Art Practical Shotgun Review

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Present Tense Biennial at Chinese Cultural Center
by DeWitt Cheng 

Thomas Chang photographs the one-tenth scale Chinese monuments of Splendid China Theme Park that the Chinese government built in Orlando, Florida to stimulate tourism. Abandoned since 2003, the dilapidated structures--including a half-mile- long Great Wall with seven million inch-long bricks--exude comic melancholy rather than exotic, photogenic otherness.

read the full review: 

http://www.artpractical.com/shotgun_review_past/present_tense_biennial/ 

Colonialists like Kipling may have opined in print that never the twain of East and West should meet, but they should have known better. Certainly globalism's intermingling of cultures, and its imprint on the art of the past two decades, prove that polyglot hybridity is alive and well. And likely to stay that way, at least until Bulworth's desire comes to pass: everyone copulates till racial and cultural differences vanish (That would cause new problems, of course: a global monoculture-- however harmonious--might become a bore,). The Present Tense Biennial, curated by Kevin B. Chen with Abby Chen and Ellen Oh in affiliation with the Kearny Street Workshop, explores the theme of Asian identity and acculturation in a post-national world, focusing on the "frictions and fusions" of "family dynamics, language structures, consumerism, diaspora, environmentalism, food culture, sexuality, tourism cultural amnesia, and popular culture."[1] It's a banquet of issues, but one that won't leave you intellectually hungry in an hour. Thirty-one artists --Chinese, Chinese- Americans, as well as other Asians and non-Asians-- were selected to show at the Chinese Culture Center as well as a number of storefronts (which I was unable to see, unfortunately).

Several artists drew on Chinese or Western art history. Cui Fei's Manuscript of Nature, an installation made of twigs and tendrils, resemble a Chinese manuscript, with its characters twisting out from holes in the white wall. For the artist, these "real and permanent" materials defy cultural and political change, "generating harmony in an otherwise chaotic world." Maleonn's large color photographs are collectively entitled the Nostalgia series. Depicting narratives that are partly elegiac and partly satirical--a stooped worker bowing to a small model of the entrance to the Forbidden City; a young man brandishes pistols and a billowing red banner while his girl friend, in pink sun suit, stands next to him, eyes closed, as if sunbathing or dreaming - Maleonn decries the "vulgar age" and looks back to his "distant youth and Utopia." Liang Litang also casts a skeptical eye on the changes wrought by progress. Her Thorny Poetry sumi-ink paintings explore physical and emotional trauma with fairytale grotesqueness. Larry Lee's Endless Column parodies Western modernist art and the gastronomic necessaries of life: a stack of rice bowls climbs toward the sky, sending up Brancusi's famous 1938 proto-minimalist war memorial.

Some explore personal history in documentarian works. Sean Marc Lee photographs his immigrant father, aiming to convey his "childhood sense of seeing and enjoying the world...[and] slight streak of mischief and wonder." Anita Chang's witty documentary One Hundred Eggs a Minute tells the story of feisty San Franciscan May Woo, who grew up in Chinatown and the Mission working in the family business, Ding Ho fortune cookies. She broke eggs every day after school for 14 years.

Others explore the larger social issues raised by globalism's reach and impact. Nadim Sabella's model of the Holiday Inn in which the CCC is located comments on the place of culture in Chinatown, as well as the conditions of its presentation and preservation. A cinematically staged photo of the building alludes to environmental threats facing the community and the world. Hei Han Khiang’s photomontages combine imagery of the 1989 Tiananmen Square political struggle with consumerist signage and imagery to ask if China prefers democratic rights or consumer goods, both of which we Americans can usually take for granted. Suzanne Husky’s Made In... depicts the factory workers of Song Jiang, near Shanghai. She uses recycled materials from the area and photos of the workers to express her feelings of solidarity and appreciation for the hardships of those who make our lives more comfortable.

Several artists tackle these issues more humorously or wryly. Ming Mur-Ray's photo Xishuanbanna depicts a phalanx of Chinese tourists holding cameras pointed toward some unseen spectacle. Imin Yeh designs restaurant placemats printed with a droll new zodiac and horoscope (Urban Street Pigeon: You are a fearless flaneur with...an iron stomach. Three-toed Sloth: You are kind and gentle). Thomas Chang photographs the one-tenth scale Chinese monuments of Splendid China Theme Park that the Chinese government built in Orlando, Florida to stimulate tourism. Abandoned since 2003, the dilapidated structures--including a half-mile- long Great Wall with seven million inch-long bricks--exude comic melancholy rather than exotic, photogenic otherness.

[1]. All quotes from the catalogue accompanying the exhibition.

 

KQED Arts

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ART REVIEW
Present Tense Biennial: Chinese Character
By Claire Light
KQED Arts

“…Thomas Chang, who's been making a career out of photographing charged spaces empty of people, to see what is left behind; Chang's photo series of Chinese landmarks can only be called surreal in the scenes' utter absence of human presence. It's squirmily uncomfortable, and some of the best work such a show can present.” 

Read the full article:
http://www.kqed.org/arts/visualarts/article.jsp?essid=24563 

Present Tense Biennial: Chinese Character

The VIP opening for the Present Tense Biennial: Chinese Character show at the Chinese Culture Center was slated for 6:30pm. But a cordon of CCC staff and board members and local politicoes -- plus curator Kevin Chen and (presumably) all the artists present -- barred a packed lobby-ful of attendees from the gallery for an hour, giving speech after speech (and issuing city supervisor-signed certificates). When the gallery finally opened, the entire audience rushed into the exhibition space like a small boar down a boa constrictor's throat. Worse: the snakelike gallery (entrance at the front, exit at the back) was blocked at the exit end, encouraging viewers to linger in the galleries socializing after they'd finished looking around. It was impossible to see the work.

I go into such gory detail because the scene illustrates the glorious contradictions of mounting a show like Present Tense Biennial. The Chinese in me was amused at the necessity of making sure the city graced this new enterprise, and making sure everyone involved was given face, publicly. The contemporary art viewer in me was annoyed as hell that I had to wait around and then try to see the show through crowds of schmoozers. At the moment, I have little information about how this marriage was arranged, or where the self-proclaimed "biennial" will go in two years. All I know is that, by its very circumstance, the show is both a meld and a clash of three different approaches to representing community.

The Chinese Culture Center is a contemporary manifestation of "Old Chinatown," a way of organizing an increasingly well-educated immigrant population within the traditional ethnic enclave, using the guanxi (or web of favors and connections) that runs through all sectors and classes of the San Francisco Chinese community. Exhibition co-sponsor Kearny Street Workshop (full disclosure, I was on staff 1999-2003) is a nearly forty-year-old "Asian American Movement" dinosaur, a creation of the early 70s' critical mass of American-born Asians trying to communicate both with traditional ethnic communities and with the American mainstream, while carving out a third niche to declare and define their own identity.

And then there is curator Kevin Chen. Although Intersection for the Arts is not directly involved in Present Tense Biennial, Chen brings to the show a powerful whiff of the ethos he's helped develop at Intersection in the past decade; an unacknowledged, post-colonial, "post-racial" perfume of a practice that insists on nothing but the ability of the work to play in a contemporary international context.

