APATURE 2014 CURATOR, MELANIE ELVENA, INTERVIEWS THIS YEAR’S FEATURED ARTIST IN VISUAL ARTS, VICTORIA JANG
MELANIE: What inspires you to make art?
VICTORIA: In no order: family, communication, empathy and history.
MELANIE: What is the process like to make one of your large-scale sculptures and how long does it usually take?
VICTORIA: I use a technique called “slab building”. When I am finished forming my sculptures it takes time for the entire form to dry out in order to fire in a kiln. Moving the piece from my studio to a kiln and then from kiln to a gallery is a team effort and is an entirely separate conversation. However, I am thankful to have acquired such great colleagues and friends during these physically demanding projects. During my master program time was extremely pressing and limited. I became faster with each head I was constructing. The last large-scale clay sculpture I made took me around two weeks to build out of clay.
MELANIE: If you could give some advice to future APAture visual artists, what would it be?
VICTORIA: It is difficult to give advice to people you don’t know personally. I guess I can share an opinion from my own experience. I am gaining more enjoyment in my research. My work ethic/studio practice is being animated and challenged by the foundation of research and self exploration. It’s a benevolent cycle.
MELANIE: Do you practice any other art forms?\
VICTORIA: I am dabbling in wood working and paper. I do sketch and paint to flesh out ideas. I also play the cello.
MELANIE: If you could spend one day with any artist, living or dead, who would you spend it with?
VICTORIA: Osamu Tezuka. I love mighty atom/astro boy and have been inspired by 50s and 60s manga/manhwa as of late. I am more accustomed to the 80s recreated animated cartoon of Astro Boy— I watched it a lot growing up. I have always been interested in anthropomorphic forms. Watching the first episode of New Mighty Atom I remember so fondly of the transformation of the human boy “Toby” fabricated in to “Astro” the powerful robot created by the Ministry of Science. All of the robotic parts and plastic-rubber skin that stretched over the metal boy form was truly influential and eternally enchanting.
APATURE 2014 CURATOR, OLIVER MOK, INTERVIEWS THIS YEAR’S FEATURED ARTIST IN MUSIC, CYNTHIA LIN!
OLIVER: The song Ghost and Owl is very haunting both in its melody and lyrics. Can you tell us what lead you to write that song?
CYNTHIA: Actually, the writer Ed Lin inspired that song - he told me a story about a summer job where he house-sat and had to contend with a ghost snoring upstairs each night. The chord progression is one that I had already written a couple of other melodies to, and wasn’t yet satisfied. As with most of my songs, the first line came together for me as melody and lyric (it’s hard for me to separate the two), and from there, I really just let the muse flow. At the time, I was in my NYC studio, where I had this latch-hook rug of an owl hanging over my futon. My Persian kitty also has a owl-y look and would hang out with me late night in the studio. I felt both the snoring ghost and the flightless bird wanted to be free, and the chorus is my attempt to help everyone find some freedom.
OLIVER: Can you describe your initial vision and the process behind making your latest album, Midnight Echoes?
CYNTHIA: The initial vision was simply to capture the band as we were in the current time and place. As an artist, I’ve seen over the years that when you can gather a group of people to create something special, you should make the most of it because it may not last very long just due to life circumstances (we’ve already had 2 band members move away, and then added 2 other band members). Also, I always felt that our live shows had a special energy. So I wanted to go into the studio and track everything live. There are a variety of overdubs, mostly vocals and percussion, but the core of each track is a single take. It took us two days to do the live tracking.
After that, I worked with co-producer Rachel Lastimosa and engineer (and owner of Bird and Egg Recording Studio) Nino Moschella to craft and shape each song. We spent about a day on each song adding overdubs and mixing — really not a lot in the music producing world. They helped me so much in bringing out the personality of each song, while keeping the overall album cohesive in sound. I learned a lot about how to produce minimally with maximum effect - the album sounds vibrant and real, and I’m really proud of how it turned out.
OLIVER: It’s a rare thing to see larger bands with so many predominant APA musicians. What is the history behind you and your current band members? How did you all meet?
CYNTHIA: We are all APA! The band started with Lenny (Ukulenny - find him on youtube!), who saw me at a RAMA gig shortly after I moved to San Francisco. He invited me to jam with his Cal Band alumni friends. After jamming a couple of times, I asked if they wanted to learn my songs and play a show. Our first gig was the Taiwan Festival in Union Square 2011, and it’s grown organically from there. The Bay Area has a strong APA population, so our band demographic is not deliberate but I think reflects our community.
