In just a few short days, JANM will open Above the Fold: New Expressions in Origami, an inventive exhibition in which the traditional Japanese art of origami serves as the inspiration for innovative new sculptures, large-scale installations, and conceptual artworks from around the world. Above the Fold is curated by Meher McArthur and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.
Join us for the public opening on Sunday, May 29, or Members Only Preview Day on Saturday, May 28. In the meantime, enjoy the photographs that follow, which capture intrepid JANM and IA&A staff working hard to unfold and install the complex artworks in the show.
This Saturday, May 7, at 2 p.m., JANM will present a dramatic reading of Moss on the Mirror, a fictional play inspired by the life and work of renowned photographer Toyo Miyatake. Taking place in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo district in the late 1920s and early 1930s, where Miyatake’s practice flourished before World War II, the play examines the creativity, hope, and optimism, as well as the struggles and challenges, of the Japanese immigrant photographers community.
Although not a literal retelling of actual events, the piece seeks to transport audiences to the feelings and circumstances of those times. Moss on the Mirror was written by Warren Sata, whose paternal grandfather was J.T. Sata (1896–1975), a featured photographer (along with Miyatake) in the current exhibition Making Waves: Japanese American Photography, 1920–1940. To learn more about the play, we conducted a brief interview with Sata via email.
JANM: What does the title Moss on the Mirror refer to?
Warren Sata: The title refers to the notion that we understand ourselves and our communities through reflection, or looking in the mirror. The moss evokes a clouded mirror, alluding to the influence of outside circumstances like poverty and racism.
JANM: What inspired you to write this play?
WS: The story of Los Angeles’ Issei photographers has fascinated me and inspired my imagination since I learned about them from my father some years ago. A conversation with actor/director Chris Tashima, who serves as the play’s director, helped me to recognize the importance of Toyo Miyatake’s journey toward becoming a pillar of the community. I began to understand the value of artistry and responsibility in a different way, which led me to take an interest in sketching the story of Japanese Americans photographers and their interests and practices prior to the WWII incarceration.
JANM: What is your favorite image by a Japanese American photographer, and why?
WS: I am drawn to an abstract self-portrait created by my grandfather, J.T. Sata, which is currently on display in Making Waves. It utilizes triangles and a photographic image of his face. The interplay between a realistic portrait and an abstract prepared background fascinates me; it seems to suggest a doorway between the real world and subjective experience. This allows for a dialogue between these worlds and gives value to the notion of participating in both. I enjoy this because it pushes me to understand the Issei experience and what that might have felt like.
JANM: What do you hope audiences will get out of the dramatic reading?
WS: I hope that audience members will be motivated to honor the contributions of the Issei photographic pioneers, but also to consider what their experiences were like in the 1920s and ’30s—their creativity, their principles, their aesthetics, and the culture and context of the times.
Originally from Taipei, Taiwan, artist Sean Chao graduated from Art Center College of Design in 2007 and now makes his home in Los Angeles. In 2012, Chao was featured in JANM’s Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition. He is known for creating intricate miniature dioramas using polymer clay, basswood, and paper, with nature as a recurring theme; he often depicts dense forests or vast oceans filled with plants and wildlife.
This Saturday, January 16, Chao will be leading a workshop at JANM titled Water Memory. Participants will learn to create their own sculptural underwater scenes using polymer clay, acrylic paint, and paper. In advance of this workshop, Chao graciously agreed to answer a few questions via email regarding his process and his influences.
JANM: How did you become interested in making dioramas?
Sean Chao: Growing up, I was very intrigued and fascinated by the dioramas at various natural history museums I visited, both in Taiwan and here in the States. It amazed me, the many details that were put into the dioramas to recreate natural scenes. It’s a different dimension—frozen in time and locked in a clear display case. One day I just decided to create my own dioramas, filled with worlds that I create.
JANM: Tell us about some of the inspirations that drive your work. Monkeys and country peasants seem to make frequent appearances.
SC: I grew up in Taiwan and my culture influenced my work tremendously. I grew up in the city, but I was always fascinated by the simplicity of peasant life in the country—so much closer to nature and so far away from the crowd.
My dioramas are fantasy worlds that I create. Anthropomorphic characters are very charming. They have their own personalities in my world, inspired by the people and animals around me. My brother was born in the Year of the Monkey and he is one of my best friends. My monkey character is based on his personality: smart and adventurous.
JANM: You also have an interesting “creatures within creatures” theme going on, where robots are controlled from the inside by animals. Could you tell us more about this theme?
