December 2008, Shifted Focus @ space180 Gallery

December 2008, Shifted Focus @ space180 Gallery
Kana Tanaka Aqueous Photo credit: Elton Sin

SHIFTED FOCUS: 10th Anniversary APAture Retrospective
Curated by Ellen Oh and Sally Szwed
space180 Gallery - October 26, 2008 through January 23, 2009 

by Jackie Im

For ten years, Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture festivals have been exciting and illuminating events showcasing multi-disciplinary works by emerging Asian Pacific American artists in the San Francisco Bay Area. For a city that has a large Asian Pacific American population, Kearny Street Workshop aims to represent this community and create engaging dialogues through the arts. Though I will confess, as a Korean American artist and curator, I often find myself conflicted with being labeled as such. How often do you see Caucasian artists being labeled as ‘Caucasian artist,’ yet we brand others by these identifiers – queer, African-American, Asian, etc. It’s a conflict that has yet to be resolved and may never be. 

A look back on APAture’s history could have taken the easy way out. It could have very easily been a ‘best-of’ compilation of past works or of works that were only about the Asian Pacific American experience. SHIFTED FOCUS: A 10th Anniversary APAture Retrospective provides an alternative. Curators Ellen Oh and Sally Szwed have chosen to show new works by past APAture participants, this both celebrates the past and emphasizes the new. Furthermore, the works are not necessarily dictated by what box the artist checks-off in a Census survey; the diversity of the works act to shake up any preconceived notions of what “Asian art” should look like. 

What unites the artworks is the act of investigating and looking at the world and seeing what is really there. At first glance, it looks like an accident had occurred in the gallery. Yellow tape blocks off a wall and it isn’t until you really read the tape that you come to the realization that no accident had occurred. Instead of ‘caution’ it says ‘auction’; it’s a work by Mike Arcega. Re-looking helps with Kevin B. Chen’s intensely detailed drawings of the urban California landscape. A quick look can hardly do justice to the piece; much of the paper is kept white while the buildings run along the bottom edge and the small scale makes the detail all the more breathtaking. 

Mark Baugh-Sasaki’s Phototropic Response examines man’s tendency to force nature into a preconceived image of what it should be. Here he creates a brace, forcing the tree to grow towards the TV monitor showing the sky, rather than the window just next to it. One of the most striking pieces in the exhibit is Binh Danh’s The War and Peace series, On-going (collection of such materials until the day I die). Danh uses the newspaper headline (the ultimate in snapshot news digestion) to investigate how we communicate war and peace and how eerily similar those announcements look. 

Each of the artists is engaging with how we tend to view or not view our common surroundings. In a way SHIFTED FOCUS is forcing us to rethink and review what we define as an Asian Pacific American artist. Just because you are Asian, does not mean that your subject matter can only relate to that. The works in this exhibit not only redefine what Asian American art looks like to what Asian art looks like, period. As there is so much hype and attention to the artwork coming out of Asia, and particularly China, the works in SHIFTED FOCUS brings the attention back to the art and away from the nationality. In its own subtle way, SHIFTED FOCUS succeeds in having us rethink, review and re-look our surroundings.


whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

NAIL Collective


NAIL is a curatorial collective in San Francisco California. 

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