OLIVER: Who are some of the important people who have influenced you as a songwriter?
CYNTHIA: I fell in love with 2 styles of writing: the confessional folk kind, a la Joni Mitchell or Cat Stevens, and the American songbook kind, classic song craft from Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, etc. I appreciate real stories and an authentic voice, plus genre-bending. A shortlist of writers I love: Elvis Costello, Patty Griffin, Jeff Buckley, George Michael, Stephen Sondheim, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Neko Case, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Morrissey. Many more!
OLIVER: What’s ahead in the future creatively and music wise ?
CYNTHIA: The band is going on tour! We’re playing San Diego, Los Angeles, and Paso Robles, and it’s our first time playing outside of the Bay Area, so we’re really excited to get on the road and eat junky road food together. I’m crafting a solo jazz ukulele show called Twilight Radio, which will be more cabaret style and allow me to share the songs I love that other people wrote. I’m also excited to share more about how I became an artist and my process for staying motivated and inspired. My mantra is Follow Your Passion, and I will share stories on my blog about the struggles, triumphs, and life hacks for finding balance as an artist and human being.
APATURE 2014 CURATOR, WAHAB ALGARMI, INTERVIEWS THIS YEAR’S FEATURED ARTIST, XERIC AWARD WINNER AND AUTHOR OF SKULLBUNNIES, BEN SETO!
What’s your artistic background/how’d you get into comics/ what are your influences?
I think I began drawing before I could even speak. When I was about 5 years old, the first thing I ever drew was a crude attempt at a transformer. I drew it not knowing exactly what it was, only knowing I saw it on TV and wanted to tell my mom that it was something I liked and wanted to see again.
My first grade art teacher was the greatest influence on me towards becoming an artist. She noticed I enjoyed drawing and encouraged me to keep doing it. At the time drawing seemed to be the only thing I was good at and being phrased for it was an amazing feeling. I think the most valuable thing I can learn from my first grade art teacher is to encourage and inspire the talents in everyone you meet instead of trying to tear someone down. As I grew up I and met other artistically talented people I have met many friends that I have had the fortune of sharing a passion for art and comics with, and then there are other artists who seem to thrive from being competitive. It is when I encounter such people I try to reflect on what my first grade art teacher taught me: to enjoy, share and encourage others instead of using your talents to put yourself before others.
I was able to get into pretty nice art colleges, but I was never able to afford it, so I ended up getting as much of an education at Chabot Community college. In that environment I learned the only way to improve yourself is to have the desire and discipline to so on your own, so from there I continue to strive and struggle with that to this very day as I believe anyone who has a passion for something does.
Getting back to how I got into comics. I was huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, but the day I discovered the original Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, when I was in 5th grade, was when I decided that I wanted to be a comic book artist! I’d known about all the mainstream comics and as a child they just didn’t interest me, but the ninja turtle comics just blew my mind, and it wasn’t even in color! To me, and even when I look back at the early ninja turtle comics, they were the most epic comics art I’ve ever seen with their gorgeous screen tone shading! I’ve yet to encounter a black and white comic book as beautifully rendered with screen tone as those comics were.
When I got older I started reading more mainstream comics and by the time I was in high school I followed all the popular mainstream comic book artist at the time, but the idea to create and publish my own comics was a dream planted by the ninja turtles and then inspired into reality when my high school art teacher introduced me to her former student, comic artist Jesse Hamm. When Jesse Hamm shared his self published comics I was more inspired than ever to publish to create and publish my own. Being exposed to Jesse’s and other mediums of comic art, like a Japanese manga, I started to develop comic ideas outside of the super hero genre that I was heavy influenced by in high school.
Presently, my primary influences for creating comics is inspired by many forms of entertainment such as animated films and music and of course comics from all over the world such as slice of life, Yotsuba or surreal science fiction comics like Moebius. I am overwhelmed by how much talent there is making comics in just the mainstream alone, it’s simply awesome!
"Henagi the Ninja Girl" was distributed through Diamond distribution when you were 18, how did that come about?
My first ever attempt at self publishing was in 2002 with a comic called Waterfall. To be honest I’m quite embarrassed and at the time I was really influenced by manga, which I suppose I still am; but, somehow, I was able to get my comic distributed by Diamond. It was as simple as submitting it to them. Thinking back now I’m amazed that a 22 year guy with no real marketing or publishing expire nice was able to do that.
