Though there is a great deal of contemporary artistic talent and power in the state of Hawaii, it is often eclipsed by the straightforward profits and popular cachet of the television and film industries. In these times of consolidation that require we do more with and for less, perhaps we should be making a more careful audit of our creative capacities. The TCM 2010 biennial is an act of accounting. The results? A collection of works that sit in one’s subconscious like a massive reserve of oil that is just outside extraction’s reach.
How else to describe the impact of Scott Yoel’s standing wave of 1950s haole clone businessmen, or his suburban master plan of monopoly houses laid out like a tourist-trapping Hawaiian quilt pattern? His prints of the Incredible Hulk breaking free among floating dandelion seeds can be read in terms of a monstrous invasion or unchecked power on display. His final statement on the subject is a model of the Hulk on a pedestal, as pink as idealized baby-doll skin, who when squeezed utters forlorn koans of male insecurity.
The Contemporary Museum Ninth Biennial of Hawai’i Artists
» Dates: Through Jan. 26
» Museum hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sundays noon to 4 p.m.
» Phone: 526-1322
» On the Net: tcmhi.org
Kloe Kang’s work shares a similar inside-outside dynamic with Yoel, as her portrait of Chinatown features three large impressionistic charcoal and graphite drawings that give way to a finely detailed skyline penciled directly on the gallery wall. This portrait of a generalized Chinatown leads the viewer to the animation that unifies her project. Depicted through accumulations and erasures of flow diagrams, emblems that become maps, traffic signs and implied paths of migration, her stop-motion drawing and accompanying soundscape expresses the pure motion and transformation of Honolulu’s Chinatown.
Maika’i Tubbs tackles transformation from a different perspective. His "A Life of Its Own" is a botanical study of vines made out of our own waste. Plastic plates and utensils are ingeniously re-purposed through artistic use of a heat gun. More than a clever ecology PSA, this emulation of nature is unsettling because at a distance it looks "natural." But up close one sees thorns and various blooms, implying that this artificial system can reproduce. But what in a sterile gallery cube would pollinate such a plant?
The answer is ideas, which are not always easily accessible. Jason Teraoka’s plywood installation evokes feelings of defensiveness, imprisonment and construction. Painted portraits of anonymous individuals punished by the uncertainties of modern life are presented alongside the action-figure debris of pop culture. The environment emulates "the streets" and the "not-gallery," and the portraits showcase Teraoka’s striking appropriation of transparency and various harsh textural effects. In Teraoka’s walk-in psyche, people are sad and the toys are happy, and a joke without a punch line is apparently on us.
Rosa Silver’s immersive strategy is decidedly more lively and genuinely more playful. She gives us an interactive diagram that brings schematic drawings into functional relationships with intimate, small-scale color paintings, various types of wire and tubing, and rough-hewn wooden cogs. Certain junctions feature entertainment electronics that watch you and await your attention. Listening to one whimsical podcast that speaks of loosely connected bits and pieces of ourselves, it becomes clear that Silver has invited us into an experiment in coming undone. Don’t forget to put on the lab coat.
Marc Thomas takes much of Silver’s systematically distributed energy and compresses it into the planes of his powerful abstract paintings.
From far away they have a highly graphical quality. Some seem to magnify and interpret the embossed schematic lines and color-coded connections on the back sides of consumer electronics. Others could be exotic lab tests, genetic maps or fragments of some shipping or infrastructure service company’s logo. Up close, his paintings become detailed industrial surfaces, excerpts from spaces of constant mechanical and environmental stress. Repaintings, abrasions, scuffs, scratches and cracks: the phrases of modern music rendered visible.
Abigail Romanchak reminds us that we are the machines. "Tracked" is a grid consisting of 27 square frames of blood-red abstract forms that branch and overlap like neurons and river deltas. Her iron-rich pigment bleeds into the creamy surface of the paper and glitters when viewed from certain angles.
The repetition and rotation of certain images baits the cryptologist in all of us. For time spent with the work encourages the search for sequences, letter-forms and codes … for meaning. Where Silver and Kang both illustrated this system, Romanchak makes you recognize it within yourself.
Is this not the deepest goal of education, and far more relevant to our sustainability than ultraviolent television portrayals of our home, or the baroque fantasies of Caribbean pirates? These artists are part of Hawaii’s so-called "creative industries," only we haven’t found a way to effectively harness their power. Consider this biennial to be more survey than self-congratulation, more resource map than trophy. All that remains is for us to begin putting it to use. And that means first and foremost seeing the work for ourselves.
David A.M. Goldberg is a freelance writer and cultural critic who teaches arts and humanities in the University of Hawaii system.