I put "post-racial" in scare quotes because, in the past ten years, our community arts curators and editors have been doing a St. Vitus' Dance around the question of when identity art begins to eat itself. And no wonder: as long as we don't grapple directly with this question, we can continue to push the boundaries of what is considered identity art, and satisfy both the clarion call of racial solidarity, and the siren song of aesthetic indulgence. Such curators have been taking advantage of the now-aging tradition of ethnic-specific cultural productions, to sneak in work by artists not of that ethnic description that might bolster or illuminate the body of work being shown. It's also a small rebellion against pure racial lines, and a sly challenge to the viewer to question racial taxonomies.

Present Tense Biennial: Chinese Character is exciting to me because it is the first acknowledged ethnic arts show I've seen that doesn't just quietly sneak in a racial diversity of artists, but actually declares that tactic as its raison d'etre, and does it in a context of melding three ways of organizing community (past, present, and future?) Billing itself simply as a show where "31 artists reflect on and reinterpret contemporary Chinese culture," Present Tense surprises less with its actual work than with its intentions. Much of the work -- I assume deliberately -- rides the line of orientalism, or at least exotification of the Chinese Other. What's fascinating is that some of this work is by Chinese Americans, such as Thomas Chang, who's been making a career out of photographing charged spaces empty of people, to see what is left behind; Chang's photo series of Chinese landmarks can only be called surreal in the scenes' utter absence of human presence. It's squirmily uncomfortable, and some of the best work such a show can present.

Don't get me wrong, the other work is fine ... fun and interesting and worthy and all that. But it IS the usual mix of primarily conceptual candy with raucous and speculative photography and fine drawing: essentially the three modes artists in the Bay Area underground are restricted to. There is a fun column of rice bowls, and an interesting installation of chopsticks painted to become graphs of the racial content of cities where the artist has lived, and a worthy sound installation of different languages emitted from a grid of microphones that looks from a distance like a Go board. There's Anita Chang's fun documentary of growing up making fortune cookies and lifting weights. There is a lovely wall installation of calligraphy made from curling twigs. There are walls and walls of beautiful, as well as derivative, photographs of Chinese people, going about their stereotypical or hipsterosyncratic business, depending on the photographer. And, perhaps the best work in the show, there is a wonderful and terribly appropriate series of storefront installations celebrating and parodying the 150-year-old mercantile and export relationship between China and the US.

Nothing wrong with that. But is it so wrong of me to find this interesting more because these artists are from different countries and linguistic traditions, and yet working in the same visual idiom towards the same project of de-and-re-stereotyping? Am I missing the point when I say that this show can only be done once before it loses its interest, or that the next biennial will have to diversify aesthetically and formally in order to stay relevant? Is it bad of me to recommend you see the show as a perfect embodiment of a transitional moment in American racial politics? And am I mistaken when I assume that my confusion about which artist did what (caused by poorly placed wall labels) is yet another small symptom of this fascinating shift?

 

SF Art Examiner

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Chinese Cultural Center and Kearny Street Workshop: Present Tense Biennial

By Marisa Nakasone 
SF Art Examiner

Thomas Chang's series of photographs taken from Splendid China Theme Park in Orlando, Florida reframe the meta-Chinese Monuments (see the architectural wonders of China at 1/10th the size!) such that the images take on a surreal appearance of both authenticity and artifice.  In this way, Chang's photography incisively highlights the disjunction between cultural legacy and historical tourism and the resultingly muddled messages this sends to the public.”

Read the full article:
http://www.examiner.com/x-533-SF-Art-Examiner~y2009m5d6-Chinese-Cultural-Center-and-Kearny-Street-Workshop-Present-Tense-Biennial

 

Chinese Cultural Center and Kearny Street Workshop: Present Tense Biennial

Vibrant, political, poetic, and challenging,the Present Tense Biennialcoordinated by the Chinese Cultural Center and the Kearny Street Workshop, speaks volumes about contemporary Asian/American identity. Curated by Kevin B. Chen with Abby Chen and Ellen Oh, this exhibition assembles work by thirty-one artists from the bay area and abroad in response to contemporary Chinese Culture.  After viewing several bay area exhibitions of work by native Chinese artists (major shows at SFMOMA and BAMPFA), I was pleased to behold an Asian American response to the challenges of identity and shifiting political currents as it relates to cultural heritage at the Present Tense Biennial.

Cui Fei is a Chinese artist that exhibits actively in the United States.  Pictured above is a detail from a large wall installation, Manuscript of Nature V.  From afar, the installation has the appearance of a calligraphic manuscript with its stroke-like sense of movement. Upon closer examination however, one realizes that each "character" is a unique sculpture informed by the natural formation of twigs.  Language and its conventional, evolving nature is a running theme in this show and Cui Fei's lyrical installation poignantly explores  the illusory and mutable qualities of written word in relation to the timeless structure of nature.

Tamara Albaitis adds a sonic dimension to Cui Fei's dialogue on language through her interactive installation consisting of two hanging grids of speakers--each mini-speaker emitting an element of speech (a vowel, a consonant, a dipthong).  Not only does the grid format allude to the way we attempt to structure our thoughts through language and the lined formatting of written compositions, it also (through the collective, babel-esque sounds of this piece) deconstructs the conventions and notions of power attached to language/speech. 

Thomas Chang's series of photographs taken from Splendid China Theme Park in Orlando, Florida reframe the meta-Chinese Monuments (see the architectural wonders of China at 1/10th the size!) such that the images take on a surreal appearance of both authenticity and artifice.  In this way, Chang'sphotography incisively highlights the disjunction between cultural legacy and historical tourism and the resultingly muddled messages this sends to the public.

The tension between artifice, material production, and cultural/personal perception is another running theme in the show.  In Lucy Kalyani Lin's The Yangtze, a neon light that mimics the curves of the Yangtze river; mounted upon a series of mirrored cubes--evoking visions of the China's neon-lit urban centers (Shanghai immediately comes to mind) and the notion of the river as a symbol of economic livelihood. Zachary Reyer Scholz's work adapts a similar theme: by mounting cubic forms on flat mirrored surfaces (milk cartons, cinder blocks), these mundane forms take on the illusion of increased depth and formal complexity--the multiplied grid-like images suggest construction foundations and the steel frames of industrial growth. Other highlights include Indigo Som's wall installation of Chinese restaurant menus <1% and Charlene Tan's black and white, paper cornucopia overflowing with photo-copies of fast-food containers from China, entitled The Good Life.

I enjoyed each and every piece of this exhibition so thoroughly that I visited twice--I also recommend checking out Imin Yeh's patterned appliances installed in storefronts at 710 Kearny St. and taking a close look at Liang Liting's surreal ink paintings. 