SC: Human beings create computers, robots, and artificial intelligence based on the likeness of ourselves. It’s in our nature to create. I simply created my own version of the robot. It’s based on an ideal human personality and controlled by characters that were inspired by my family and friends.
JANM: Who are some of your own favorite artists?
SC: Beatrix Potter—she was an illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist, and one of my favorite children’s book illustrators. Hayao Miyazaki—I grew up watching his animations. The stories are very touching for both children and adults, and the way he captures the personality of each character is just fascinating. There is definitely more to learn from him for my own work.
JANM: What are you most excited about for your upcoming Water Memory workshop?
SC: Meeting people who share the same interest in sculpture and diorama, and of course I’m very excited to show them my techniques. It will be a real fun event.
Space is still available for Chao’s workshop. To register, click here.
Giant Robot Biennale 4 is a highly interactive show, with several features that invite viewer engagement on a more active level than usual. One of these features is the live, on-site creation of a major new work by Katsuya Terada.
Starting shortly before the exhibition opened in October, Terada spent several days working inside of a roped-off area in JANM’s lower-level galleries to create a new, two-part drawing from scratch. Visitors were able to watch him as he worked. The artist had to leave town before he could finish, but he plans to return later this month (after the 19th) to complete the piece in the gallery.
The live drawing idea came from Eric Nakamura, curator of the show and founder of the Giant Robot empire. “Museums are typically filled with static objects,” he noted. “I wanted to present an interactive experience, where people could ask questions, and see what artists are like in person. It’s not everywhere that you can do this.” Nakamura gave Teraya no time limits, wanting him to produce a finished work that is suitable for framing.
So far the work is looking exquisitely finished right out of the gate. It does not yet have a title, but it does have a theme: masks. “I thought it would be interesting to draw a mask wearing a mask,” the artist says. Terada, who speaks very little English, spoke to me shortly before he left with the help of his friend and fellow exhibiting artist Yoskay Yamamoto, who served as translator.
I asked Terada to explain his process, which is organic rather than planned. “If I draw one line, that will tell me how to draw the next line,” he replied. “However, when I see the entire surface, and I start drawing one image, that will usually be the starting point, and from there I’m just trying to fill up the page without making mistakes—in composition, in choice of items to draw. I’m just making sure everything fits in the right way.”
Personally, I would find that process stressful. I asked him how he felt about that, and about having people watch him while he draws.
“It is stressful! But it’s like I’m challenging myself by being in that position,” Terada replied. “Having an audience can be a positive thing—it means that I have to work hard and I can’t slack off. But drawing itself is just enjoyable to me, with or without an audience.”
Terada will be back at JANM sometime after December 19th to complete his drawing. Keep your eyes on JANM’s Twitter feed and Facebook page to see when he’s in the gallery. Until then, you can come to the museum to view his progress to date.
Giant Robot Biennale 4 is filled with outstanding artworks. One of the most attention-grabbing is perhaps Yoskay Yamamoto’s Wish You Were Here, a complex, wall-mounted installation composed of numerous small paintings, photo-transfer panels, hand-carved wooden sculptures, and hanging objects. Displayed near the back of JANM’s upper-level galleries, Wish You Were Here stuns viewers with its exuberant presence.
Shortly before GRB4 opened, Yamamoto graciously answered a few questions about this work and the others he has in the show.
JANM: Did you custom-make Wish You Were Here for this exhibition?
Yoskay Yamamoto: Yes. This is a type of installation that I’ve been working on since 2012; I think that was the first time I did something with the panels and suspended sculptures together as one piece. From there, I gradually added more panels, and repainted more, adding different color palates and textures. The latest additions are the sunset hues and scenery, painted to fit into this particular kind of color palette.
JANM: What were the inspirations behind this piece?
YY: The sunset is one of the main visual elements in the 100 panels I brought here. Ever since I started living in Los Angeles, I’ve been fascinated by how beautiful the sunset is in the city. At the same time, I’ve heard it’s due to the smog we have. I find this ironic. If I’m outside at the right time, I try to photograph the sunsets I see. Then I use a lot of them as reference.
JANM: So you were born in Japan?
YY: Yes, in this small seaside town called Toba, which has a population of about 22,000. It’s decreasing every year because the younger generation ends up leaving to go to bigger cities.
JANM: What brought you to California?
