The first edition of the Honolulu Biennial brings together 33 artists from the Pacific Islands, Asia and North America.
Themed “Middle of Now | Here”, the Biennial questions concepts of the centre and the periphery and frames Honolulu as a vibrant artistic hub.
Held over nine sites and including 33 artists, the first edition of the Honolulu Biennial takes place between 8 March and 8 May 2017. Entitled “Middle of Now | Here”, the Biennial challenges the idea that Hawaiʻi is in “the middle of nowhere”. Covering more than 30 percent of the Earth’s surface, the Pacific is the largest unified living space on earth and Honolulu is a key cultural hub of the region. The Honolulu Biennial highlights pivotal trends in contemporary art in the Pacific, such as intersections between art and science, history and culture, as well as environmental issues, particularly pertinent in many of the island nations across the Pacific.
The team includes curatorial director Fumio Nanjo and curator Ngahiraka Mason, who have put together an exhibition over nine sites with several new commissions and site-responsive installations. Both Nanjo and Mason observed that:
This is an historic occasion. We believe in the profound depth of talents, ideas and vision of the artists exhibiting in Honolulu Biennial. The works reflect lived experiences by the people and places linked by the Pacific Ocean. Universally relevant, recurring themes found throughout this multi-venue exhibition include: sustainability, rising sea levels, colonialism, identity and the intersection between art and science.
The Biennial includes leading, mid-career and emerging artists from the Pacific Islands, Asia and North America. Art Radar has put together some of the highlights from the 2017 Honolulu Biennial.
1. Mohammed Kazem
Mohammed Kazem (b. 1969) is a conceptual artist from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He examines aspects of the everyday that are perhaps undervalued. Making sound visible has been a key component of his practice since 1990. In one example he used the seemingly ordinary action of scratching paper with scissors in the work Scratches on Paper. These sheets of paper with markings became silent scores of an everyday process.
In the Honolulu Biennial Kazem is creating a new installation titled Directions (Honolulu) (2017). The installation draws from the lived experiences of the artists involved in the Biennial by mapping their geographic coordinates and thereby creating a series of meeting points. The aim of the piece is to challenge the concept of barriers of identity and belief systems and instead put the focus on the diversity of the event.
2. Sama Alshaibi
Sama Alshaibi (b. 1973) is a multimedia artist of Palestinian and Iraqi heritage, now based in the USA. Her work explores the spaces of conflict and the power struggles as a result of war and exile. She particularly focuses on the violence between civilians and the state. Alshaibi uses her body as an allegorical site throughout her performance, video, photography and installation work.
At the Biennial Alshaibi will present a new video work titled Wasl (2017). The piece is a continuation of the Silsila project, which was shown in the Maldives Pavilion in the 2013 Venice Biennale. Wasl, meaning “union” in Arabic, examines issue of increasing water scarcity and rising ocean levels and how this impacts the resultant migration of people. This is a concern for coastal countries all over the world, but is currently an important problem in the Pacific.
3. Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan
Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan (b. 1962, b. 1965) are a husband and wife artist duo originally from the Philippines, now living in Australia. Their collaborative practice often evolves around questions of home and belonging and involves engagement with local communities and other artists. The resulting installations are poetic mediations on what it feels like to be living between places.
In their new boat installation for the Biennial, titled Crossing Project, Another Country, the artists draw upon the history of migrant sugarcane laborers, who were introduced to Hawaiʻi from 1803. Many of the migrants were workers from China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines. Crossing Project is comprised of wooden boats, cardboard boxes and domestic items, recalling the everyday objects that migrants would have used in their journey.
4. Choi Jeong Hwa
Korean artist Choi Jeong Hwa (b. 1961) is known for inflatable sculptures and colourful large-scale installations of everyday objects. Choi Jeong Hwa often uses mass-produced plastic objects, old and new, in order to question the space between tradition and a culture of consumption.
Choi Jeong Hwa presents two works in the Biennial, Breathing Flower and Gather Together (2017). Gather Together is an installation at Honolulu Hale (City Hall) that transforms plastic buoys from Hawaiian Islands coastlines into sculptures. By using these objects he is turning ocean rubbish into art in the centre of the town, provoking discussion about the discarded objects. Breathing Flower is an inflatable lotus blossom that moves as if breathing. The work takes inspiration from the saying “the lotus comes out of the mud, yet is never tainted”.
5. Lee Mingwei
Born in Taiwan (b. 1964) and living in New York, Lee Mingwei creates participatory installations that draw strangers together to explore trust, intimacy and self-awareness. He creates open-ended scenarios of everyday interactions, where the actions of the participants guide the direction of the work.
In the Honolulu Biennal Lee Mingwei presents a series of photos documenting the decay of a lily over a period of 100 days. During this time Lee Mingwei was mourning the death of his grandmother. The work is a reflection on loss and decay, while at the same time demonstrates a gradual process of letting go.
6. Zhan Wang
Chinese artist Zhan Wang (b. 1962) creates sculptures, installations, photography and video works that embrace conceptual ideas. Many of his pieces use a simple object or figure to evoke complex ideas.
At the Biennial he presents his 2007 Artificial Rock No. 133, a piece that pairs a natural rock with a stainless steel version of the same shape. The work makes use question the line between nature and the man-made, asking whether humans can create as well as nature. Artificial Rock also refers to the practice of featuring eroded rocks in Chinese gardens. However Zhan Wang’s piece evokes a warped and strange reality, not just a weathered one.
7. Eko Nugroho
Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho (b. 1977) combines local traditions and global popular culture in his practice, merging diverse influences such as batik and traditional embroidery styles as well as contemporary street art, graffiti and comics. Having grown up in a changing time in Indonesia, Eko Nugroho engages with socio-political commentary in his work.
Eko Nugroho has produced a number of works for the Biennial, from his artist residency at Shangri La in Honolulu, including a number of paintings and a text detail on a black and white mural.
8. Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929) is a Japanese artist and writer who worked in a range of media, including painting, collage, sculpture, performance art and environmental installations. She is known for her use of colours and patterns in her work.
For the Biennial Yayoi Kusama has two works, I’m Here, but Nothing (2000/2017) and Footprints of Life (2010–2016) which was presented in 2016 as a preview to the Biennial. I’m Here is an installation covered in fluorescent polka dots that flicker in the dark lighting, creating the sensation that visitor are accessing another world.
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