Summer for JANM Volunteers

During the summer when we have fewer school visitors, the Education Unit runs summer sessions for the volunteers. Here are some quick, recent highlights…

7/22/11 (Last Friday) – Clement led a special tour of his artwork featured in ROUND TRIP: Eight East Los Angeles College Alumni Artists at the newly opened Vincent Price Art Museum at East LA College. Standing in front of his low-rider rickshaw with “Yo No Soy Chino” written on it, we thought about Clement’s experiences growing up Japanese American in East LA.

7/29/11 (Today) – Frank Kawana was interviewed by his grandson, Cole, about being a second generation maker of kamaboko. Frank, possibly the only person on the mainland who can do it by hand, showed us HOW TO MAKE KAMABOKO. (Haven’t you always wondered how this is done?) Cole conducted an interview that was absolutely fascinating, even to a vegetarian like me.

It was eaten up so quickly that Clement’s picture of the last slice is the only photographic evidence we have. Those who were lucky enough to taste it said Frank’s fresh kamaboko was even better than what you buy in the store. So when you have Yamasa kamaboko, think of the Kawanas. More info about the interview—as well as tips on how to do an interview of your own—will be available shortly on our Discover Nikkei Web site.

7/29/11 (Today) – While Lynn was leading the volunteers on a tour of JANM’s current exhibition Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, Stan Sakai, the artist himself, stopped by. He gave us even more insight into the making of Usagi Yojimbo.

As Richard M. (who gets most of the photo credits on this post) said, “We really hit the jackpot today.”

Ever thought about volunteering for the Museum and joining in on the fun???

Mike Shinoda’s Labbit Auction is over!

After many check-ins last night where the bid was stuck at $510, I finally decided to call it quits and go to bed.

I woke up in the middle of the night and was plagued by work thoughts, but didn’t sneak in to check the computer and risk waking the household with whoops of excitement. It was like waiting for Christmas morning and it was worth it to see that the final bid was $721.00!

Again, thanks to Mike Shinoda, proceeds benefit JANM & Music for Relief/Japan Relief.

 

Next auction starts August 1, with Kip Fulbeck’s ingenious ikebana Labbit entitled, “More than the Sum of Our Parts.”

I have been enjoying the opportunity to create flower arrangements every few days. It’s a nice way to start your day…contemplating art and beauty.

Check the janm.org page for a schedule of the upcoming auctions >>

Check janmstore.com to view all of the Labbits >> 

It’s a Small World After All?

Meeting a ton of new people every day is commonplace here at the museum.  So when Vicky came walking into the Media Arts Center yesterday with about a dozen visitors in tow, no one was very fazed.  She explained to me that her company consisted of the NCI interns; today they were getting a behind the scenes tour of the JANM.  Then she began to tell our guests why I was here at the Museum: what my duties were, that I had come as a Getty Intern, and the types of projects the Media Arts Center put out.  She paused, then said,

“What’s really interesting about this summer’s interns…”

Now, I was sitting at my computer, editing a video on the new Year of the Labbit display.  As I listened, a number of sentence endings ran through my mind.  This summer, there are a half dozen of them running around.  This summer, they’re all girls.  This summer…

Instead, Vicky finished by saying, “This summer we have two interns with famous grandmas.”

One of those interns, of course, is NCI intern Maya Kochiyama, granddaughter of famous activist Yuri Kochiyama.  The other intern is me.

My grandmother is Wakako Yamauchi.  She’s an accomplished writer, playwright, and painter.  But she’s also a wonderful, loving, absolutely amazing person.

But there is more than a little bit of pressure with such high achievements in your blood line.  With any accomplishments I have, I still worry that I don’t measure up to her, or sometimes worry recognition earned comes from her and not me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some perks to having a famous grandmother.  As an Asian American Studies student, I’ve had the added bonus of being personally connected to my studies.  I’ve gotten a first hand account of history.  I’ve seen professors go from “teaching professional” to “autograph-asking fan” as one once said.

