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Proximities 2 @ Asian Art Museum

Michael Jang, "Chopsticks", from "The Jangs" series, 1973, gelatin silver print, 11 x 14"


“Knowing Me, Knowing You,” the 1977 pop hit by Swedish superstars ABBA, isn’t an intuitive title choice. Especially for an exhibition exploring the connections, conceptions and interpretations of Asia by contemporary Bay Area artists. But for an exhibition series full of fresh perspectives and dynamic, unexpected works, it fits the bill. “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” for those of you unfamiliar with the song, is an upbeat break-up tune full of faded family memories, both good and bad. 

Proximities 2: Knowing Me, Knowing You is less melancholy than its namesake, but more contemplative, with a few lighthearted moments thrown into the mix. Through video, photographs, sculpture and wall-works, artists Kota Ezawa, Mik Gaspay, Michael Jang, Pawel Kruk, Barry McGee, Anne McGuire and Charlene Tan touch on family, legacy and shared experiences, demonstrating a wide range of approaches in their own practices as well as their own relationships with the idea of Asia.
Charlene Tan, "Love Forever: an Homage to Kusama", 2010

Like Proximities 1: What Time is it There? before it, Proximities 2 features a large-scale floor centerpiece. Mik Gaspay’s Eve references a 1993 TIME magazine cover that presented “The New Face of America,” a woman’s portrait made by digitally blending a mix of ethnicities. Similarly, Gaspay’s installation blends cultural signifiers with technological renderings. In the center of the square arrangement sits a large steel pot topped by a shiny silver kettle, the kind of kitchenware used to feed large groups of people. Hidden audio components make the pot seem to rumble with the sounds of cooking. From this gleaming center, the installation’s elements grow increasingly digital, ending with two small monitors displaying a flickering, orange version of Eve’s pleasant yet expressionless face.

Anne McGuire’s 2007 video Lazy Susan/Turn Table references communal dining with an altogether different atmosphere. While teaching in South Korea she took a trip to Taiwan with a
friend. Eating lunch in a seemingly deserted dining establishment, McGuire placed her camera on the table’s lazy susan, slowly capturing the smiling, munching and chatting faces of her travel companions, a group of Asian women and girls. Set to the springy sounds of a Chinese opera, the video captures a cheerful and harmonious moment, transferring those feelings directly to the viewer. 
Adjacent to McGuire’s video, Kota Ezawa’s animation and lightbox pairing, Self-Portrait as Someone Else, is a result of the artist’s investigation into his own name. On the left, a backlit color transparency illustrates a kota (Finnish for a sauna-like hut). On the right, the short video shows a cut paper animation of a clip from an international news report featuring another Kota Ezawa, a top-rated business analyst. The wall text accompanying this pairing is almost as fun as the works and the investigations behind them. In searching for other Kotas, Ezawa creates lineage by chance and choice, highlighting those elements in all life paths.
While Ezawa adopts his “family” by words, Pawel Kruk gathers inspiration from other artists, drawn to their style, dedication and physical presence. In The Lost Interview, Kruk lip-synchs the audio of a 1971 interview with martial artist Bruce Lee. Inhabiting Lee’s posture and hand gestures, Kruk’s video is only slightly identifiable as incorrect. The fuzzed-out quality to the image and the abstract nature of Lee’s monologue (at one moment he explains his acting philosophy, “The ideal is unnatural naturalness, or natural unnaturalness”) blend into an eerie impersonation. 
Kota Ezawa, "Self Portrait as Someone Else", 2013, videos on monitor , three books
Charlene Tan’s contribution to the exhibition similarly pays homage to an artistic hero, in this case Yayoi Kusama. Restaging a part of Kusama’s 1966 piece Peep Show, Tan poses as Kusama for a large-scale red-tinted photograph, with “LOVE FOREVER” buttons covering both eyes. Unfortunately, the display meant to contain a free supply of those buttons was empty when I visited, leaving the participatory part of the piece incomplete and therefore purely historical. 
To the right, a cluster of Barry McGee panels is strongly graphic in fluorescent red and black, but empty of nuance, despite attempts by the wall text to fill in narrative gaps. Opposite the McGee installation, the some of the best moments in the show come from Michael Jang’s series of nine black-and-white photographs, The Jangs, previously reviewed here last July.  Documenting his own extended family in 1973, the photographs capture meals, shopping excursions, parties and on-the-street moments in the spirit of Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus and Lee Friedlander. “Every day was a new visual discovery,” Jang writes. “I saw things fresh and responded voraciously.” This energy is evident in the intimate, exuberant scenes.
In my review of Proximities 1, I wrote: “it remains to be seen if the additional exhibitions will provide a broader, more coherent argument for ‘elusive Asia.’”  That didn’t happen, and it’s a good thing. A multi-part exhibition is inherently fragmented, and artistic conceptions of or reflections on Asia are inherently multi-faceted.  Coherency, therefore, is inadequate.  I look forward to more fractured visions in Proximities 3.
“Proximities 2: Knowing Me, Knowing You”, through December 8, 2013 @ Asian Art Museum.
About the Author:
Sarah Hotchkiss is an artist and arts writer based in San Francisco. She contributes frequently to the KQED Arts blog and Art Practical and her writing has been featured in essays for Southern Exposure, The Present Group and Gazzetta. She received her MFA from California College of the Arts in 2011. Her artwork has been included in group shows in the greater New York and San Francisco areas, including Adobe Books Backroom Gallery, MacArthur B Arthur and the Popular Workshop. She has attended residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, the Esalen Institute and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

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