Honolulu is having an Art Moment, and now is the time to take advantage of it. Many offerings are free!
Let’s start with the Honolulu Biennial (HB19) at the YWCA Laniākea, 1040 Richards Street, downtown Honolulu.
As you enter the light filled lobby, along the ma kai wall, are strongly colored gouache paintings by Ellen Lesperance. Bold, overlaid images and words form what look like suits of armor on the page.
Chenta Laury’s installation is based on a Moloka‘i parable that likens the innocence of children to being born with a bowl of light. Kapa, felt, stones and water are all part of this installation, and viewers are asked to participate inside a kind of luminous yurt.
It is interactive, as so many art pieces are these days, and at the Y, interactivity is brought to a head in the installation by Leimomi Bong and Roger Bong of Central Pacific Time.
Near the Diamond Head windows of the YWCA, you see a shelf with 6 plants--taro, tī , some native some not. Through the lobby you hear ambient synthesizer music, with occasional sonic punctuations.
A kid from Myron Thompson Academy, housed there at the Y, knew the exhibit really well. He ran his fingers on the plant leaves, and stroked the planters, eliciting zooms, boings, whooshes and pings with every touch.
Those accents layer over the synthesized strains of songs composed by Queen Lili‘uokalani, drifting through the lobby. According to Leimomi Bong, the installation, titled Wiliau: Entwined Currents, is based on songs the Queen wrote or rewrote while imprisoned after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Bong: I guess we hope people attach to her music in a different way, in a more experiential way. The theme of the Biennial is, “To Make Wrong Right Now,” and so in a way we wanted to make “wrong,” or mischief, by playing with her music. We want people to play with the music and make wrong, in order to come to terms with the situation that she wrote this music in, and maybe experience it in a whole new way.
Bong and Bong basically turned the plants into instruments. Each plant is a reference to Uluhaimalama, Lili‘uokalani’s garden on Punchbowl, right up the street. Directly across the Y, is ‘Iolani Palace, and the room in which the Queen was imprisoned.
You’re in the area, so head over for the Honolulu Biennial exhibit at Ali‘iōlani Hale, Hawai‘i’s Supreme Court building, behind the regal statue of Kamehameha I.
In the Supreme Court lobby just past the metal detectors, are 87 replicas of taro plants. The plants are native basalt stones with leaves made from the pages of the Hui Aloha ‘Āina anti-annexation petitions signed by Hawaiians. These 21,269 signatures cry out for an independent Kingdom of Hawai‘i. They were installed by a procession of over a hundred people, walking slowly from ‘Iolani Palace, according to the artist, Bernice Akamine.
Akamine: One of the things that was really exciting was that we had some of the descendants of ancestors who had signed the petitions carrying the plant with their ancestors’ names on it. Aunty Shirley Kauha’ihao actually flew in from Hawai‘i island and her great grandmother is the first signer on the first petition.
Activating spaces is what art is about these days---not just letting stuff sit in a room.
So MC Punahele and MC Illnomadic were invited there, amongst the stones and personal signatures in the Supreme Court lobby. Punahele’s work, especially, reveals his attitude and life on O‘ahu’s West Side, but the rappers weren’t there to perform. During Spring Break, they were there to lead a 3 ½ hour workshop for students about how hip hop can be a tool to address issues and promote change.
Another thing the 2019 Honolulu Biennial is doing, is showcasing two iconic Hawaiian artists who have never wavered in their art production over the last 5 decades.
Multi-media artist 'Imaikalani Kalahele is showing 30 years of miniature sculptures at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, and his poem provided the theme for HB19: To Make Wrong Right Now.
In addition to her installation at Ali‘iōlani Hale, Bernice Akamine’s sculpture, Ku‘u One Hānau, issues a kāhea from five locations around town. (Four, actually now, since the one at McCoy Pavillion seems to have been stolen.) Appearing to be a tent made of the Hawaiian flag, Ku‘u One Hānau draws attention to kānaka maoli houselessness in their homeland.
Related programming continues for the Honolulu Biennial, with events right up to the closing party.
Tomorrow, Good Friday, 4/19/19, there is free admission at the HUB at Ward Center, which is open Easter Sunday too.
The HB19 closing party is May 4, 2019 at the IBM building with international recording artist RY X and local musicians including HB19 artists Nicholas Galanin (We Dreamt Deaf, 2015, his taxidermied polar bear at the Honolulu Museum, truly transcends words) and Indian Agent, and Aloha Got Soul, comprised of HB19 artists Roger and Leimomi Bong. This is a fundraiser for Honolulu Biennial Foundation. Tickets and more info at Honolulubiennial.org
Do not miss Contact 2019. Honolulu’s Contact exhibitions are often the most stimulating of the year because of the way they adhere to a kānaka maoli perspective, a perspective very rooted in this place. Co-curated by Ara Laylo and Josh Tengan, the theme this year is Acts of Faith, and the show is running around and through Hawaiian Mission Houses. Kudos to Director of Operations and Collections, Elizabeth Po’oloa, and to the Hawaiian Mission Houses for this vibrant opportunity to absorb history and culture.
There is a handmade book and zine library where you might expect to see copies of the Bible. Down in a cellar, there’s magma, an eruption video, there.
Amazingly, you have another chance to see the show's stunning opening night projections this Saturday and next, 4/20 and 4/27/2019. Balderston will waltz you around the exhibition site starting at 7pm.
Even just driving by, enjoy projection art by Ara Laylo, Nicole Naone + Mitchel Viernes, and Peter Shaindlin. Alec Singer’s projection on the ‘Ewa facade of the main Mission House building---flashes of thigh, fabric, and bodies tussling in slow motion---for those who know what the missionaries were about, the mindset, the history, it makes you think.
Pretty sure this is what art is supposed to do.
All will be on view, visible after sunset (around 7:15pm) until 9pm, April 20 and 27, 2019.
There are activations for all these works continuing too, check here for more.
One of Hawai‘i’s most famous international artists, Paul Pfeiffer, is showing a signature work for HB19 at McCoy Pavillion. One huge screen shows a reworked version of the Mayweather/Pacquiao boxing match of 2015, side by side with footage of Filipino Foley artists, orchestrating and laying in the sound effects.
It’s a critique on whether seeing really can be believing. Read an Artforum article on the piece from its showing in Hong Kong.
At Foster Garden, Leland Miyano’s 50 foot double hulled voyaging canoe made of invasive species won the Honolulu Biennial’s $10,000, 2019 Golden Hibiscus Award. See it on the great lawn, near an Akamine installation.
There are several other HB19 installations at Foster Gardens. The best is by Kaua‘i’s Bruna Stude. Her 9 hanging chemigrams are translucent panels, containing altered images of endangered insect wings.
I enjoyed Chinese artist Guan Xiao’s room filling video installation at the John Young Museum on the UH Mānoa campus. Called Dengue, Dengue, Dengue, 2017, it is a mad rush of juxtaposed images and sensations, with an effect almost like literally surfing the web.
And there's more! Hope we can get to it all.