Thanks to my Grammy, I’ve spent New Year’s Eves with Garrett Hongo and his family, eaten apple pie and ice cream with Hisaye Yamamoto.  I have memories of seeing my grandmother on to her plane from LAX to Japan where she saw her plays performed in foreign countries and languages.  I’ve gone to readings and book launches, heard my grandma talk casually of knowing Yuji Ichioka, or tell anecdotes about how Karen Tei Yamashita lived for a period of time in my grandmother’s back house.  I’ve studied her plays, and her life, in my classes at school.

So I wasn’t completely surprised when, as Vicky informed the other interns who my grandmother is, I saw a sudden jolt and eye widening of one girl. Was she, too, an Asian American Literature student, and recognized the name?  Had she read some of my grandmother’s plays?  Or had she simply been goosed by her neighbor, and was momentarily caught off guard.

“I know her!” she said.  “She plays cards at the JCI!”

She’d met my grandma in her current, other life.  As a retired writer, my grandma spends her mornings playing Blackjack, placing nickel and dime bets at the JCI in Gardena with other Nisei.  Few of her friends there know her as a famous name, a ground breaker in the Asian American Literature world.  There, instead, she’s just another one of them, playing cards, and of course, always “breaking even.”

But seeing this girl who knew my grandmother made me smile.  She saw her, not through the eyes of an academic fawning over her accomplishments, but as a normal person, happy in the company of her peers.  I realized then, how lucky I am, to be able to know my grandmother in both her worlds.

A Little Lovin’ for Some Art … and FOOD!

Now that I have a moment away from using InDesign, I thought I should devote some time sharing with you all the happenings of my awesome week at the Museum.

Much of the past week has been committed to creating and editing my primary task for my internship, which is a 24-page Group Visit and Educator Guide.  But so many marvelous things kept on emerging – and by marvelous, I mean delicious – throughout the days.  Hmm, where to begin…

Ah, yes. Last Friday.

The other interns and I attended a leadership workshop, which included a variety of activities focusing on our identities within our society and confronting others about social injustice and stereotypes (ethnicity, religion, gender, you name it).  I’m sure all three of us were able to grow some new insight and perspective in analyzing our identities as well as understanding others and their backgrounds.  But the best part of it all? The free lunch, of course.  Right when we were about to consume the Thai food that we collected onto our plates, Alyctra gets a text message from her supervisor John, informing us of a wonderful opportunity awaiting back at the Museum.  That’s right, the day that we had all been waiting for: Sashimi day.  So now we found ourselves in a dilemma: shall we engulf ourselves in the food that we had already been presented in front of our face? Or leave for some sashimi? But of course, our hunger kicked in and we began eating out of our plates and finished in about a half hour.  Alyctra was kind to drive us back to the Museum afterwards, and when we arrived and walked through the lounge, low and behold, the sashimi was patiently waiting for us.  “They made it!” Clement announced across the room, “Grab some sashimi!”

“But we already had lunch.”

“So?”

That was enough persuasion for us to give in to deliciousness.  And so, we began to serve ourselves a second lunch.  A big thank you to those who prepared everything (and The Getty for giving us an awesome opportunity. Who knew that I would have sashimi at an internship?)

Then came Wednesday.  Unfortunately Mae had caught a cold (or infection, as I heard afterwards) for a few days, so I was the only one in the office under Clement’s reign of craziness.  But that craziness turned into kindness as he took me out to lunch for Chinese food at Uncle John’s Cafe 🙂 We took a shuttle to get there, but along the walk on our way to the restaurant, Clement pointed out Bottega Louie, a luxurious gourmet restaurant, apparently popular to many celebrities.  “Maybe we can get some macaroons afterwards?” Clement joked with a smirk on his face … at least I thought he was joking.  After we had lunch, we began walking backwards to the bus stop, and I swiftly passed by Louie when all of a sudden I hear Clement, “Where are you going?!”  And thus, we gave in to even more deliciousness.  Three patisseries were chosen (don’t ask me what they were; one consisted of a lime meringue?, another a macaroon, and the third a solid chocolat mousse-like cake that was coated with raspberries and what looked like a dangerous shiny purple glaze on top.)  Like always, Clement would not let me pay. I’ll get him one day. One day.  Mae could not join in on this shindig, but Lynn was able to have a bite for her.

