This review of The Biennial of Hawaii Artists X was published in the Star-Advertiser. Much aloha to David A.M. Goldberg for writing it!
Exhibit challenges thought, perception
By David A.M. Goldberg / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Through painting, sculpture, installation, photography and video, contemporary artists Mary Babcock, Solomon Enos, Jianjie Ji, Jaisy Hanlon, Sally Lundburg and Bruna Stude pre¬sent surfaces and textures of virtually limitless depth and nuance. All the work in “Biennial X” is related to our engagement with the natural world, albeit at various scales of time, from lifetimes to centuries. They are as intense as any sequence of modern mediated experience, but much more rewarding.
Solomon Enos’ “From Stars to Stars: An Indigenous Perspective on Human Evolution” features 11 painted portraits of beings descended from Earth’s Polynesian voyaging cultures that millennia from now have adapted to a life that treats galaxies like islands. They appear humanoid and sculptural at a distance, while up close they become gaseous and deeply microbiological. Hung on roofing paper scrolls, they could be honored ancestors, which cleverly loops Enos’ sci-fi narrative back on itself. As the Hawaiians say, “The past holds the future.”
Jianjie Ji’s “Reef” series interprets scholar stones: centerpieces of Chinese gardens, selected for their expression of natural forces that put human efforts into perspective. Ji pours various colors and layers of resin onto a horizontal surface and then insets matter such as concrete, steel, wool and bone. Vertical mounting produces monolithic forms centered at the bottom of the frames. Just as some scholar stones were celebrated as-is while others were selected and placed in rivers to be eroded, Ji’s process mirrors this hybrid aesthetic celebrating the found and the produced.
Jaisy Hanlon’s “Enlighten” video installation reflects her research into light pollution’s disruptive effects on nocturnal animals’ behavior. The space features images of owls cut from aluminum that are concentrated at the far end of the room. There a projected image of the full moon expands and is gradually lost behind an accumulating collage of urban skyline lights, streaks of time-lapse freeway traffic and glimmer. At its visual peak the birds’ reflectivity is saturated, producing a dazzling field. The effect is disorienting and concisely demonstrates the challenging perceptual effects of light.
Relief from such overloads is the theme of Mary Babcock’s “Surcease,” an installation that covers the walls in a hand-stitched layer of cotton insulation and the floor in black rubber. Two low platforms pre¬sent carefully arranged fields of charcoal pieces, some of which are wrapped in black string. Above hang teardrops of glass on near-invisible thread. Babcock is playing with several themes of absorption: the thirst of the wood and the cotton, the palpable absorption of sonic energy, and the gathering of human labor in countless of gestures of binding, stitching and sewing. This piece may be harder for some to access, but only because the viewer is the subject.
Bruna Stude’s underwater photographs are a series of deeply expressionistic black and white surfaces spread across several panels. Aside from “Cityscape 1,” which captures a series of shoreline buildings from just beneath the water’s surface, the representations in the other prints are considerably more abstract.
The effects are purely aesthetic at first, but enriched by the knowledge that these are empty fields of ocean transformed by manipulations of exposure. The results are far from documentary but through exquisite tonal range, fine textures and captured moments of trailing reflections, nevertheless project a sense of “being there.”
As Stude radically transforms single frames of ocean into experiments in depth perception, Sally Lundburg transforms a single koa tree that died on her Hawaii island property into what feels like a memorial forest grove. The floor is divided by three clusters of logs standing on end, each featuring a ghostly photographic image sealed beneath resin. Above the installation hangs a network of white branches woven through and bound with similarly colored fishing line, plumber’s tape, string and zip ties. The shadows cast by this cloud of arterial forms project a deeper space into the gallery walls.
All of this work offers a refuge from jabbering pundits and 24-hour streams of low-information news punctuated by shocking tragedies, by trading richly detailed tangible surfaces for the glow of the flat screen. Each of these artists has created unique and exemplary aesthetic and conceptual spaces that challenge and engage both thought and perception. As commercial media representations of our world veer toward incoherence, dogma, shock and outrage tend to replace depth, meaning and wonder. The Honolulu Museum of Art’s 10th biennial of Hawaii artists is an oasis in this desert of the real.