I leave you with this haunting photograph by Maleonn.  The piece pictured above is entitled Nostalgia#4.  His poetic statement about his series on view at the CCC is both enigmatic and profoundly revealing--and I think, a fitting way in which to grasp the wealth of exciting work in this exhibition:

Then, the pure smile of the leaving youth, the lost and broken love, the way that cannot back down, and the lonely hurricane, the nights and the desolate dream, the endless distance, and the weak house of ideals, will finally be mercilessly shattered by time, and grinded into smoke and ashes.  In the most private corner of everyone's heart, it gradually piles up to the secret pain permeated into the deepest feelings, and one hears nostalgia

Indeed, the works produced here by artists young and old, of various ethnic backgrounds, conjure up a sense of collective nostalgia, of loss, of disjunction--however, that an exhibition like this exists and opens itself up to public discussion lends the work in this show an over arching bid for hope and critical engagement.

Go see this show!!! 

Read more about the artists here.

 

Hideous Sunday

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Subjunctive 

"Thomas Chang, for example, explores what’s left of a theme park in Orlando, Florida fallen into disrepair. The miniature monuments captured in C-Prints have a haziness in the details which only serves to draw attention to the haziness behind the enterprise itself. The brain child of the Chinese government, the amusement site was meant to foster interest in tourism with replicas of famous sites in 1/10th scale. A facsimile of Tengwang Pavilion however is now gutted, the front exposed like a doll house and overgrown with weeds. This official “imprimatur” of Chinese culture, made for export and based on sites of historic importance and grandeur, has an interesting counterpart in the export of Americaness in Charlene Tan’s work (more on that in a bit)."

Read the full article:

http://hideoussunday.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/subjunctive/

The reader of The Classic of Mountains and Seas plays hopscotch from peak to peak, moving in leaps and bounds roughly according to one of the four cardinal compass directions. On each stop the traveller is given a Rough Guide equivalent of the major points of interest: natural resources, resident deity, flora and fauna. Some of the denizens are rather strange. A familiar creature may be used as reference for point of comparison, but deviations from the expected are dutifully noted: a multiplicity of legs, a single eye, a human face atop a snake’s body.

None are perhaps as strange as the “look-flesh” creature, helpfully described by translator Anne Birrell in the glossary of the Penguin Classic edition, quoting third century commentator Kuo P’u, as “a mass of flesh which looks like the liver of an ox: it has two eyes.” Coming across it again and again in the text, I’ll admit I found it rather hard to visualize hopping about the slopes of its territory. Farther east than the scholars could have imagined (and their imaginations were robust), further even than the country of the Blacktooth people across a vast ocean is a city at the foot of two hills, barely worthy of mention compared to the legendary peaks in the eighteen books. I only bring it up it because it’s here that I think I’ve finally got a glimpse of the “look-flesh,” far from its home.

Liting Liang is only one of the dizzying number of participants in the Chinese Culture Center’s current show Present Tense Biennial. Her ink on paper works immediately brought to mind the descriptions from the book (one of the joys of which is the many interpretations by artists throughout the ages of the creatures within). There is the crouched chimerical woman, lower body sheathed in rows of reptile scales. Another figure stands posed, cleaver in hand, snake wrapped around her neck like an alert scarf (snakes are often described grasped in the hands of deities or clamped between their jaws). Then there’s a curious lump of a thing, kind of like a potato or blowfish with legs, in stockings and heels. Is this the “look-flesh,” dressed to impress for the twenty-first century? It’s probably wishful thinking. Maybe a distant relation? Or is it something never before seen, field notes for an as yet unwritten nineteenth book? At the very least, the impossibilities inherent in her striking work offer a good entrance point for the show as a whole, because it gives me license to call her a favorite among a multitude of favorites in this diverse and absorbing show (a site dedicated to images from the center has proved a broken link in the last few weeks that I’ve tried to visit. But you can get an idea of how amazing her pieces are here:, it’s the first image in the review).

The bulk of the show is less concerned with mythology as a whole as it is with mythologizing, or to be more specific demythologizing. Curator Kevin Chen of Intersection for the Arts, with the aid of Abby Chen and Ellen Oh, have spread the net wide in the selection of contributors: 31 artists, not all of them of Chinese origin or descent. The diversity of the participants has borne fruit in a show with varied approaches and executions. I start with Liting Liang’s work not just because I love her ravenous eater and dismembered legs washed ashore but because the works are so singular. The raison d’être of the show has such a strong psychological pull that it’s easy to forget that Present Tense is not just an exercise in itself. The show offers many reminders that identity is a tricky thing, constantly embattled and contentious, and many of the pieces are meditations on that theme, urging the viewer to revise their assumptions. But the engine that drives that process is the uniqueness of each artist’s vision: they are well worth appreciating each for their own sake.

Thomas Chang, for example, explores what’s left of a theme park in Orlando, Florida fallen into disrepair. The miniature monuments captured in C-Prints have a haziness in the details which only serves to draw attention to the haziness behind the enterprise itself. The brain child of the Chinese government, the amusement site was meant to foster interest in tourism with replicas of famous sites in 1/10th scale. A facsimile of Tengwang Pavilion however is now gutted, the front exposed like a doll house and overgrown with weeds. This official “imprimatur” of Chinese culture, made for export and based on sites of historic importance and grandeur, has an interesting counterpart in the export of Americaness in Charlene Tan’s work (more on that in a bit).

Across the room, Imin Yeh’s Good Imports, 2008 presents a laptop completely shrouded in patterned textile. In an online interview, the artist explained that the fabric is typical of that found lining boxes of souvenirs from China. Perhaps it is the usual taboo of “look but don’t touch” but the wrapping evokes a sense of prohibition at the sight of screen and keyboard enveloped, even while the design lends a mystique of value, despite both the material and the hardware being the result of mass production. There is a divide between the reaction to goods which reach our shores somehow imbued with a sense of China as a country of deep history and traditions and cheap consumer products whose cheapness would not be possible were they made State-side.

Exploring the source of those imported goods whose provenance is invisible to most consumers, Suzanne Husky recreates a factory floor of tiny workers. As a group they are nearly indistinguishable in their spread armed poses and blue aprons, but the faces are taken from photographs of actual people, giving at least the illusion of individuality. Down on Kearny St., Husky has installed a sister piece in an empty store front that instills the eerie sensation of spying on actual factory workers through the glass doors (see below).

The portraits in Sumi ink by artist Nancy Chan are precisely observed. The sense thatAnnie is observing you above her clasped hands is palpable. The works were rendered on long sheets of paper calling to mind traditional prints and calligraphy presentation.

I’m watching Fang Lu’s music video Straight Outta HK when I see a familiar face. Alex Yeung is the front man of hardcore band Say Bok Gwai (and a coworker of mine) and the story behind the piece is coaching hip hop artist Kelda in a cover of one of their tunes, the trick being the lyrics are in Cantonese.

Perhaps the most dramatic piece in the show is the cornucopia built of wire and paper, spilling out facsimile cartons of McDonalds packaging. The name of the piece,The Good Life, 2009 reminds us of the associations that accrue to the powerhouse chain’s product, being such a ubiquitous American brand. But a close look at the photocopied boxes reveal the traces of glocalization. These particular boxes have been tailored for the Chinese market, while still retaining the signifiers (like the arched “M” logo) that entice a consumer hungry not just for food but the array of symbolic connotations that go along with it. Charlene Tan’s piece captures many of the absurdities: the ostensibly American meal would be prepared and served by Chinese workers employed by the franchise, and even the most American of offerings on the menu go through a process of vetting to make sure they’re attractive to the palates of the country of that particular outlet. The abundance of empty boxes inside the horn of plenty underscores that our exported idea of “the good life” may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Even the “weave” of the cornucopia is just a photocopied texture.

