CONSTRUCT\S at the Wing Luke Museum

CONSTRUCT\S: Installations by Asian Pacific American Women Artists at the Wing Luke Museum is a journey into the lives and minds of six artists who employ a range of media and creative tactics to explore sociocultural identity, familial history, and locality. The exhibition does not claim to be a comprehensive survey of “Asian Pacific American art.” Rather, it provides an array of entry points into a textured conversation, opening up meaningful dialogue on subjectivity and ethnicity through idiosyncratic impressions, experiences, and ideas. CONSTRUCT\S intends for each of the five artworks to be experienced as autonomous, immersive installations. Provocative and emotionally steeped, the pieces read as portraits, revealing the ways in which each artist navigates and makes space for herself in the world.

Lynne Yamamoto. Whither House, 2015; installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum. Photo: Toryan Dixon.

Lynne Yamamoto. Whither House, 2015; installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum. Photo: Toryan Dixon.

Lynne Yamamoto’s Whither House (2015) is a towering, ghostly white apparition that aggressively bisects the gallery from floor to ceiling. The piece is a monument to the makeshift housing used by Japanese American farmers of the early 20th century. Despite systematic evictions from the land, Japanese Americans cultivated a social and cultural life proving that settlement can be born out of itinerancy. The tent-like dwelling symbolizes the profound impact of this group of immigrants—and their internment—on the history of U.S. agriculture. Circling Yamamoto’s structure, one will find no doorway—no way in. Viewers are relegated to the exterior of the piece, left to marvel at the ripples in the garment-like walls as they levitate just inches above the floor. A looming specter, Whither House honors ephemerality, and the motivation for a community to establish itself in the wake of being disowned.

Janus (2015), by Hawai‘i-based artist Kaili Chun, is an installation composed of padlocked steel cages—a collection of diminutive prison cells that, once opened, release a soundscape of clips, presumably collected by the artist in her native home. One by one, the trill harmonies of birds erupt alongside the sounds of rain, industrial machinery, crickets, pop music, and the spoken-word melodies of poet Teresia Teaiwa. Occasionally, a visitor will wrangle with a set of padlocks, only to hear silence. The considerable commitment required to engage with the artwork—unlocking an interior and exterior padlock with an awkward set of dangling keys—evokes the colonial double bind. Chun’s piece remarks on the suppression of one’s subjectivity by both exterior as well as interior mechanisms. As the artist expresses, “Sometimes it’s safer in the cell.”

Kaili Chun. Janus, 2015. Courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum. Photo: Toryan Dixon.

Kaili Chun. Janus, 2015; installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Wing. Photo: Toryan Dixon.

Korean American artist Yong Soon Min has compiled a collection of four objects for her installation LIGHT / AS / IF (2015): an excerpt of Braille text carved into a block of wood; a porcelain bowl filled with water; a carving of a fissure in a tree; and a waist-high ball emblazoned with statements like, “It’s not the forgetting that heals, it’s the remembering.” Each object relates to Min’s recovery from a cerebral hemorrhage that has affected her faculties of language and memory. Visitors are encouraged to engage with the objects, running their hands over the raised Braille text and doughnut-shaped tree fragment in order to consider what is missing, what is lost in translation, and what has been removed from the body of the tree itself. Who would we be—as individuals and collectively—without these structures to help us understand the world and our place in it? Min’s installation feels disjointed and vague, aptly simulating the artist’s own movements through everyday life.

Created in collaboration between mother and daughter Midori Kono Thiel and Tamiko Thiel, Brush the Sky (2015) is an augmented-reality project that extends beyond the museum and into the city of Seattle. The installation consists of Midori’s series of kanji calligraphy characters on transparency film that has been deconstructed, layered, and recombined to create abstract graphic arrangements. Using augmented reality, Tamiko has designed virtual artworks based on fifteen sites significant to Seattle’s Japanese community, integrating her works with her mother’s paintings. The combined virtual–analog compositions interweave history, personal experience, and fiction—multivalent works that skew reality and interpretation.

Terry Acebo Davis. Her House… Tahanan… Her Room, 2015; installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of The Wing. Photo: Toryan Dixon.

Terry Acebo Davis. Her House… Tahanan… Her Room, 2015. Courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum. Photo: Toryan Dixon.

Terry Acebo Davis’s installation Her House… Tahanan… Her Room (2015) is an intimate re-creation of her mother’s bedroom in the assisted-living facility where she currently resides. Davis has assembled a lifetime of personal effects—snapshots, souvenirs, toiletries, garments, and jewelry—in an attempt to create a portrait of the woman slowly losing her sense of self as a result of dementia. In this participatory installation, it is not uncommon to see viewers trying on a pair of slippers, contributing a few stitches to an unfinished crochet project, or absentmindedly smelling a bottle of Chanel No. 5. Our possessions are expressions of who we are, where we’ve been, and what we hold dear. Surrounded by a stranger’s belongings, it is impossible not to meld our lives into theirs—a visceral reminder of what it means to be one of seven billion alive in the world.

CONSTRUCT\S is on view at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in Seattle through April 16, 2016.