Oversized pink objects began popping up around town in 2017: A mammoth pig on Ward Avenue; a giant lotus with moving petals at the IBM Building; large polka dot sculptures by artist Yayoi Kusama. It was the premiere Honolulu Biennial, and the public’s attention was captured.
Here now with its second installment, Honolulu Biennial 2019 is at hand — and with its bold art by renowned local and international artists, plenty of buzz has been generated about its lineup. On display at 10-plus locations will be the work of 47 artists, accompanied by more than 90 free public programs that include artist talks, panels, art-making workshops, films and performances.
Those pink exhibits were whimsical two years ago, but the 2017 Biennial artists also probed pressing issues facing Hawaii, including environmental and cultural issues.
This year’s Biennial addresses serious issues — colonialism in particular — but again includes room for humor, hope and lightheartedness.
“What’s unique about this Biennial is it’s one of the few that focuses solely on the Pacific,” said curator Nina Tonga.
The Biennial’s theme “To Make Wrong / Right / Now” is borrowed from a poem by participating Hawaiian artist Imaikalani Kalahele.
“The poem is about embracing what is unique about this part of the world,” adds Tonga. “Putting the way we do things on a platform. Excavating our histories, our genealogy. Doing something true to ourselves, doing something that is true to the place.”
“There are 47 interpretations of that theme,” notes co-founder and executive director Katherine Ann Leilani Tuider. “Some of our artists are reading ‘to make wrong’ as making mischief. So, how do you create playfulness? But then there’s the other side, ‘How do we right the wrongs of the past? What can we do to move forward?’”
HAWAII ARTIST and landscape designer Leland Miyano posits one interpretation with a massive botanical sculpture.
Along with volunteers, Miyano harvested over 40 tons of invasive guava and inkberry from Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden and transported it to Foster Botanical Garden. There, he and his helpers spent more than a month weaving the sticks into a large-scale, double-hulled canoe.
His project comes from a background grounded in being connected to the natural environment, informed by stellar mentors. Miyano has worked to preserve rainforest plant species in Brazil, and practiced his craft alongside respected landscape architect David Woolsey and celebrated stick artist Patrick Dougherty.
“I do what I do because I want to close the gap between nature and man,” Miyano said. “We’re getting farther apart as time goes on.”
Miyano practices what he preaches with such dedication that he chooses to have no interaction with technology – he’s never owned a cell phone and has never used most things technological, whether computers or ATMs.
His concern for his natural surroundings exhibited itself at a young age with an interest in Hawaii’s many endemic snails — most of which are now extinct — and in volunteering with his mother at Oahu garden projects, including at Foster Garden.
After studying art at University of Hawaii and connecting with mentors such as Woolsey, Miyano has become one of Hawaii’s notable artists and landscape designers. He also has a long history with Bishop Museum, researching and studying native plants and animals, and the invasive species that displace them.
“Hawaii is considered an extinction capital of the world,” noted Miyano. “Once we lose our endemic species, that’s it.
“I chose a voyaging canoe (for my Biennial art piece) because it’s a metaphor for the island, or for earth. We have to have everything that sustains life on that canoe, and a community that works together to solve our problems and survive. I had the community help build this canoe, and I had them think about, ‘If we’re really going out to sea, how will we survive on this canoe? We will eventually reach land – how are we going to treat that land?’”
The title of his project is “Huakai: Awake.” “Huakai” translates as “voyage,” and for Miyano, “Awake” has several connotations — it could reference the wake of a ship, awakening, or the service that is conducted after someone, or a species, is no more.
Miyano hopes his project will cultivate a spark, especially in younger generations, inspiring them to harbor a closer relationship with nature.
“We need to reverse the tide of people just being in the virtual world,” he said. “My not having a cell phone is part of my protest. I don’t like technology driving our actions.
“I love that we have an educational component to what we do at the Biennial. We need STEAM in schools, not just STEM,” Miyano said, referencing education in science, technology, engineering and math. “The ‘A’ stands for art, and it’s necessary because art appeals to our emotions.
“School kids came and helped me make the canoe, which is an engineering feat, But it also touches the emotional part, which maybe will effect change.”
An additional concept of the Biennial is “the ties that bind.” Miyano’s canoe is made from interconnected sticks, created without modern joinery. Similarly, precontact Hawaiians found natural tools for tying their work together.
“They also tied the community together,” said Miyano.
“The interwovenness of this sculpture is a statement about connection, while also resembling a bird’s nest.”
The bow and stern of his canoe lift into a high taper.
“Those ornamentations that rise up are called manu, which means bird in Hawaiian,” Miyano noted. “Long-tailed tropical birds used to guide the voyaging canoes.”
Miyano is one of the Biennial’s local artists who is deeply rooted to place and history, and his art considers issues of preservation and sustainability.
THE BIENNIAL hosts many international artists, some of whom hail from other Pacific island cultures. Tonga, the curator, is herself from Tonga and now lives in New Zealand (Aotearoa).