Fans of painted chopsticks, bundled in groups of a hundred, form Arthur Huang’s demographic study of cities in which he has held residence. My Life as a Chinese American So Far (36 Years and Counting), 2009 breaks down the racial makeup of communities based on census data. Simply looking over the color key (“raw umber” for African Americans, “burnt sienna” for Latino Americans) reveals the quixotic nature of the enterprise. Huang has attempted to match the selected hues with an eye to them reflecting to some degree an approximation of actual skin color. In doing so he underlines the suggestive power of what appears at first glance to be objective statistical data. Even the selection of something as subtle as color coding can have a profound effect on our assumptions whether we are aware of it or not.

Yu Yudong’s One person’s parade series is a good end point for this glimpse of a show that negotiates ideas of shared heritage, tradition and experience even while critical of imposed collective identities. The four protest signs display photographs of the artist, bullhorn pressed to his mouth, sign in hand. In one, he stands in an empty street, midway between a crosswalk, beneath signage indicating that this is the city of Songzhuang, China. In another, he is atop a wall of painted brick, near the building’s corrugated metal roof. The works stand in stark contrast to the work of Hei Han Khiang just a few rooms away that focuses on the Tiananmen Square protests of Spring 1989. Although following the forms of the demonstrator engaged in a group action, Yu Yudong’s “protester” stands alone with an unknown message that goes unheard, at times in locations where his presence is assured to go unnoticed.

The Present Tense show actually continues outside the gallery, with a number of satellite installations located throughout Chinatown on Kearny St., Clay St., Columbus Ave. and Walter U. Lum Place. You can watch video of curator Kevin Chen touring a few of the window displays on this installment of Culture Wire.

Angel Island Immigration Station

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For anyone who has ever taken the short ferry ride across the Bay to Angel Island, thinking back on that trip may call to mind memories of a pleasant afternoon spent amongst sprawling nature, spectacular views, and a few quaint old buildings from a bygone era.  But for San Francisco artist Thomas Chang a day spent on Angel Island evokes an entirely different type of response.  While Angel Island consists of several small collections of buildings, it is those from the Immigration Station that captivated Chang's imagination and razor sharp artistic commentary.  So much so that Chang spent several years volunteering as a docent on the Island, giving "interpretive" tours to school groups and interested tourists who found there way to the little outpost in the Bay.   It was his time spent on Angel Island and in particular his experience of being trained as a docent by the park staff which led him to produce his latest body of work, "Orientalism," which is currently on display at Lisa Dent gallery.  

The history of Angel Island is one of those shameful tales of America at its worst that have a way of somehow escaping the history books. Built in 1910 on the Bay's largest island, the Station was meant to be used as a waystation to detain and quarantine immigrants coming into the States from points west of the Pacific.  However, unlike its companion to the East, Ellis Island, the experience of immigrants coming through the station was not the brief happy induction that most European immigrants experienced.  An economic downturn coinciding with a rising number of Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the first federal action taken to limit immigration based solely on nationality or race.  Angel Island's Immigration Station was built for the specific purpose of enforcing this act by strictly regulating which Chinese immigrants would be granted admittance to the country and which would be summarily sent back.  

While the average immigrant passing through Ellis Island was there for only a few hours, Chinese immigrants at Angel Island were normally held for two to three weeks, and some for months or even years. During this time the immigrants endured squalid living conditions and underwent grueling interrogations meant to flush out "paper sons," those who were attempting to enter the country with falsified family information or documentation.  The lucky ones were eventually allowed to enter the country, while those who failed to pass muster were boarded on the next ship East. This unequal treatment of Chinese immigrants continued until 1943 when the Exclusion Act was finally repealed.  The Station then fell into disrepair until the early 1970s when it was partially restored and opened as a museum.  And what we are left with now after this sordid, complicated past is a chapter of America's history of racial inequality and the complex dilemma of how best to represent that history to the public.  

"When I first saw the immigration station it struck me as a very significant historic place which had been turned into a Disney-esque playland" was Chang's first reaction to spending an afternoon on the Island.  He had heard about the Immigration Station through local media and felt compelled to look into this local landmark of Asian American history.  And while he recalls thinking the Island, "cold, beautiful, and peaceful" on his first visit, it was the quasi-realistic scenes of daily life set up in the Immigration Station which provoked his first strong reaction.  The wax figurines used to recreate the immigrants experiences at the station "seemed sensationalistic" and to have "very little basis in fact."  For instance, a woman figurine with long braided hair who sits atop the bunks in what was once the women's barracks was modeled after a historic photograph of the site – although Chang states the park docents claim they're not sure whether the photograph used as a model was of the men's or women's barracks because they claim it was the fashion at the time for Chinese men to wear their hair in a long braid, or queue.  This assertion doesn't hold much water once you start to scratch the surface, though, as queues were in fashion only during the rule of the Qing dynasty in China in the 18th and 19th century and, after the fall of the Qings in 1911, were politically unpopular and generally frowned upon.  And since the Station didn't open until 1910 it is highly unlikely that any Chinese males who passed through it would still have been sporting this outdated and in fact politically dangerous hairstyle.  

To hear Chang tell it, it sounds as if the training that docents receive at Angel Island and the interpretive tours they subsequently lead are full of these sorts of historical inaccuracies and, some would say, racist stereotypes.  Like the one about the woman who committed suicide on the Island by sticking a chopstick through her ear.  Or the fact that many say the immigrants were so embarrassed by the communal restroom facilities that they wore paper bags over their head to hide their shame. Or the newest activity for school field trips which discusses the practice of bound feet – a tradition which of course only applied to women.  And of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants passing through the Immigration Station only a few were women, and most of them were too young to have been subject to a practice which was outmoded nearly half a century earlier.  The question of the accuracy of these incidents and stories seems less important to Chang than the fact that these are the occurrences that the Park staff and docents choose to focus on both when training new docents and when "interpreting" the Station for tour groups.  "The training [of the docents] focuses on these stories which sensationalize Chinese culture and alienate Asian Americans from the mainstream" says Chang - and in return the docents pass these anecdotes onto the thousands of visitors who pass through the Station every year.  It's precisely this passing on of a very skewed perspective on the immigrants lives which Chang is concerned with. "It's not just that these stories, by virtue of their sensationalistic nature, create an artificial distance between the immigrant's experiences and those of the Island's visitors, but that the very real possibility exists that the [visitors] will carry this sense of distance with them and superimpose it onto their relationships with Asian Americans."   

In an attempt to address some of these complex issues, Chang has produced a body of work which somehow manages to both respect the history of the Station and the immigrants who passed through it, while also highlighting some of the controversial aspects of the site. Several of the photographs feature the wax figurines which populate the Station, their eerily blank faces staring out from what is obviously a scene loaded with emotional history.  Other pieces take more of a lighthearted stab at the Island, such as the one showing an old public phone from the Station with instructions which have been altered to read "For Take Out Chinese Food, 3 short bells, For Oriental Massage, 2 short bells."  One entire series entitled "Circa 2005" mimics the look and feel of vintage photographs and leads the viewer to question whether the images are actual historic pieces or clever reproductions.  All in all the body of work raises questions about the portrayal of history at the Immigration Station and the impact that depiction may have on the island's visitors.  