Your latest book “Usagi Jane and The Skullbunnies” was one of the last batch of books to win the prestigious Xeric grant, how’d that make you feel?
I was thrilled! I was dumbfounded actually. I really wasn’t expecting to win, because I had submitted my first comic and was rejected, which now I’m not surprised that it was, because it was really awful. But I really never see myself improve as an artist being so connected to my work, it just seems like an ongoing development from the very first time I started creating comics, though actually I can say there are things in my comics that I do feel proud of improving on, but to me such accomplishments are so short lived. Once I was able to absorb winning a Xeric Grant, I went back into shock and awe knowing it was given to me by none other than Peter Laird, one of the co-creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That inspired and set me on this lifelong quest to become a comic book creator! That was kinda crazy. It still kinda is. If there’s anything I could like to do next just to complete this cycle, it would be to work on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic! It still hard to believe that I won a Xeric grant. I sure there are many people out there that don’t or probably wouldn’t enjoy my work, in fact I still see lots of flaws in my work, and yet I feel really flattered and honored and validated for all my hard work— work I literally fought myself to complete and push through with no real motivation except to just tell and create a story. It just feels that, to all the naysayers, there are those in the comics industry that actually appreciate my efforts, and I will be forever humbled and grateful to Peter Laird and the Xeric Grant Foundation.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on more Skullbunnies of course, those little bunnies got lotsa stuff to do still and plenty of places and characters to meet!
I really want to start making a comic more grounded in reality and more personal. I’ve always found ways to disguise how I felt underneath fantastical story lines, but I think I want to try to create something that feels more honest and intimate, but the challenge is to get over my fears of facing and questioning my beliefs and being honest with myself.
Anything you’d like to add?
I like to thank you for having me be a part of Apature 2014! It’s a real honor to be recognized by you guys! Thank you so much!!!
APATURE 2014 CURATOR, SEAN LABRADOR Y MANZANO INTERVIEWS THIS YEAR’S LITERARY SHOWCASE FEATURED ARTIST, LEHUA TAITANO
Hafa Adai. I will just dive into this conversation. Where would you locate the moment and context when you realized you needed to be a writer?
I’ve wanted to be a writer from the moment I discovered it was something a person could be. Well, it was between Author, capital A, and Professional Fisherman. My family moved from Guam to a farm in rural North Carolina when I was four, where there were no neighborhoods, at least in the urban sense. Isolated from other kids outside of school, I spent most of my time outdoors, in the woods, telling myself stories. At some point, I started writing them down.
As I made my way through school, I turned my attention toward being an educator. I was an eight grade English teacher for five years before deciding to really focus on a writing career. That’s what placed me in Missoula, Montana, at the MFA program there. What keeps me writing is the need to address overlooked issues, overlooked people, and underrepresented audiences.
In A Bell Made of Stones published last year by Tinfish Press, you describe the violent separation from the Chamorro language—leading in to a statement occupying its own page, “inside me an island / shaped hole.” That the experience can be traced as early as 4 years old and how it echoes and propagates itself, a wave. My father was stationed at Agat Naval Base when I was in fifth grade. Like many military dependents, I was bussed to Agat Middle School. The division between military base and the civilian/local population pervades my memories of Guam—crossing the fence and living a wondrous childhood within the enclosed jungle/forest environment. In A Bell Made of Stones, the rendered text appears as ghostly after-images oscillating and collapsing between the legible and the illegible and as barbed-wire or meshed chain link fence. How did you come to decide upon the appearance of the English language to describe what you know of home. Have you returned to Guam since?
There were many factors that went into the aesthetic of the work in this book. In graduate school, I began by experimenting with ideas of the constraints and borders inherent in the presentation of “Modern American Literature.” Across genres, in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, I was being educated in the same ways I always had been, in that I was shown what “good writing” looked like—what award-winning, top-notch writing looked like. The canon, if you will. With very few exceptions, it was all written by the usual suspects, i.e. white writers, about the same things, i.e. white society, and each week, I would read more of the same from most of my peers.
So it was the accumulated physicality of having all these stacks of paper, 8.5x11” sheets-upon-sheets of this uniformity from whose content I felt alienated. And I think as a queer brown person, you come to expect that in most aspects of American life. But I had these illusions that at the highest levels of education, even in those institutions that are part of the institution that is America, that things would magically be different.