Then came Thursday, which was apparently Patricia’s birthday 🙂 (In case she didn’t hear me, Happy birthday, Patty!)  Alexa and Alyctra came downstairs to inform me of a party up in the lounge which involved cake and hotdogs.  Who could resist?

Friday was a very entertaining day for I got to see some of Clement’s artwork!  It definitely was interesting to see the kinds of works and concepts with which others work around.  I’ve come to appreciate museums and different genres of art a lot more over the past few years, especially after spending some time in Italy last fall.  Visiting exhibitions and seeing art is always going to be a favorite of mine.

I feel like I’ve consumed much of the space on this blog, mostly dedicated to the food happenings.  For those who are not too fond of food, I apologize.  For those who are, kanpai! Time to get some chips and guacamole, made by the famous graphic designer and chef Mae Isidro!

Labbits are up!

Sorry everyone for making you wait so long to see the Labbit collection in its entirety, but please believe me when I say I have been working round the clock to get the show up while also managing my regular job.

Anyway, I just took the last shot an hour ago (for the Labbit that arrived an hour before we set up) and got every piece online. Five pieces sold last night at the opening, but there are plenty of fantastic pieces left to choose from as you will see.

Thanks to all of the artists who participated in the show, and all of the people who came to the opening night. It all amounts to support for the Museum!

The last arrival was from artist Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani of New York. He gets special dispensation because he is 92 years old and wasn’t quite sure what to make of my request to be in a custom toy show. For those of you who are familiar with Jimmy’s story through the DVD “The Cats of Mirikitani“, you may notice a slight resemblance to the artist in this piece. If you haven’t seen the DVD, you can buy one in the Museum Store when you come to admire the Labbit show in person.

Check out all the Labbits online >>

Better than the Average Bear…or Should I say Rabbit?

I have been told that while perusing through a gallery space, the average person spends about 5 seconds in front of a work of art before moving on to another piece. I, myself, am guilty of this, as I have found myself racing through exhibits, which would take hours upon hours to properly absorb and appreciate. Although I have had the pleasure of being immersed in art from a variety of galleries and cultures, from the many we have here in Southern California to those on the East Coast and have seen a generous share works from renowned masters to local Michiganian artists, there unfortunately does not exist an encyclopedia of “Art Seen by Alexa” chronicling the art that I have seen in my lifetime. I’m one of the last people on this earth to have a photographic memory, so that’s understandable right? Pass by someone’s masterpiece and appreciate it for the time being, but soon it floats off into the deep dark abyss that are our forgotten memories. It happens. But I was recently taught the copious amounts of hard work that goes into us viewers being treated with eye-candy, museum style. And trust me, it deserves way more than the five-second glance us Plain Jane’s and Average Joe’s give it.

For the past few weeks, I have been given a taste into what it takes to bring an exhibition into fruition as we prepared for the opening of the museum’s new exhibit, Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. I am not a nerd when it comes to the world of comic books, but educating myself in the world of Usagi Yojimbo was as easy as picking up a comic book, literally. Definitely something I wish I could have said for chemistry and calculus in high school. Portions of my past weeks have consisted of spending one-on-one time with Stan Sakai’s artwork as my fellow intern, Yuiko and I, transformed Stan’s works from being brilliant works on paper to being works on paper that are now matted, framed, and hanging in the galleries. Hours were spent in the Collections department as we measured, cut mats, drilled holes, and were reminded that our math skills were a little rusty from when we had last used them in high school.