This is not new ground for Chang, whose previous works have focused on similar questions of image versus reality.  The striking series entitled "Decadence" depicts the lavish swimming pools, posh hotels, and luxurious home decor of America's fabulously wealthy.  And yet somehow each piece, while ostensibly showcasing these scenes of luxury, cleverly manages to evoke more of a sense of emptiness and despair rather than champagne wishes and caviar dreams.  This same sort of aesthetic is utilized in "Strip Tease," perhaps Chang's most well-known body of work, which focuses on empty strip clubs.  To Chang applying these techniques to the atmosphere of the Immigration Station seemed like a natural leap, and it is a leap that serves him very well.  The stark, distanced quality of the images helps to evoke the feelings of isolation and uncertainty that no doubt plagued the immigrants during their time on the Island.  

While Chang holds no illusions that this body of work will result in radical changes in the way the state park system presents the history of Angel Island, he does hope that those who see his work may be jolted into thinking twice about the accuracy of historical "facts" which they encounter, whether at the Island or in other arenas.  It is just this type of critical perspective which he brings to his own views of ethnicity, culture, and history, and which clearly informs his work at every step of the way.  Now if only he could manage to pass some of that on into the system, which has recently budgeted $15 million dollars to completely restore the Immigration Station, then he could go back to photographing strip clubs and the filthy rich.  But I doubt it.   

Artweek

artweek.jpg

"Bay Area Now 3" at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Artweek
Vol. 33, Issue 10.
by Marisa S. Olson

(excerpt)

Thomas Chang's photos from Beijing take Vegas-style hyper-reality conversations global. In them we see the Great Wall re-created for a theme park the way The Strip is re-creating the neighboring Grand Canyon. Caricatures of "traditional" Chinese restaurants and gardens. The content of Chang's poignant documents reads more like momento mori to a bygone culture than self-homage they might hope to connote.

 

Camerawork

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Same/Difference

Camerawork
Vol. 29, No. 2
by Marisa S. Olson

Same / Difference calls attention to the unique, subjective experiences that mark hotel rooms, in opposition to the stark sameness of these pseudo-domestic zones. The artists included unravel the uniformity of the hotel space by projecting narrative fantasies onto our reading of a vacant room and commenting on our inability to communicate with others who have inhabited the same space. Visitors to the hotel can check out a key and view work ranging from video and photography to site-specific audio and textile installations.

Tommy Becker has taken over the room's bathroom with a video installation creating an eerily comic narrative about communication in relationships. Props from his video take on a new life in the room, creating a disjunction between the space of the narrative and the space in which it is experienced. Thomas Chang shows two images from his Decadence series, exploring he often-absurd efforts of "four-star hotel proprietors to decorate every inch o of their commercial space. Heather Johnson documents her travels through photographs, text, and textile sculptures. Johnson, has made these documents of exteriority site specific by embroidering the room's lines, and other objects, with words and images related to travel, transience, and hotel space.

Through the use of the room's phone, Jeff Karolski invites participants to be telegraphed into a highly intimate space. Forwarding his own personal answering machine messages for the length of the installation, Karolski transforms the hotel room's voicemail box into a living record of one person's life.

Laura Larson shows two photos from her newest series on "dirty" hotel rooms, where the generic nature of the spaces is overwritten by the mysterious personal traces left after check-out. Geof Oppenheimer condenses personal living space to the confines of a t-shirt. Hanging in the roomÕs closet are t-shirts printed with slogans a la the generic "I love New York." Embodying the Same/Difference theme, the shirts are printed in a mass-produced style, yet their messages imply an investment in "uniqueness" and imbue a portability to the materially-constructed identity.

Graham Parker's slide installations, Diogenes and Barnum, document the artist's reinterpretation of anecdotal accounts of moments in history. In the desk drawer are printing blocks, ink, and notepads on which visitors can print excerpted myths about Irish playboy soccer star, George Best. This will be the first of an ongoing series made on notepaper from hotels at which the artist has stayed making messy, physical, and local the portable meme of international anecdote. Sam Kraus displays fifty identical antique keys, within a vintage suitcase, each fictionally-linked to a unique hotel. The keys are meant to reflect the seemingly machine-made, sterile, anonymous side of hotels, juxtaposed with the subjective, mysterious ways that visitors use hotel rooms.

 


Artweek

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Thomas Chang, Belinda Gray and Sharon Wickham at Andrea Schwartz Gallery
 
Artweek 
by Christine Brenneman

There's nothing quite like a photograph to lend a new perspective and weight to an ordinary object. Taken out of the larger context of the real world, the image and the scene it depicts becomes a thing separate and more easily mined for visual richness. At a recent San Francisco show, three Northern California photographers transformed details from our contemporary landscape into relevant and intriguing artistic motifs. The trio, Thomas Chang, Belinda Gray and Sharon Wickham, all shed light on hidden or ignored spaces in their color prints, but their chosen subject matter wildly divergent.

Thomas Chang showed large-scale photos of the vacant interiors of strip clubs, brightly lit and garishly furnished. In his Lap Dance Chair, Boys Toys, deep, overstuffed chairs in tacky fabrics lined up empty against a wall, elevated strip tease poles ascending to the ceiling between each chair. Like a theater set awaiting its actors, the room was conspicuously empty and devoid of life; without undulating flesh, the club seemed plain, boring and entirely uninviting. Yet against this back drop, fantasies of all kinds play out on a nightly basis. Chang allowed entry into these nightspots, minus dancers and patrons, inviting viewers to project their own ideas onto the space.

Tackling an altogether more wholesome American pastime, fellow photographer Belinda Gray shot rural county fairs and showed the culture contained therein. Beauty queens, 4-H girls, and a bevy of fair-goers occupied her huge color prints. Sonoma-Marin county Fair No. 1, Petaluma, CA June 2001 introduced a middle-aged, bleached blonde woman working at a concession stand stuffed with cotton candy and every imaginable variety of junk food. All angles and sun-bleached hues, the piece works not only as portrait of this woman, but also as a portrait of the world of the county fair. For what else is the fair experience if not sugar, townies and too much sun?

Sharon Wickham left the rural milieu far behind in her tiny color studies of abandoned furniture left on the streets of San Francisco. Couches, chairs and anything else discarded on the city's alleyways and avenues were fair game in Wickham's works. Her Torso captured the sadly forsaken vestige of a low-slung, creamy-white couch sectional thatÕs missing a seat cushion. With soft focus, and use of a technique photographer call "vignetting" (darkening the edges of the print in a circle around the subject), Wickham created an old-time portrait feel. She treated these castoffs as something to be revered or at the very least noticed.

This triumvirate of photographers adeptly recognized and highlighted the overlooked in our surroundings. The mundane, and seemingly unexceptional, became an entirely different creature through the lenses of Chang, Gray and Wickham. Though we may not all frequent strip clubs and county fairs, or comb the streets of a big city for rejected furniture, these things exist in fairly close proximity to most of us; these artists simply took not of the visual facts we usually pass over, and let the rest of us in on the secret.