YY: Toba is a sister city to Santa Barbara, so I went to high school there and then studied graphic design at the community college. To pursue my art, I moved to San Francisco for about a year. Then, ironically, I got assigned to a gallery in LA. So I packed up my stuff and moved down here.
JANM: Can you tell us about the other three pieces you have in the show?
YY: The smaller wall installation is called Cosmic Boy. I bought a bootleg Astro Boy figure from Hong Kong on eBay, and I just took the head off and re-sculpted it. Then I had my friend fabricate 25 of them for me.
I also have two paintings here called Keep on Shining and California Dreamin’. These are both based on the old Americana signage that I see around LA. I think this is something that’s dying in culture—I don’t think anybody is making these signs any more. I like seeing the craftsmanship in them—there’s something special and magical about it. I try to pick some titles or combinations of words that I like, to give a positive message to them.
Giant Robot Biennale 4 is on view at JANM through January 24, 2016.
First & Central’s celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month concludes with this post. It has been a pleasure to spotlight diverse, Los Angeles–based, Asian-American artists who deal with themes of history, language, and identity in their work. We hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as we have.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, artist and filmmaker Minha Park moved to Los Angeles to attend graduate school at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). She now divides her time between L.A. and Seoul.
In A Story of Elusive Snow (2013), completed the year she graduated from CalArts, Park explores her new life in L.A. and her longing for South Korea, or what she calls her “motherland.” She particularly misses the phenomenon of snow, which she refers to as if it were a friend—“Not her voice, or her image. I miss her physical presence.” She finds however that L.A., being the land of special effects magic and wish fulfillment, offers many unique opportunities for conjuring an experience of snow.
This delightful video work tracks Park’s wistful journey to find snow, incorporating vintage Hollywood movie scenes and well-known L.A. landmarks along the way. In addition to evoking longing, nostalgia, and playfulness, A Story of Elusive Snow also expresses Park’s feeling of being a stranger in Southern California—a feeling symbolized by the incongruence of snow on Hollywood Boulevard.
The video ends with manufactured snow overflowing from a Hollywood souvenir mug, a moment that is both joyful and absurd. In the artist’s own words, “Could [the protagonist] ever get her snow? In the last scene, the souvenir cup with the Hollywood logo can’t contain the snow that she made. Her personal longing for snow thus collides with a fundamental human desire for elusive magic and illusion.”
First & Central’s celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month continues, as we spotlight diverse, Los Angeles–based Asian-American artists who deal with themes of history, language, and identity in their work.
Thai-American artist Terry Chatkupt makes highly visual and evocative video works, often reveling in landscapes and their effects on individual psyches. Abstract pieces like Wayfinding and Post traverse iconic sites like the Los Angeles River and Southern California’s freeway interchanges, setting them into motion like extended dreams. Videos with narratives like Haunt, Lost and Found, and Transferase are also firmly embedded into specific landscapes, whose mysterious qualities help the artist tell psychologically loaded stories.
Early in his career, Chatkupt made several works that explored his family’s immigrant history. Among these is the short 2007 video Untitled (Conversation), featured below. In it, a slideshow of vintage photographs taken by his parents shortly after they immigrated to the Midwestern United States is accompanied by a recorded telephone conversation between Chatkupt and his father. Chatkupt asks his father about the Vietnam War and how it informed their decision to settle in Missouri in the early 1970s.
The images we see are of a young Thai couple and their child, adrift in a new environment that is no doubt markedly different from their native country. Chatkupt’s mother is often seen standing alone in the midst of a stark plain or plaza, dressed in the styles of another era. Meanwhile, his father’s description of the spotty nature of government communications regarding the war heightens the sense of displacement evoked by the photographs. The anxiety of the historical events that he talks about adds a certain tension to the anticipatory faces of the young couple, even as they attend eagerly to their new baby and their new lives.
Explore more of Chatkupt’s work—which also includes photography, installation, and public projects—on his website or on his Vimeo page.
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! To celebrate, First & Central will spend the next few weeks spotlighting works by diverse, Los Angeles–based Asian-American artists who deal with themes of history, language, and identity.
To kick things off, we are pleased to present a video work by Audrey Chan, a Chinese-American artist and writer. Through playful animation and witty word play, Chinatown Abecedario (2012) sketches out what Chan calls a “folk taxonomy” of the old L.A. neighborhood, in which each letter of the alphabet inspires a miniature historical vignette:
Anna May Wong ate abalone with artists on Alameda.
The punk plucked pipa under the pagoda.
Utensils of an underclass utopia were unearthed from under Union Station.
