plenty surreal to attend an art opening in a mall — let alone one accompanied with pancit, chicharron, queso-filled lumpia and fried broad beans. And red wine, touché.

Balikbayanned. After a magical 10 days in Manila, re-entry to the US — the banalities, the rat race, the predictability — was rough. Similarly, the balikbayan boxes in the Regalos project went through their own ordeal as Galleon Trade mastermind, Jenifer Wofford, attempted to repatriate them via Air Cargo. As a transit-specific project (as described by scholar Eric Estuar Reyes), these new marks of transit bring the work to a different stage of the project. I’m looking forward to showing these works to a local audience at the Euphrat Museum in October.

Art & Development, Travelogue

Wish You Were Here: ‘Postcards’ from the Philippines

The Regalos Project

balikbayan boxes at SFO

Context: Balikbayan* boxes and their owners at the Philippine Airlines counter at San Francisco International Airport. These boxes, and dozens more, were on my flight to Manila. In a testament to the impact of balikbayan boxes, their additional weight was enough to necessitate a re-fueling stop in Guam.
*Literally, “going home.” Can refer to (1) standardized cardboard boxes for shipping gifts to the Philippines or (2) overseas Filipinos returning to the islands.

regalos at MNL baggage claim

Process: My empty, glitter-covered balikbayan boxes for the Regalos project generated curiosity at the baggage carousel at Ninoy Aquino airport (MNL) in Manila.

regalos project at Green Papaya Art Projects

Product: The Regalos boxes on display at Green Papaya Art Projects in Quezon City. Some of the glitter was lost in transit, suggesting the entropy between giver and receiver or intention and material. I really liked how Eric Reyes, one of our academic counterparts in Galleon Trade, put it: “It’s not so much a site-specific project, as much as a transit-specific one.” He liked that the work showed marks of transit, and which I think reflects his interests in imperialism and migration.

installation at green papaya
Installation at Green Papaya Art Projects, with Mike Arcega, Stephanie Syjuco and Reanne Estrada. Photo: PeeWee Roldan.

peewee and joaquin at green papaya
Family moments: Artist and Green Papaya Art Projects owner Norbert “PeeWee” Roldan and his son Joaquin share an ensaymada, a cheese-covered brioche. The ensaymadas were delivered by a relative of Galleon Trade artist Mike Arcega. Photo by Stephanie Syjuco.

In addition to interfacing with Filipino artists, I also took Galleon Trade as an opportunity to get to know and work with the other Galleon Trade artists, many of whom are busybusybusy back in the US. Being part of the Galleon Trade show at Green Papaya was awesome on all accounts: the exhibition was professional and it gelled curatorially (thanks to the planning of Jenifer, Mike, Stephanie, Eliza Barrios, Megan Wilson and PeeWee Roldan). And throughout the installation, when we gave each other honest feedback and discussed the works’ meanings and contexts, I thought to myself, “This is what it’s really about.”


Jeepney on M.H. Pilar Street

Jenifer Wofford is right: A tabletop book on Filipino street graphics is long overdue. As an enthusiast of typography and scripts, I enjoyed all the hand-painted signs, plump cursives, and florid jeepney ornamentation. Jeepneys are a quintessential Filipino mode of transportation; leftover from the U.S. occupation, jeeps have been assimillated as a key form of cheap public transportation. Jeepneys are loud, noxious, and–as any resident of congested M. H. Pilar Street in Malate, Manila might think–overabundant. Yet somehow, it works perfectly: they’re fast, the open windows provide a natural breeze, and there’s an unspoken honor system for passing the fare from rider to rider until it reaches the driver. They’re also richly decorated with spirit and personality, featuring everything from names of overseas workers to airbrushed murals (motorcycle riders or space scenes, for example). The mix of colorful typography with reflective metal is especially irresistible.


Though Manila’s traffic puts even the Bay Area’s congestion into perspective, there are lots of options for getting around, and some of them–like the tricycle–are lots of fun. The tricycle is actually a small motorcycle with a sidecar of welded steel for passengers. Riding through Teacher’s Village to have merienda (afternoon snack, including dinuguan and puto–pork blood soup and steamed rice muffins) at Mike Arcega’s tita’s house inspired a moment of sincere gratitude.

diplomas at green papaya

My honorary PhD in Fine Art from the University of Philippines, Diliman. The degree doesn’t actually exist; Mike Arcega had conterfeit diplomas made for the artists in the Green Papaya show to explore native economies.


dinner at green papaya

Classic homemade Filipino food (and drink) (clockwise from bottom): bangus (fried fish), some of the sweetest, tenderest chicken and pork adobo (vinegar and soy sauce stew) I’ve ever tasted, kare-kare (peanut-sauce stew), rolls of sweet rice, and San Miguel beer. On the first night I arrived, PeeWee Roldan, artist and owner of Green Papaya Art Projects, hosted a beautiful welcome dinner. Gaston Damag‘s sophisticated artwork lined the walls, and we enjoyed a low-key homecooked meal before the madness of daily openings and lectures.

jaime at aristocrat

Galleon Trade artist Jaime Cortez camoflages with the Aristocrat Restaurant, “The Philippines’ most popular restaurant,” which also happened to be next door to our home base. Jaime shares a plate of eggplant-tomato-onion salad, which, when stirred, surprisingly resembles salsa — except with baggong (shrimp paste).

net High Street

In a country of round scoops of rice, square blocks stand out. mag:net High Street in ritzy Fort Benafacio keeps it cubic. Beef mechado (tomato-based stew), adobo quail eggs, and a light sangria. Lovely.

Tourist Trap

airport receipt

This small piece of paper cost me quite a bit of worry.
I saved 650 pesos for the airport exit fee, but the rate had just been raised from P 550 to P 750, and the booth was strictly cash-only. I was short 100 pesos, which translates roughly into US $2. The situation became worrisome when the airport’s two ATMs wouldn’t accept my card. Worse, I carried a traveller’s check that had been utterly useless in the Philippines. Ironically, the airline supervisor said that since this happens so often, PAL no longer keeps a petty cash box to help out their passengers. Instead, he suggested that I borrow money from other passengers and pay them back on US soil. (A bad idea — there wasn’t actually an ATM and retailer to make change at the arrival area at SFO.) Luckily, a sympathetic traveller freely contributed pesos to my (mortified) relief. Whew!
The funny thing is, so many taxes are tacked on to airfares, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about a $17 fee on top of my ticket price. But the current system creates these mini-fiascos. For all the high technology involved in running an airport, is a credit card machine too much to ask?


Romeo performing Spark
[Image from Romeo’s youtube video. Video by Eliza Barrios.]
Romeo Candido’s impromptu performance / goodbye gift to the Galleon Trade artists at The Living Room was really moving. With only two instruments — his voice and a loop pedal — Romeo created a full composition that crystallized a passing moment and brought everyone present with beauty. Romeo is a very talent filmmaker from Toronto working in Manila, and just by chance he happened to be in residence at The Living Room. I think almost all of the Galleon Traders were delighted by the affinity in our practices as North American artists trying to make a deeper connection to the contemporary arts in the Philippines.