 

Asianweek

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Photographer Thomas Chang Makes a Scene

Arts and Entertainment
Asianweek 
by Alison Bing 

Don't be fooled by his pensive, mild-mannered demeanor. Photographer Thomas Chang knows how to make a scene. Wherever his photographs appear, youÕll hear the same chorus: "Hey, look at this?", " Is that...?" and the occasional "What the...?!"

So why all the ruckus? At first glance, Chang's large color photographs seem perfectly calm: empty lap dance chairs at sex clubs, unoccupied rooms at fancy hotels and unattended souvenir stalls in China. Without people in them, these places appear to be reserved Ð in both senses of the word.

But then it strikes you: You may have been to places like this, but you'd never really considered them before. Do people actually find beige vinyl chairs sexy? Who in the world decided palm-frond wallpaper looked ritzy? Isn't there a certain irony to cashing in on Mao memorabilia? Hence all the musing aloud at a Thomas Chang show. ItÕs as though there's a question mark embedded in every piece.

"I look for places that are odd, that don't make sense to me," explained Chang. "I hope other people find them funny too." It's impossible to keep my own critique and personal views of these places out of the photographs, but I try very hard not to preach through them. I want to allow the audience to explore these spaces that they might not access for themselves."

ACCESSING ALL AREAS
Chang accesses his photography locations the same way he accesses his viewers' psyches: by smarts and stealth. This is a man who's snapped forbidden photographs in Las Vegas casinos and convinced real estate agents into letting him enter $3 million condos cloistered behind closed gates. But his greatest challenge to date has been getting past beefy bouncers to take photographs of strip club furniture for this "Striptease" series.

"I had to stop working on that series because I couldn't get into any more clubs," he said. But he did talk his way into several, including the newest and oldest strip clubs in San Francisco.

"When I went into Boys Toys, it was brand-spanking new," Chang said, pun clearly intended. " I went in through the back alley right into the kitchen, and the guy working there sent me upstairs to see the public relations manager, who was very enthusiastic about me taking photos. He even said, I can have some dancers come in a stage everything for you." I told her "Thanks, I just want to come in some afternoon when the club's closed and no one's there" and she graciously obliged."

While Chang's shot of Boys Toys eerily resembles a corporate lobby or dentist's office, his photos of older clubs are considerably seedier. "The inside of the Hungry I looked like how I imagine it looked when it first opened the same décor, the same moldy curtains," Chang recalled. "those green napkins you see on the side table at the Hungry I were actually there though, and it makes you wonder, what exactly are the for?"

INTERNATIONAL MASTER OF INTRIGUE 
All his time lurking around San Francisco strip clubs paid off for Chang, when his "Striptease" series landed him a Fulbright fellowship to China last year. "I was interested in the spectacle of the East that's produced for Western tourists," Chang explained. "I got really into Mao kitsch. I wanted to understand how people in the Chinese tourist industry felt about making money off Mao memorabilia from Western tourists, who have no sense of personal histories with Mao. How is it to sell Mao nail clippers, [especially] when Mao has been such a significant, often painful figure in you lifetime?"

Though he was warned that taking photos in Beijing could get him into trouble, Chang nonchalantly shot rolls of film right under the watchful eye of the People's Liberation Army. "Being Asian American definitely helped, because people didn't necessarily know I was American," he said. "But still, I drew a lot of attention because I work very slowly with a large camera and I take pictures of things Ð which in Chinese culture is just unheard of. There was always the question, Why isn't someone you know posing and smiling in front of the camera?"

Politics proved less of an issue for Chang than economics. "People were very open to my taking photographs," he remarked. "Occasionally they'd want me to buy something, which I didn't want to do for the sake of taking a photograph. That was partly what I was there to critique: Western tourists coming in and giving a dollar to some local to pose for a photograph."

WESTERN DECADENCE 
Economics has been a focal concern of Chang's well before he went to China, beginning with his "Decadence" series taken in Las Vegas casinos, swank hotels and high-priced condos. These photos are the antithesis of the average picture-perfect brochure shots. Instead, they deliberately expose what Chang calls "the cracks in the façade of luxury.

In one telling "Decadence" photograph, a lone hothouse plant holds center stage on a tacky end table, back-lit like an aging movie star by a huge bay window. "That was taken at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which to me represents a whole way of life," Chang explained. "My work is a critique of and curiosity about that upper-class lifestyle, and the priorities that go along with it."

Chang sees right through the gaudy artifice and careful stage-dressing of the supposedly classy joints he photographs, having grown up in the land of movie sets and glamorous fakery commonly know as Los Angeles. "A lot of time, money and thought goes into those ornamental details, and often they're overlooked," he observed. "But when you put it all in a frame and up on a wall, you look at it very differently What were they thinking when they wallpapered the ashtray with the same pattern as the walls and the carpet?"

COMING ATTRACTIONS 
With his provocative, tongue-in-cheek shots of landmark hotels and other roadside attractions, Chang has become a featured attraction in his own right. His "Striptease" photographs recently stole the show at Andrea Schwartz Gallery, and his "Decadence" hotel interiors are the sensational centerpiece of the new S.F. Camerawork show at the Hotel Triton. Come October, Chang's photographs of Mao souvenir stands will be causing the commotion at Bay Area Now, the annual show of rising art stars at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Look out for him there  he'll be the guy surveying the scene from an odd angle, with the astutely appraising eye

San Francisco Bay Guardian

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 Critic's Choice

San Francisco Bay Guardian
by Lindsey Westbrook


Thomas Chang, Belinda Gray, Sharon Wickham at Andrea Schwartz Gallery

THOMAS CHANG'S PHOTOGRAPHS of anonymous empty chairs and couches seem at first as though they could have been shot in any office lobby or airport lounge. Then you start to notice the other furniture in the rooms, such as the vertical metal poles and wall-mounted TVs, and if that doesn't tip you off, then the titles (Voyeur's Lounge, Lap Dance Chair) certainly will. It's surprising how spooky a vacant strip club can look in the bright light of day. The rooms have a subtly malevolent vibe, like a Twin Peaks set. The head-on photographs put us in the position of neither dancer nor patron, but of awkward visitor/voyeur with nothing to watch and not even any darkness or crowd in which to hide.

Whereas Chang takes photos of environments with their usual subjects mysteriously absent, Sharon Wickham zooms in on her subjects, almost completely removing them from their environments. Wickham roams San Francisco's sidewalks in search of abandoned furniture. Totally decontextualized and in fuzzy focus, the discarded sofas and mattresses in her pictures almost come alive, taking on distinct personalities of their own. Wickham helps them along with humorous titles: for example, She's Gone (a love seat that's missing a cushion) and Courting (a couple of sofa cushions in a libidinous position). Her photos include elements of lighthearted goofiness, but the effect is overshadowed by an even stronger sense of melancholy; viewing her row of images is a little like walking past the cages at the pound, wishing you could take all the puppies home with you and knowing that you can't. Gloomy, muted light and a monochromatic color palette warn of impending bad weather; the rain isn't going to make this sad, lonely furniture any more adoptable.