Some artists focus on Hawaii’s situation in particular, while others look at parallels with their own indigenous cultures and history.
As Tuider points out, yet others tie in the Biennial’s concepts with a lighter hand.
One artist putting together what promises to be jaw dropping work is acclaimed Japanese installation artist Chiharu Shiota, who has also presented her work at the Venice Biennale.
Shiota, who lives and works in Berlin, is known for her use of yarn and found objects. She creates intricate webs that fill a space with a dramatic, immersive atmosphere. Her work, which also received help from volunteers, will be on view at the Hub at Ward Centre — a re-purposed space that previously hosted Famous Footwear.
Shiota provides her own take on the themes of ties that bind, and the question of wrong and right.
“I have taken many different maps from various cities around the world and incorporated them into a net of connection — to bind many different cultures and paths together,” she said.
“The installation is about the paths we take, the wrong and right way we go. It is about reflecting where we are now and where we are heading in the future,” Shiota said.” It is about connecting to each other.”
Some of the works at the Biennial are new site-specific works like Miyano’s and Shiota’s, while others have been on view at exhibitions and museums around the world. They were chosen by Tonga and her curatorial team for their message and wow factor.
Almost all of the artists will be present in Honolulu during the opening weekend.
“There’s a magic that happens when all of the artists come together and meet each other and see each other’s work, and share stories,” said Tuider.
This impressive congregation of artists also fulfills another of Tuider’s goals, which is to make art accessible.
“The artists will be able to say in their own words how they conceived of and made their artwork, and that makes all the difference, especially with contemporary art where sometimes people might feel a little bit intimidated — what’s their entry point? How do they begin to understand it?” Tuider said.
”If you get to ask the person who actually made it, you have a tie to it and are captivated by it.”
THE HONOLULU Biennial reached 90,000 people in 2017. This year’s goal is to reach 150,000 visitors.
“We chose artists who bring the energy we want to see here in Hawaii – artists who give us an idea of what’s happening in the Pacific right now, and who challenge us environmentally and culturally,” Tonga said.
“With all of the installations that we’re offering to the public, we’ve created a place that we hope inspires people, and we hope the artwork speaks to them so that the Biennial is something they feel connected to.”
Several sites are free to enter. There is an entry fee to view exhibits at The Hub, Foster Botanical Garden, Bishop Museum and Honolulu Museum of Art. An all-access pass, $75, provides unlimited access.
“My job is maintaining an organization that is sustainable — not just financially, but to be flexible and agile so that we fill a needed space in the community,” said Tuider. “I see us continuing well into the future.”
OPENING WEEKEND EVENTS
See details and more events at honolulubiennial.org
>> SaVAge K’lub Headquarters Open Studio: “Acti.va.tions” interactive open studio, Chinatown, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday. Free.
>> Womb Womb Room: “Listen/Tell,” curated contemplation and storytelling nook, The Hub, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. through May 3. Ticket required, $7-$75 (tickets.honoluluboxoffice.com).
>> Lisa Reihana, “Biennials, Triennials and the Conversation of Decolonization”: panel discussion on indigenous curatorial perspectives, Doris Duke Theatre, 1-3 p.m. Friday. Free with RSVP (honolulumuseum.org/events).
>> Opening Party – Mischievous Merriment: The Hub, 5-10 p.m. Friday, $15-$20 (eventbrite.com)
>> Symposium – Day 1, The Hub, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. March 9, free with RSVP (tickets.honoluluboxoffice.com)
>> SaVAge K’lub Headquarters Open Studio: Acti.va.tions, interactive open studio, Chinatown, 12-6 p.m. Saturday. Free with RSVP (tickets.honoluluboxoffice.com)
>> SaVAge K’lub Headquarters: Tautai Mixer, mixer with Oceania artists, Chinatown, 6-8 p.m. Saturday. Free with RSVP (tickets.honoluluboxoffice.com)
>> Symposium – Day 2, The Hub, 11:30 a.m.-3:15 p.m. Sunday. Free with RSVP (tickets.honoluluboxoffice.com)
>> The Hub, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Tuesday
>> Aliiolani Hale, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday
>> Bishop Museum, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
>> 1111 Nuuanu Ave., hours vary
>> Foster Botanical Garden, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily
>> Hawaii State Art Museum, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday
>> Honolulu Museum of Art, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
>> John Young Museum of Art, University of Hawaii-Manoa, 12-4 p.m. Sunday-Friday
>> McCoy Pavilion, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday
>> YWCA Laniakea, 9 a.m.-6-30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sunday
>> The Hub, daily admission, $7-$12
>> Hub Pass, $25 for two, unlimited admission March 8-May 5
>> Bishop Museum, $10.95-$24.95 daily
>> Foster Botanical Garden, $1-$5 daily
>> Honolulu Museum of Art, $10-$20 daily (ages 18 and under free)
>> All Access Pass to paid sites, $75