The California-Pacific Triennial at the OCMA

The California-Pacific Triennial at the Orange County Museum of Art features 32 artists from 15 countries along the Pacific Ocean. Previously known as the California Biennial, which over the course of 25 years examined contemporary art in California, the Triennial expands on this by positioning the state as a geographic nexus for international art exchange. More specifically, between the continents at the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean- Asia, Australia, North and South America. The ambitious undertaking of the Triennial is not an attempt to find a common geographic identity of the Pacific Rim, but to introduce, as OCMA Chief Curator Dan Cameron puts it, the “metaphorical stage on which the most dynamic cultural exchanges of the present day take place.”

The challenge that the California-Pacific Triennial then faces is in how to treat the threading between the artists, for what is at risk is too narrow or open ended a framework. The task is formidable, and as the exhibition catalogue states, “If the 32 participating artists have anything in common, it is a deep and abiding sense of their work relative to the place in which it is made.”

This blanket statement which can be applied to all art is a soft lobby for viewers to consider the artists as geographic markers, like map tacks, outlining the subject really in discussion.

 Since the Biennial was concerned with the attitude and development of Californian art, it only seems natural that issues of geo-specificity are applied to the Triennial’s International incorporation. The Triennial situates California as a gateway for our Pacific neighbors, with an emphasis on those to the south and west. Thus, the most compelling work in the exhibition are those with respective local concerns (in the vein of the Biennial) that also reveal a convergence between cultures (in the vein of the Triennial).

 Whether this study is presented in the idea, material emphasis (materiality being strongly concerned with locale), or in formal concerns, the following artists and work best represent the efforts of the Triennial.

Orange County Museum of Art

2013 California-Pacific Triennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach

We begin in the South Pacific, an overlooked region in Western history due to failed imperial efforts. Fernando Bryce, an artist from Peru, studies documents, photographs, and texts in order to understand how hegemonic forces use these mediums to create a specific lens and cultural identity. In 89 hand drawings, Südsee (2007) copies documents of a nineteenth-century German campaign to colonize the unconquered remains of the South Pacific. The examination and reproduction as art subject situates the official documents as type of fiction, diffusing the authority of their source.

Like Bryce in his Südsee, Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho addresses post-colonial effects, in particular Indonesia’s transition to democracy after the Suharto regime collapse. In his five tapestries for the Triennial, of which titles include Reformasi Picisan (Hack Reformation) and Permen & Politik Sama-sama Mengandung Pemanis Buatan (Mints & Politic both contain Artificial Sweetner) (2013), Nugroho highlights the contradictions of an Islamic society which was shaped by Western ideals. In the recent film, The Act of Killing (2012), director Joshua Oppenheimer confronts right-wing paramilitary organization Pemuda Pancasila, used by the Indonesian government to outsource corrupt activities. Where a decade ago the complicit were too many, today a younger generation of Indonesians, including Nugroho, are invested in political cleansing. Nugroho’s style references Western graphic novels as well as traditional Indonesian batik, and his human or alien subjects, fused with machine or organic matter, harken to the superhero complex of comics. The individuals are brandishing weapons in preparation for action or combat, presumably against conservative or corrupt Indonesian forces.

Eko Nugroho, Installation view, California-Pacific Triennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach

Eko Nugroho, Installation view, California-Pacific Triennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s Village and Elsewhere (2011) series and Two Planets: Millet’s The Gleaners and the Thai Farmers (2008) is a literal study on the convergence between Western and non-Western cultures. She does this by staging classroom like settings in outdoor bucolic spaces where the subjects of the lessons are famous Western paintings, and the gathered observers are Thai villagers. The responses to the paintings are documented through photographs and video, where Western “high art” enters the context of everyday life in the East.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Two Planets: Millet’s The Gleaners and the Thai Farmers, 2008; Photograph, 29 ¾ X 29 ¾ inches; Courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

In the video Thread Routes- Chapter 1 (2010), Korean artist Kimsooja examines weaving techniques from Cuzco, Peru, a city near Machu Picchu. Although weaving is a common utilitarian practice found throughout the world, differences in technique, ritual, and cultural significance remain intact; Thread Routes – Chapter 1 is the first in a six part series studying the poetics of the material as it varies between geographical regions. The graceful and meditative method of the indigenous weavers is  emphasized in the video to suggest that the practice has persisted over centuries as a strong part of Andean identity.