San Francisco Chronicle

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Fine Furnishings
San Francisco Chronicle Online
by Alison Bing

If you're looking to furnish your mental space with some new ideas, head over to Andrea Schwartz's new group show. Devoid of occupants and their fantasies, Thomas Chang's show-stealing lap-dance chairs are deliberately and provocatively uncomfortable. The beige vinyl overstuffed chairs and wall-mounted television in "Lap Dance Chair, Boys Toys" are exactly the nondescript, clinical decor you'd find in a dentist's office, but for the poles rigged up between them and the prominently featured magnum of champagne. "Lap Dance Chair, Gold Club" shows more signs of humanity -- perhaps too many for comfort, what with the indelible hiney-print in the red plush couch, the used green cocktail napkins on the gold side table, the stained red walls and the worn-out palm-frond carpeting.

Belinda Gray shows spectators as part of the furniture at rural county fairs, just as surely as the ring toss and roller coasters. "Lassen County Fair No. 3, Susanville, CA, July 2001" shows a carny flanked by sawdust-stuffed animals and a wall of balloons to be as colorful and elusive as her surroundings: Her gray hair is dyed caution orange, a faint mustache asserts itself on her upper lip, and her eyes seem far away. In "California State Fair No. 4, Sacramento, CA, July 2001," a couple dressed up in anticipation of a big day out is captured taking a breather in the misleadingly named "Oriental Fantasy Garden." This couple could come off as caricatures given his toupee and ironed blue jeans and her rhinestone-studded shades and blond bouffant, except for the evident amusement Gray captures in the gentleman's spry blue eyes.

Sharon Wickham's intimate portraits of discarded furniture have a certain melancholy flair; it's as though we're seeing homes breaking before our eyes. "She's Gone" shows an abandoned tan couch missing a cushion, its pink underbelly bared to view as it sits on the sidewalk. There's a whimsical humor here, too -- "Patriot" shows an upended blue couch with exposed red-and-white lining as a desultory salute to our throwaway culture. -- Alison Bing, special to SF Gate Andrea Schwartz Gallery, 333 Bryant St., Suite 180, SF; Mon-Fri 9 am-5 pm and Sat by appointment; free; (415) 495-2090.

 

The New York Art World

Absence/Presence

M.Y. Art Prospects 
The New York Art World 
by Merrily Kerr

This show focuses on how the human body relates to physical spaces, in the absence or intimate presence of unspecified people, on the example of work by three artsists; each of whom utilizes different media.

Kaoru Motomiya's Untitiled installation, comprised of over thirty delicate strings covered with shinning beads of resin and ending in organic, egg-like globes, hang from the ceiling over carefully arranged pieces of a broken mirror and black glass. As part of a very different piece, entitled Seven pieces for studio #11 of ISCP, Motomiya made casts from the empty spaces between the floorboards of her studio during a recent residency. In three small sculptures made of leather and clay she reproduces the empty spaces filled by her castes, sewing each closed with colored thread.

Thomas Chang's photographs reveal the interior of empty strip clubs, in non-business hours, thereby "stripping bare" the faade that dim lights, mirrors and loud music create.

Sung-ah Chang delights in the texture of hair. From photographs of her own hair, taken as she lies down, Chang produces large-scale drawings in charcoal in which her face is rarely visible. In Deep Sleeping, she captures waves of hair as they bend, twist, slump and fall during sleep; affecting a uniquely intimate portrait. Each of these artist succeeds in articulating the fragile boundary between private and public space.

Surface Magazine

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Thomas Chang 
Surface Magazine 
by Marisa S. Olson

Fancying himself a bit of a private dick I search of the naked truth, Thomas Chang photographs empty strip clubs, Las Vegas brothels, five star hotel rooms, and other private spaces, launching investigations into their occupants, and focusing on the spectacle of decadence. Indulging a habit of shooting vacant spaces, Chang tries to comment on the missing persons by looking at their remnants. Like a true detective, Chang enjoys the sense of mystery his work invokes, forcing viewers to chase their own stories and questions. "We understand a photograph in terms of what we do not see as much as what we do see, " says the artist. "This shift of absence and presence is mediated by our own everyday experiences." With an education including the usual doses of Benjamin and Baudelaire, Chang's conversation is laced with the weighty jargon of critics who are as abstracts as they are well-intentioned. The actuality of what goes on in a strip club is a little too obvious for Chang. He does, however, appreciate the ambivalent portability and transience of burlesque décor. "These could be airports, or corporate lounges. There are only a few cues clueing the viewer in to the actual function of these spaces, and the fact that something tawdry may be going on."

Soft-spoken and clean cut, Chang enjoys the "seedy side" of his brand of voyeurism. And occupational hazard some men would die for, Chang estimates he has crossed the threshold of ten strip clubs for every one that has let him take pictures. Bringing his portfolio helps. But Chang generally does not like to show proprietors his finished product. "This is a critique. I am criticizing what happens in these spaces, " the artist plainly states. To his surprise, some club owners have liked his work enough to commission commercial shoots. But Chang isnÕt sure they "get it." And in any case he is not comfortable crossing the line between critic and consumer.

"Mystery, helplessness and the barriers between time and space are what disassociate individuals from society, in these clubs," Chang says, justifying his beef with the subjects of his Strip Tease series. Anything but a prude, Chang's concern actually lies in the lack of sexual satisfaction inherent in the strip joint exchange. " they are offering false promises. People go in seeking one thing and inevitably come out more frustrated, alone, or dissatisfied," explains the pseudo-sociologist. "Club owners and patrons are playing a complicated game, [offering the] illusion of a reward."

The bottom line throughout the entire body of work is that the spaces we most often esteem as attractive generally turn out to be the most vulgar. Questioning the façade of pleasure's design through the manipulation of scenery and ornament, Chang diagnoses the maladies of superficiality. This effort extends far beyond the reach of the stripper's pole, into the living rooms of Beverly Hills' elite and the garages of suburbiaÕs fathers.

In his Decadence series, Chang moves beyond looking at absence, into looking at the presence of unnoticed signifies of luxury. Large hotel spaces occupied only by a perfectly-placed exotic plant or piece of furniture express disgust with both unsuccessful luxe and the waste of materials in the name of class. Images of drained hotel and residential swimming pools (the "ultimate ornament" in Chang's book) read contradictorily as both elaborately staged (perhaps because of the artist's signature large-scale exhibits), and on-the-fly, by virtue of their ribaldry. Who would dare allow Chang to expose such dirty vacancy to the world? "We try to console ourselves with decorations - things we place on shelves, swimming pools. We seek out these spaces Ð strip clubs, hotels, pools - in search of need fulfillment, wanton for a sense of comfort, familiarity. Inevitably we are unfulfilled, emptier and out a lot of money."

As Chang describes his philosophy, it seems we lose this game in so many aspects of life: fashion, design, perhaps even spirituality. It's hard for most of us to face up to Chang's dogma. But the artist is reassuring: Seeing beyond our statuettes and tree-lined driveways to the beauty in the banal, vernacular and everyday subjects and exchanges of ordinary livelihood, Chang hopes that others will come to assign the same romanticism to real world interaction.