Despite the refresher we needed on adding and subtracting, we successfully hauled plexi and frames around Collections and used power tools, which ultimately amounted into the works of Stan Sakai ready for your viewing pleasure. This was an invaluable opportunity to see original works up-close and personal as opposed to behind glass and a velvet rope. I am always a fan of not only final works, but the progress and process behind them and it was awesome to see the artist’s original pencil sketches underneath his final products in ink. At the end of our few weeks, everyone’s hard work was revealed and the museum’s new exhibition looks amazing! So if you’re ever in the mood to delve deeper into the world of Usagi Yojimbo or witness the culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the finalization of this exhibit, come check out Year of the Rabbit!!!

– Alexa

Could you hand me the paintbrush, please?

So it’s been a while since my last post, but perhaps such delay is due to the busy schedule and tasks that the Museum has wrapped itself around in preparation for the new exhibition of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo.  The staff here at the Museum might have become numb and prone to the rushed and hectic atmosphere of getting ready for a new exhibition, but I found it quite amusing (and quite the workout as well).

I first began assisting the staff by matting and framing – and eventually drilling – the artist’s pieces that were to be hung on the walls.  Along with my fellow intern, Alexa, we took turns carefully measuring and cutting the matboards, and cleaning the plexi glass after they were ripped of their sticky wrappings (which required quite some strength, we were worried our arms would be sore the next day).  Every piece required a frame, and once an artwork was placed into one, we peered through the glass to make sure no debris were stuck between the piece and glass – and if there were any, we took a brush and shooed the unwanted away.  The drilling was perhaps the most “masculine” part of the experience, I felt like I was fighting  gender binaries: there I was wearing a white dress and heels, and what’s in my hand? That’s right, a macho screwdriver.

Every now and then, you could hear one – or both – of us sighing out of frustration from a dull blade or a miscalculation that was off by so much that I came to doubt myself when I used to say, “Oh yea, I’m pretty good at math.” Those days when I took calculus seemed like a dream.  One odd part of the whole thing was that neither Alexa nor I had access to Collections, and many times we found ourselves looking for someone to open the doors.  At one point, I felt extremely silly:  I spent nearly a half hour trying to look for Clement (because we all know that he’s everywhere and nowhere; I would see him throughout the building but whenever I actually am looking for him, he’s nowhere to be found).  Eventually I had to text Clement to see where he was, and soon enough I hear my name being announced.

But time flies when you’re working, which is a good thing (well, at least most of the time).

Of course, my favorite part was painting.  After much anticipation, Mae and I – along with other members of the staff – got to tracing and painting the walls with images of Usagi Yojimbo.  (I was told maybe a week earlier that I were to be painting, and every day I would come in and bother my supervisor, “Are they ready? Are we painting today?!”) Though I myself is an art major, I hadn’t painted in months, and I was very excited to paint such a large-scale image.  And when I did start painting, ahh the memories of being an art student flooded back in.  The trickiest part of the task was to reach the top areas with a ladder – and despite the fact that I used to do ballet and gymnastics, my sense of balance is not to be trusted.  Making sure the paint isn’t dripping onto the rest of the image is another challenge – a challenge that I must admit I could not at times accept.

Once the exhibition was set up, Saturday came upon us, and soon enough I found myself helping out children take pictures and make frames for Target Family Day.  As tiring as the day was, I had an immense amount of fun watching kids – and adults – grow their sense of creativity through wooden frames and bright-colored stickers.  (Though I’m not sure why there were stickers in the images of dimes and pennies… how random. But hey, you can’t have too much money, right?)  And the best part of it all? I got to take a picture and make a frame myself. which is staring back at me as of this moment while I type away this post 🙂

Yuiko

Jerome Lu's Hyperactive Shaolin Rabbit

I say Labbit, you say Rabbit

I have received a couple of inquiries as to the origin of the title for the Year of the Labbit show, so I thought perhaps an explanation was in order. I was not trying to confuse, confound, or humiliate anyone for not being able to pronounce Ls and Rs (like my mother planned to when she wanted to name me Laura so neither my Chinese nor Japanese grandparents would be able to say my name correctly –Lola, Rora,..)