Similar to Kimsooja’s interest in foreign local knowledge, Chilean artist Sebastián Preece uses the language of Southern California suburban landscape for his Untitled (2013). This site-specific work for the Triennial is an installation of a sidewalk curb butted to exist both indoors and outdoors. It is accompanied by a second work- a speed bump with handicap access situated near the entrance of the building. Both pieces are seamlessly integrated into the museum and easily overlooked as everyday public structures. The curb and speed bumps in question, new and untarnished by wear, reflect the oppressive utopic sterility of Orange County, whereby worn surfaces are constantly being refurbished. Additionally, the reference to private transportation infrastructure reflect the heavily dependent car culture of Orange County that is shaped by the suburban ideal.

Sebastián Preece, Orange County Museum of Art

Sebastián Preece, Untitled, 2013, California-Pacific Triennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach

Where travel is concerned, from Preece’s speed bump we arrive at a rubber tire wall installation by Honduran artist Adán Vallecillo, whose sculptural works explore the “physiology of the dispossessed.” In Topografia 1 (2011) the artist reuses the inner tube of car tires, turning them into flat squares to compose a mural-scale painting. The material matter, presumably collected in Honduras, traces the wasteful nature of wealthy countries and the subsequent migration of the disposed. The reincarnated rubber tires take on an anthropological form, and situated in the Orange County Museum of Art, re-enters the world of its origin as art object.

Merging his personal and regional history with Western modernist painting, Beijing artist Wang Guangle presents work from his Coffin Paint series. The acrylic painting 120403 (2010) is informed by the practice of his native Fujian province where the elderly prepare for death by applying a coat of paint to their coffins each year. Following this custom, Guangle applied two coats of paint a day to a canvas. The result is a painting with depth and optical vibrancy. Although inspired by a custom geo-specific, the painting is stylistically modernist, op art, and minimalist.

Wang Guangle, Pace Gallery

Wang Guangle, 120403, 2010, Acrylic on canvas; 9 ft. 2 ¼ in. x 5 ft. 10 7/8 in. (280 x 180 cm), Pace Gallery

The final piece does not have the quality of cultural convergences as do the other works, but it has such a strong sense of place that it merits mention. The American artist Danial Nord works in saturated cultural references, using technology as both tool and subject.. Nord’s installation No Exit (2013) is an immersive experience- the viewer enters a black room with a triple door frame prop hanging from the ceiling, the source of thunderous sound and lightning LED light effects. There is indiscernible yelling and crescendo in the theatrical and chaotic, and as the soundtrack is a composite of endings to action films, there is a narrative of cinematic quality. Appropriately so, Nord is a Los Angeles based media artist whose work is indicative of the film and entertainment industry; operating within the art realm, it examines mass communication and media in Western popular culture.

Danial Nord, Orange County Museum of Art

Danial Nord, No Exit. 2013, Computer-controlled LEDs, video footage, sound system, steel, polycarbonate, mixed materials.
252 x 180 x 168 in., California-Pacific Triennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach

The California-Pacific Triennial at the Orange County Museum of Art is not aiming to embody the entirety of a geographical region. The success of the exhibition is in being the first Californian museum to anticipate the state’s shift as an international art platform to the growing art (communities) in countries of the Pacific Rim. In light of California’s established contemporary art presence, the Biennial has appropriately transformed itself into the Triennial, which turns the static inward focus on California into an active outward focus on its global position.

The California-Pacific Triennial, Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, through November 17, 2013.

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by Esther Lee
in Focus on the American West

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