Of course, they weren’t, and at some point I needed to start making work that reacted to that. So I started to deconstruct what I knew and what I was being taught and on a really basic level, I started to push at those borders in the writing. On the page, literally typing off the margin. (Writing across a fence.) Arranging text in a way that provoked the reader (then, my peers and professors) to read in a different way. To read me in a different way, maybe. From there, I tried to align the themes I wanted to express—the violence of Colonialism, the oppression of assimilation, the theft of language, as they pertain to my experience—with the physical representation of the text on the page. To me, the enjambments and the sometimes obliteration of legibility models how I experience/d the erasure of culture, the struggle of hybridization/hyphenation.
Was there cohort or faculty resistance or inability to cross that fence into Guam turned text, or text turned Guam? As any MFA program attracts students from across the nation and maybe internationally, there would be this expectation of being open to the various narratives and worlds described in those narratives.There lacked a cultural accessibility and critical understanding in my MFA experience at two different programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Much hesitation and much uncertainty at how to access writing about specific encounters with American colonialism. Montana seems the furthest from to find a cohort. How were you able to navigate the cultural amnesia or even denial or shock that Guam is an example of ongoing military occupation-and what occupation means?
I’m not sure I’d call it resistance, per se. Or maybe resistance in the sense of being able to be unperturbed by what I was bringing up, content-wise. Don’t get me wrong—there were a few professors and a few, close peers who were interested in critical analysis of colonialism, of misogyny, homophobia, racism, white supremacy, and a host of other pertinent themes of our society. The majority, however, react in that way people do who have the privilege of being able to ignore social ills and therefore do, which is to say they responded with a kind of vacant non-reaction. A silence that says I might acknowledge these problems you speak of, but I don’t really wanna talk about them. If I don’t respond, maybe we’ll move on to someone else’s story.
I did have one professor in particular, Katie Kane, who really does get it. She is/was an ally to me and helped get my work distributed to academic circles in which it could receive critical feedback. That’s actually how Craig Santos-Perez, a fellow Chamoru writer, and I became acquainted. (This is a much longer story, but Craig’s work is the first Chamoru work I had ever encountered, and we’re peers—if that sheds light on the alienation I spoke of.) Katie presented a paper I had written on Chamoru indigeneity at the NAISA Conference (I didn’t get funding from my program to attend, so she presented on my behalf), and Craig was in attendance. The moment of finally getting to read literature from a writer with a shared cultural experience was life-changing. Being connected to other writers through a mentor is much of what helped me cope. I could talk about occupation with few peers and mentors, of whom I still consider to be some of my closest friends.
So much of why I moved to the Bay Area was to be physically closer to a cohort of radically minded artists. I have not been back to Guam since my family moved. I have a lot of family there—my oldest sister, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. When I left at four, I was unaware of what colonialism was or meant. I began to find out very quickly, however, when I started school in North Carolina the following year.
Do tell! How did you as a 4 year old recognize colonialism in North Carolina that was not easily recognizable in Guam. As I ask this question, I remember the reaction to a novel-in-verse manuscript I wrote for an Adolescent Literature Workshop during my MFA at Mills College. My class questioned the first grade characters’ ability to recognize imperialism or militarism. It was set on a military base. I think any child who shows any interest why the military parent is constantly deployed will soon track that parent’s deployment around the world and eventually encounter the stark reality of America’s foreign policy. It is a rapid course of geopolitics. Anyways, live on a military base with many clearly marked bomb shelters and every marker of war, a 6 year old, and even a 4 year old will need to know how to navigate to safety without the parent.
I agree with your assessment of children’s abilities to recognize systems that influence their lives, as these systems inform the very thing children are most focused on, which is the family unit, whatever that may look like. For me, I began to understand aspects of U.S. militarism as a byproduct of understanding perceived racial/ethnic differences once I started school. On Guam, I never thought about race or even recognized that my father was white and my mother was brown. My father’s time in the Air Force had come and gone long before I was born, so I never experienced the physical presence of military personnel in our family life. I never lived on a base. The center of my life was in the Chamoru village of Yigo, living among my extended family. That is what I miss most about those years—truly being part of that family community.
When I started school in NC, I was immediately made to feel othered. Kids didn’t want to talk to me, or they teased me about being a foreigner or a “half-breed.” I was one of two kids of color in the entire elementary school. All the teachers, save one, were white. The single black teacher was talked about in the worst ways imaginable. My own teacher made assumptions about my abilities based on my name and skin color. She put me in the remedial reading groups and suggested I might need special ed. classes, though I could already read, write, and do basic math before I started kindergarten.