It may be this self-effacing, unfiltered portrait of American materialism that is indeed the sexiest aspect of ChangÕs work. Empty strip joint stages canÕt hold a candle to good old-fashioned self-reflection. Fortunately, our Ôtrue selvesÕ emerge much more glamorous on the other side of Chang's rosy lens.

 

SF Station

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GenArtSF Presents Emerge 2000

SF Station 
by Rodrigo Diaz 

GenArtSF's third Emerge exhibition displays a continuing dedication to the organization's mission of presenting the work of emerging artists. This year's roundup of artists shows a great sense of diversity in the types of issues that are addressed in the work. Many of the artists complete their various inquiries thoughtfully, and the resulting work is complimented by its successful execution and delivery. The unique subject matter of the work of two artists, in particular, is especially unique.

Thomas Chang's photographs stands out in their minimalist presentation of a location, their humorous initial deception, and their ideas of gendered space. These photographs interiors that are stark, sparsely decorated, and devoid of people are initially impressive through their quietude, while, at the same time, presenting a calming dullness in their 70's colors and plain decor (almost like some sort of interior design anesthesia). The humor lies in the fact that these dull, hotel lobby-like locations are actually "strip joints." Here, Chang has starkly illuminated the domain of misogyny and patriarchy, where only a select group go to participate in a highly charged dance of sex and power. Yet Chang has documented these interiors with it participants absent. Interestingly, the photographs document a particularly ambiguous environment, which, presented without its participants, is unable to achieve its erotic intent.

Wendy Heldmann's work also deals with constructed environments. Yet hers is a more personal, and more commonplace investigation. Having moved numerous times in her childhood, Heldmann addresses her idea of the "home as an icon." The work is in two distinct formats. One is in the form of small drawings, outlines of houses, repeated over and over on top of one another (giving them the appearance of movement and instability). The drawings are then placed over a symmetrical pattern of small, brightly colored squares. The other format is a construction of a miniature street block, defined by a square of Astroturf, with diminutive houses made of various swatches of fabric, with pictures ironed on their exteriors. Like small windows offering views of their confines, these houses (and the culturally coded swatches of fabric) function as quick snapshots of the families within. Heldmann’s investigation of the idea of home is tremendously poignant in a time where housing prices, and the idea of domestic stability are getting exceedingly out of reach for most people. In other pieces, the artist also investigates the construction of suburban track housing by repeating not the outline of a house, but the patterns of housing developments which are traced on top of a checkered background. Where it is now the norm to view homes as investments, hop scotching from larger home to larger home, her questioning of the definition of house vs. a home forms a pointed investigation of the concept of shelter.

There is a final irony in this work being included in GenArtSF's Emerge 2000 exhibition: an annual exhibition that seems to have no permanent home for itself. Despite the challenge of continual dislocation, GenArt is to be commended for it success in effectively supporting young artists whose explorations are often refreshing and definitive.

San Francisco Weekly

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SF Art Institute MFA Show  
San Francisco Weekly  
by Josi Marquez

The tantalizing tension between still-life and motion picture turns up in a series of photographs by H. Jung Shim and Thomas Chang. Shim's deadpan color prints depict scenes from straight porn movies projected, at night, over the facades of staid two-family homes in what appears to be the Sunset district. These funny if pranksterish moments of "uncovering" porn in the parochial neighborhood, (did the people in the house know what was playing outside?) alternate with interior shots of clean and banal living rooms in which television set is also playing porno films.

Chang, on the other hand, takes a more traditional approach to the subject matter, succeeding mainly by dint of his ostensible craft as a photographer. In a series of large color prints, Chang depicts the minimal and tacky interiors of strip joints. Unfortunately, one of the prints had been dinged (vandalism by an adult dancer, angered by his/her absence?) temporarily breaking the spell cast by Chang's bright and cheery diorama of evacuated "adult dancing" clubs. So familiar did these locales seem, at first, that I mistook them for the basement "rec rooms" of families who suddenly struck it rich in the 1970's.

 

KQED Arts

Present Tense Biennial: Chinese Character

By Claire Light
KQED Arts
May 05, 2009

“…Thomas Chang, who's been making a career out of photographing charged spaces empty of people, to see what is left behind; Chang's photo series of Chinese landmarks can only be called surreal in the scenes' utter absence of human presence. It's squirmily uncomfortable, and some of the best work such a show can present.” 

Read the full article:

http://www.kqed.org/arts/visualarts/article.jsp?essid=24563 

  

Hideous Sunday

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Hideous Sunday

Subjunctive 

"Thomas Chang, for example, explores what’s left of a theme park in Orlando, Florida fallen into disrepair. The miniature monuments captured in C-Prints have a haziness in the details which only serves to draw attention to the haziness behind the enterprise itself. The brain child of the Chinese government, the amusement site was meant to foster interest in tourism with replicas of famous sites in 1/10th scale. A facsimile of Tengwang Pavilion however is now gutted, the front exposed like a doll house and overgrown with weeds. This official “imprimatur” of Chinese culture, made for export and based on sites of historic importance and grandeur, has an interesting counterpart in the export of Americaness in Charlene Tan’s work (more on that in a bit)."

Read the full article:
http://hideoussunday.wordpress.com/2009/07/07/subjunctive/

Artweek

cleanartweek_logo.jpg

"Bay Area Now 3" at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Artweek
Vol. 33, Issue 10, Dec 2002 / Jan 2003.
by Marisa S. Olson

(excerpt)

Thomas Chang's photos from Beijing take Vegas-style hyper-reality conversations global. In them we see the Great Wall re-created for a theme park the way The Strip is re-creating the neighboring Grand Canyon. Caricatures of "traditional" Chinese restaurants and gardens. The content of Chang's poignant documents reads more like momento mori to a bygone culture than self-homage they might hope to connote.

 

New York Art World Magazine

Absence/Presence

M.Y. Art Prospects 
The New York Art World Magazine
May, 2001
by Merrily Kerr 

This show focuses on how the human body relates to physical spaces, in the absence or intimate presence of unspecified people, on the example of work by three artsists; each of whom utilizes different media.

Kaoru Motomiya¹s Untitiled installation, comprised of over thirty delicate strings covered with shinning beads of resin and ending in organic, egg-like globes, hang from the ceiling over carefully arranged pieces of a broken mirror and black glass. As part of a very different piece, entitled Seven pieces for studio #11 of ISCP, Motomiya made casts from the empty spaces between the floorboards of her studio during a recent residency. In three small sculptures made of leather and clay she reproduces the empty spaces filled by her castes, sewing each closed with colored thread.

Thomas Chang¹s photographs reveal the interior of empty strip clubs, in non-business hours, thereby "stripping bare" the façade that dim lights, mirrors and loud music create.

Sung-ah Chang delights in the texture of hair. From photographs of her own hair, taken as she lies down, Chang produces large-scale drawings in charcoal in which her face is rarely visible. In Deep Sleeping, she captures waves of hair as they bend, twist, slump and fall during sleep; affecting a uniquely intimate portrait. Each of these artist succeeds in articulating the fragile boundary between private and public space.