These vignettes whimsically weave together the multifaceted elements that make up Chinatown’s history and character—early Hollywood stars, the first Asian American art gallery, the restaurant scene, the 1970s/80s punk rock scene, and the razing of the first Chinatown, located at the present-day site of Union Station. Through free association, they conjure a complex ecosystem that is sometimes at odds with itself. The words are recited in four of the most commonly spoken languages of L.A. (English, Cantonese, Spanish, and Mandarin), reflecting the many cultural influences that seep into any immigrant community.
Chinatown Abecedario was commissioned by the Chinese American Museum as part of its 2012 group exhibition, (de)Constructing Chinatown. As curator Steve Wong wrote in the exhibition’s catalogue: “Chan’s perspective is influenced by Émile Durkheim and Claude Lévi-Strauss, who propose that the process of learning draws upon the knowledge and beliefs within a local culture, thereby creating a set of ideas that are passed on within a community.”
Little Tokyo is filled with public art, from street murals to commemorative statues. JANM Development Assistant Esther Shin explores one of those works.
Toyo Miyatake’s Camera, a bronze sculpture by artist Nobuho Nagasawa, stands just outside of JANM’s Historic Building. Made in 1993, it is an outsized replica of an actual camera that belonged to the Japanese American photographer. In the evening, the camera projects slides of Miyatake’s photography onto a window of the Historic Building.
Toyo Miyatake established a photo studio in Little Tokyo in 1923. He became known for his photographs documenting the early Japanese American community. During World War II, Miyatake was imprisoned at the Manzanar incarceration camp along with 10,000 other Japanese Americans. He had to leave behind his home and studio, but he managed to smuggle a camera lens into the camp and constructed a camera body from wood. With this camera he secretly documented the community’s daily life behind barbed wire; the photographs from this period have become important documents of this tragic episode in American history.
Nagasawa’s sculpture is my favorite public artwork in Little Tokyo. Although it is relatively small and modest, it speaks loudly and is rich in meaning. I see it as a symbol of remembrance, underscoring the importance of looking back and reflecting on what has happened in the Japanese American community—not only during the incarceration of U.S. citizens during WWII, but in the years before as well. I appreciate the fact that the images projected by the installation include darker moments from our history alongside special events and celebrations that were dear to the community before the war—such as the 1932 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and the Nisei Week parade of 1939—because all of these moments, bright or dark, are part of the Japanese American story.
It is fitting that the sculpture is located on the plaza of the museum, and faces the Historic Building. It stands on the spot of a former WWII reporting site, where hundreds of Japanese Americans boarded buses to be taken to incarceration camps. It is also located across the way from JANM’s Pavilion building, where the permanent exhibition, Common Ground: The Heart of Community—which chronicles 130 years of Japanese American history—is displayed.
JANM has commissioned a new mural to be painted on the north wall of the museum’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. Titled Moon Beholders, the mural is designed by artist, author, and illustrator Katie Yamasaki. Based in Brooklyn, Yamasaki has painted more than 60 murals around the world. JANM visitors may know her as the author and illustrator of Fish for Jimmy, a children’s book that she read from at a Target Free Family Saturday event this past June.
Moon Beholders is intended to evoke various contemporary and historic concepts within Japanese American culture while connecting with the community around the museum. Against a bright gold background, a smiling young girl lies clothed in a variety of furoshiki—traditional cloths long used to preserve, protect, and transport items. The pattern and color on each furoshiki represents a unique moment in Japanese American history, such as a pale blue sky covered in yellow barbed wire symbolizing the WWII incarceration camps.
Surrounding the girl are floating lanterns, signifying transcendence and the concept of akari—light as illumination. Near the top of the mural, a 17th-century haiku by the Japanese poet Basho reads, “From time to time / The clouds give rest / To the moon beholders.” With the spectrum of interpretations possible in this mural, Yamasaki’s hope is that “the viewer will have the space in this image to become their own moon beholder.”
As part of the next Target Free Family Saturday on November 8, the public is invited to help the artist complete the Moon Beholders mural. Between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., adults and children alike can sign up to paint for 30-minute intervals; up to 12 individuals can paint per interval. Participants should wear closed-toe shoes and other attire appropriate for an exterior painting project. The artist will be on hand to provide guidance.
Come to JANM this Saturday and become your own moon beholder! In addition to mural painting, the museum will be offering a variety of fun, hands-on activities to engage the whole family. For a complete schedule, visit janm.org/target.