In this new, mostly white setting, it didn’t take long to craft my story. The story I would soon learn would be demanded of me to explain my existence. “I’m from Guam. But my dad is American. He was in the Air Force when he met my mom.” Later, I would choose to be proud of my Chamoru ancestry, adding lines to my script: “I’m Chamorro. I’m from Guam. My dad is American.” But even if I left out the bit about the Air Force, it seemed to be embedded into other’s consciousness that I must have a father in the military, otherwise why would I be there, on the so-called Mainland. And though kids never seemed to know much about Guam or where it was or what it meant for me to be Chamoru, they did seem to respond positively to my dad having been in the military, and it became a shield for me, something I would throw out, when, while judging the looks on their faces at my explanation of origin, there entered a mark of suspicion or discomfort on their faces. I became aware of an implicit association between U.S. armed forces and my island home, and I knew it was not an equitable relationship. At five, I think I understood the relationship to be based on ownership, and I knew the “right” thing to do to be accepted was to disavow my Chamoru heritage and claim my father’s as much as possible.
The truth is, this line of questioning has never ceased, in or out of school, and I get asked about my ethnicity on a daily basis. The line of questioning doesn’t always lead to assumptions of militaristic association, because I now cut people short and don’t allow them to interrogate me in the same ways I did as a kid, but occasionally it goes there. It has taken a lot of work as an adult to deconstruct the perversities that informed my own identity building as a youth.
From built space and infrastructures to nature. Returning to “inside me an island / shaped hole,” In ABell Made of Stones, I sense there is an environmental critique, specifically how intergenerational trauma is embodied by the land. Are you concerned that text by itself may not be enough to convey such depth of emotion or history, the mirror between place and writer?
I am always/certainly/morethanmostthings concerned that the text will never be enough.
Why do you rely on the form of poetry to relate these issues of land and body? Does poetry bring you closer (or an audience) to the land, closer to the body?
Poetry is the form that makes the most sense to me now. I’m not sure it always has. I’ve been more of a storyteller than poet, really. But I think poetry is the form (of writing) that gets me closest to a boundless, borderless means of making written meaning. This is perhaps too general, but poets seem to rely on less hard rules. Maybe this isn’t really true, and I’m just conflating the openness of poetry with the openness of the poets who have encountered the work. In my experience, readers of fiction come to expect the way a story should look. How it should be read. But readers of poetry seem to be more open to creative forms, to chaos and disorder. In that sense, I think choosing to represent my work in a poetic form approaches content in a way that visual art might, which is how I tend to want to convey issues of land and body. ( am exploring the boundaries of visual and written art, and I tend to want to combine them, or at least open the door of conversation between one and the other. One of the poems in A Bell Made of Stones is literally written on my body. Part of the “Maps” series, it is a tattoo of the outline of the island of Guam. I had it inked on my inner forearm upon completing the book. When I raise my fist in resistance to our island’s occupation, it is readable.
Hello everyone. As some of you may know I work for Kearny Street Workshop as the Program Manager. Every year we throw a festival called APAture, which focuses on emerging artists of Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicities. So far we’ve raised $945 and have just 13 days until the campaign ends. Any level of donation helps and believe me if 5-10 is all you got, then cool. But for higher spenders out featured Comics & Illustration Showcase artist Ben Seto is generously offering a free copy of his comic book “USAGI JANE and the Skullbunnies” AND a skullbunnies plush toy to the first 20 donors who donate at the $100 level and above by this Saturday, August 30th or until supplies run out. Donate now and support #TeamAPAture and the #community’s emerging #artists by Liking, Giving and Sharing: http://igg.me/at/apature14
KSW fans and APAture 2014 donors and supporters: Thanks to your donations and support, we’ve raised $945 and have just 13 days until the campaign ends. As we start our second week, we’re excited to announce that featured Comics & Illustration Showcase artist Ben Seto is generously offering a free copy of his comic book “USAGI JANE and the Skullbunnies” AND a skullbunnies plush toy to the first 20 donors who donate at the $100 level and above by this Saturday, August 30th or until supplies run out. Donate now and support #TeamAPAture and the #community’s emerging #artists by Liking, Giving and Sharing:http://igg.me/at/apature14