Biennial exhibit showcases six top Hawai'i artists
By Virginia Wageman
Advertiser Art Critic
Sometimes in Hawai'i, more than 2,000 miles from our nearest neighboring metropolitan area, I am struck by the thought that this is as good as it gets. The Contemporary Museum's biennial, showcasing the work of six superb Hawai'i artists, evokes such a response.
Photo courtesy of The Contemporary Museum
Suzanne K. Saylor, Child's Grave with Pinwheels, 1998, Cibachrome print, 16 by 20 inches.
Photo courtesy of The Contemporary Museum
Kikuyama, from Maui, has created a one-room abode, complete with TV, shower and toilet. The room is filled with his stuff, an old 1950s radio, his own paintings and drawings, works of art by his friends, including Hiroki Morinoue and Darrell Orwig.
The focal point of this marvelous installation, titled "Evidence of a Metamorphosis," is a bed with an empty human-size cocoon hanging over it. Writings tacked to the wall provide clues to a narrative, but they are only evidence, and it is up to the viewer to ascertain just what is going on here.
It becomes clear that this is the scene of a crime, with yellow plastic police tape cordoning off areas. In the slightly darkened room, the viewer feels compelled to read the occupant's notes to herself (it is a woman's home), to handle objects, to open the refrigerator, to lift up the folded quilt to see what's under it.
Indeed, this is how the artist wants us to feel, and in this way Kikuyama draws us into his world, one in which the woman serves as his alter ego. The sense of intimacy is overwhelming, creating a powerful connection between the viewer and the artist.
Russell, too, shares intimacies of his existence in his photographs of old soap and drain hair. A resident of Kaua'i (where he recently moved from New York), Russell, like Kikuyama, is a collector. Loathe to throw anything away, he photographs personally relevant items in close-up detail so as to give them permanency.
For soap, every time a bar is down to a sliver, he puts the sliver on top of a new bar and makes a photo, using the names of the soaps to form a title. He started in 1995 with "Oatmeal on Rose"; next was "Rose on Ayurvedic," and the latest in the series exhibited is "Powder Puff and Oatmeal on Money" (money being green soap).
The resulting images, blown up at least twice their actual sizes and much larger in several instances, become a kind of diary of the artist's life, with uneven surfaces, cracks and fissures, yet with a wholeness by virtue of the always-new bar of soap a metaphor, perhaps, for the opportunity of self-renewal that each day brings.
Saylor's photographs, on the other hand, do not beg intimacy one bit. Sunny Cibachrome prints of grave sites, they document the objects left by family and friends in cemeteries.
Saylor lived in Hawai'i for 10 years, 1979-89, leaving to attend school in New York. She now lives in the Seattle area but returns to Honolulu often. When here, she continues work on her "garden cemetery" series of photographs.
The Contemporary Museum Through Aug. 12 526-1322
5th Biennial of Hawai'i Artists
The Contemporary Museum
Through Aug. 12
Graveside offerings might include a can of Pepsi, a child's toy or gay plastic sunflowers in addition to long-lasting blooms such as ginger and heliconia. Hawai'i's blending of cultures is documented by these offerings, with graveside relics ranging from a cross to incense sticks to paired miniature kahili.
Saylor documents these graves straight on in technically superb, unmanipulated prints, without editorializing or layering her images with unnecessary meanings. Respectful of the privacy of her subjects, she avoids including people in her shots or revealing full names on gravestones.
The resulting images serve to celebrate the unknowns commemorated at the graves in a way that is a celebration of life and not just any life, but the life that all of us share in this paradisiacal place.
This is the first of a two-part review of The Contemporary Museum's 5th biennial of Hawai'i artists. Part 2 will be published July 15.
Virginia Wageman can be reached at VWageman@aol.com.