Jerome Lu's Hyperactive Shaolin Rabbit
Angry Asian labbit! (Jerome Lu's Hyperactive Shaolin Rabbit)

 

The blank toy that was used for the show was an already existing product created by Kid Robot and the artist Frank Kozik. I wondered about the name since the toy had absolutely no reflection of any Asian influences. I assumed it was a combination of the Latin based word for “rabbit” which in French at least is “lapin” and  “rabbit”, and left it at that. There were never any indications that this was aimed at an Asian audience, it never came with Asian themed accessories, and wasn’t questioned until I decided to use it for the blank canvas for this show, at this Museum, and called the show the Year of the Labbit.

I contacted the artist to ask him how the Labbit got its name. Frank told me that his first version of this toy was a mean-looking rabbit with a cigarette in its mouth and a scar on its forehead. I had seen this in his artwork as a “Smorkin’ Labbit”, and indeed several toy versions were made with variations of rabbits and other inanimate objects (like watermelons, hamburgers, etc. all smoking cigarettes.) Frank said that he sent his Smokin’ Rabbit design to Asia for final production. When he received his first shipment of packaged product, someone in Asia had changed everything to Smorkin’ Labbit! Rather than scrap the whole project and return everything for a re-do, he decided to let serendipity to play into his product and kept the name as is.

The version of Kozik’s toy we are using is called the Happy Labbit and is a little more family friendly and cute. But basically I chose it because its shape offered the most surface area for artists to paint on.

The Best Lunch Dates Around

As my fellow interns have mentioned, the JANM is not the place for a diet. The Japanese Village Plaza is less than a stone’s throw away, the area is full of froyo and sweets shops, and the staff room is filled daily with a plentiful bounty of docent-brought treats. In conjunction with my new existence as a sedentary, headphone wearing, video editing machine, I can feel the pounds piling on.  Flashbacks of my “Freshman Fifteen” come rushing back as I realize I am gaining what I’ve decided to call my “Getty Intern Gut.”

For ten weeks, I’ll forgo the summer California girl look of toned body and flawless tan, in exchange for a more pleasantly plump, florescent light-fostered glow.  Of course, the food and company I’ve had is well worth it.

I’ve found that times at the JANM are celebrated with great food.  Today marks the last day for another intern, Mia.  To commemorate the occasion, the whole office went to lunch.  And where else would the staff and interns of one of the largest Japanese American museums go but Chinatown.  (**Side note: Japanese people always seem to come together for Chinese food.  Be it a wedding, funeral, or family reunion, pan fried noodles always seem to beat out sticky rice for celebratory food.  It’s something I’ve never understood…)

Mia’s celebratory lunch was at a wonderful little dim sum restaurant.  We all had our fill of noodles stuffed with shrimp and beef, fried squid, rice, and Chinese vegetables.  The feast was delicious, and the company at the table couldn’t be beat.  One of the best things about these fantastic lunch dates is the friendships I can feel forming with the people I work with.  Sure, sometimes conversation turns to business: the Discover Nikkei files that still need to be looked over, or some new exhibition space.  But more often, deeper connections are made.

I’ve learned that Vicky has a thing for food photography.  Before a grain of rice goes into her mouth, at least one picture must be taken.  The result is a mouth watering online food diary whose size is comparable to that of the Museum archives.  I’ve learned that Yoko can speak three languages.  Geoff has a huge knowledge of science fiction literature.  I’ve learned that John, long-time Obon attendee, is going to dance at his first Obon this summer (the Media Arts department is still trying to get footage of him practicing—more on that to come, hopefully).

This internship has proved edifying in more ways than I can count.  I’m learning to shoot tape and edit video, sure, but I’m also learning about the people I work with, and the culture I come from.  I’m learning to love and accept it all–even my Getty Gut.  The trick, I’ve found, is not to run to the treadmill or the stair master.  Instead, all I can do is sit back, smile, and try to get some work done before the food coma sets in.