by Ann M. Colford
Transience is a fact of 21st-century life. People travel across the state or across an ocean regularly for business or pleasure. Many of us find ourselves a continent away from our childhood homes, as jobs and lifestyle choices pull us far from our geographic source. The homogeneity of the American suburban landscape serves to blur the distinctions among places until the familiarity of McDonald's and Wal-Mart replaces the comfort of local knowledge.
Given that we are predominantly a nation of immigrants, our transience should not surprise. We have acquired our restless and rootless natures through heredity. And yet notions of home and hearth hold a prominent place in the American imagination as well. For what do immigrants seek but a better life -- a better home -- for themselves and their families? But in today's world, when people change addresses almost as often as they change clothes, what is the meaning of home?
These are some of the questions tackled in a lecture series to be presented this fall and winter by the Seattle Art Museum. Billed as Creating Home: Contemporary Artists in a Global Society, the series offers four lectures by distinguished artists and scholars in conjunction with four special exhibitions taking place at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM Downtown) and the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM Volunteer Park).
The tension between mobility and stability, change versus stasis, has long been explored by artists. The idea for the series came about as museum staff looked ahead to the exhibitions planned for the year, says public relations manager Cara Egan.
"The curatorial and education departments put their heads together and saw these issues and images of home reflected in the work of the artists in these exhibitions," she says. "They were dealing with questions of What is home? and How do we make our homes in different cultures?"
The first lecture, by UCLA art history professor Miwon Kwon, is set for Friday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 pm in Stimson Auditorium at SAAM Volunteer Park. Kwon has written extensively about identity and art in the public sphere; her research incorporates architecture, public art and urban studies. Entitled "Moving Home: Changing Place and Site-Specific Art," her talk will focus on the work of Korean artist Do-Ho Suh, whose sculptures are on display through Dec. 1 at both SAM Downtown and SAAM Volunteer Park. Kwon authored the catalogue for the Do-Ho Suh exhibition.
"It seems our very sense of self-worth is predicated more and more on our suffering through the inconveniences and psychic destabilizations of ungrounded transience, of not being at home -- or not having a home -- of always traversing through elsewheres," Kwon wrote recently in Art Journal. "The more we give in to the logic of nomadism... the more we are made to feel wanted, needed, validated and relevant."
Suh, who divides his time between Seoul and New York City, has created a series of full-scale silk and nylon installations based on the interiors of his past and present homes. One such piece, Seoul Home/L.A. Home/New York Home/Baltimore Home/London Home/Seattle Home, a green fabric recreation of his childhood home in Korea, hangs suspended in a gallery at SAAM Volunteer Park. Its name evolves as the sculpture migrates from place to place, raising issues of identity in the dislocation of personal spaces. Other pieces address the differences in individual and collective identities among diverse cultures.
In December, artist Judith Baca comes to SAM Downtown for "Making Civic Spaces in Uncivilized Places," presented in conjunction with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism, on display through Jan. 5. In her large-scale public art works like The Great Wall of Los Angeles, Baca draws inspiration from Rivera and other great muralists of the early 20th century. As founder of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in Venice, Calif., she mobilizes diverse community groups to transform blighted areas of Los Angeles into civic spaces through the creation of public art.
Seattle artist Maki Tamura is on tap in January for "Meow, Meow, Meow: The Art and Culture of Hello Kitty," a discussion of her installation featuring the popular mascot from Japan whose image adorns all manner of consumer goods. Her installation of a decorated girl's bedroom is part of Rabbit, Cat, Horse: Endearing Images in Japanese Art, an exhibition at SAAM Volunteer Park that examines images of animals in Japanese art and folklore from the 4th century to the present.
Finally, March brings in Houston artist Rick Lowe for "Project Row Houses," a discussion of his public art program in Houston's beleaguered Third Ward neighborhood, presented with Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence. In conjunction with other artists and community groups, Lowe's program renovated 22 shotgun-style houses and created art galleries, workshop spaces, offices and housing for young single mothers where they can learn life skills in child care, money-management and home care. The program preserved an important part of the neighborhood's African-American heritage while tackling the very real problems affecting residents today.