Posts tagged ‘mike lai’

I’ll Be Your Mirror: Rising Dragon and This/That at the San Jose Museum of Art

Watch out, it's the Mail Order Brides, San Jose Museum of Art

Manananggoogle, Mail Order Brides, 2013

Just attending the vernissage for a couple of excellent new shows at the San Jose Museum of Art. It was a bit of a drive from my San Francisco homebase but both exhibitions were well worth the gas and time traveled to get there.

Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography is a survey of work from Chinese artists that looks at the rapidly changing social, cultural, and political landscape of the world’s most populous nation. As I was just in Southern China last fall I was particularly looking forward to seeing the show, and it didn’t disappoint. Ranging from street photography to portraiture to manipulated digital images, the show is a good cross-section of recent work that includes artists from urban centers such as Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai as well as those from farther-flung provinces like Sichuan and Fujian.

Yao Lu, New Landscape I-V, Clear Cliff Shrouded in Floating Clouds, 2007

Yao Lu, New Landscape I-V, Clear Cliff Shrouded in Floating Clouds, 2007

Much of the work in the show addresses China’s rapidly changing society, looking at toxic waste, overdevelopment, industrial pollution, westernization, cultural appropriation, and the reclamation of Chinese history and culture amidst the onslaught of modernization. Several of Rising Dragon’s artists deal head-on with China’s environmental degradation and destruction. Yao Lu’s New Landscapes series depicts what at first glance appears to be traditional Chinese landscape paintings, with pastoral scenes of mountains enshrouded by mist and clouds. Upon closer examination, however, these images turn out to be photographs of the massive mounds of garbage covered in green netting that can be found throughout China.

Similarly, Wen Fen’s series Sitting On The Wall documents the impact of China’s accelerated urbanization. Shot in the same location over the course of more than a decade, Wen’s photographed a schoolgirl sitting on a wall overlooking the once-distant Haikou cityscape. As the years pass the skyscrapers become larger and move closer to the girl until the wall is torn down and the nearest building sits right on the edge of the frame.

Liyu + Liubo, Failing to Steal Anything, a Thirteen-year-old girl Sets Fire to Classmate's Home, 2006

Liyu + Liubo, Failing to Steal Anything, a Thirteen-year-old girl Sets Fire to Classmate’s Home, 2006

Liyi + Liubo’s photographs take a more whimsical look at China’s social landscape, with their staged tableaux inspired by headlines from China’s infamously sensationalist tabloid newspapers. Self-explanatory titles include Failing to Steal Anything, a Thirteen-year-old girl Sets Fire to Classmate’s Home; Karaoke Hostess Forced To Drink Intoxicant, Now Under Police Investigation; and An Escapee Being Chased Dropped Through The Top Floor of a Building and Scared Everyone.

An unintended irony of the exhibition is the siting of Rising Dragon in Silicon Valley—the high-tech industry has outsourced much of its manufacturing to China, thus possibly contributing to the overly rapid industrialization that has lead to the destruction of China’s environment and the breakdown of its social structures. By addressing these and other aspects of 21st-century China, the show is a good primer on new photography from that country and demonstrates the ongoing vitality and innovation of its art scene.

The MOB invades Silicon Valley, San Jose Museum of Art, 2013

The MOB invades Silicon Valley, San Jose Museum of Art, 2013

Also on view at the SJMA is New Stories From The Edge of Asia: This/That, a show of Asian American artists organized by SJMA’s senior curator Monica Ramirez-Montagut. Included in this exhibition is a mini-retrospective of work by San Francisco’s own MOB/Mail Order Brides, aka Jenifer Wofford, Eliza O. Barrios, and Reanne Estrada, aka Baby, Neneng, and Imaculata. The MOB were there in person to introduce their newest project, Manananggoogle, that links the world of Silicon Valley women with the manananggal, the Filipino mythological creature that, among other things, eats the hearts of human fetuses. The MOB attempt to reclaim the myth of the manananggal by parallelling its often-misunderstood image with misogynistic stereotypes of female corporate executives. As always, the Brides exploit their singular brand of humor, irony, and cosplay to examine what it means to be pinay.

Landless in Second Life, Tran T. Kim-Trang, 2010

Landless in Second Life, Tran T. Kim-Trang, 2010

Also notable is Landless In Second Life, Tran T. Kim-Trang’s three-channel video project that utilizes the popular online platform to look at biculturalism and filial piety. In a kind of virtual version of hell bank notes, Tran builds an online dream home for her deceased mother, populating it with avatars from her immediate family and with icons from both the U.S. and Vietnam.

The show also includes an installation of The Heart’s Mouth by Erica Cho, a sleek narrative film about love, gender, and identity, and some of Mike Lai’s continued explorations of his Bruce Lee fetish. This included a performance piece during the opening reception that pitted Aztec dancers against Lai’s oversized Bruce Lee Fists of Fury puppets in a volleyball/dodgeball tournament played out on a floor-sized map of the United States.

All in all the two shows nicely complement each other. Each deals with culture, politics, identity, and race from both sides of the Pacific, with wit, style, and humor.

March 8, 2013 at 5:05 am 1 comment

Little Dragon Redux: Mike Lai at Southern Exposure Gallery

Fist atcha, The Legendary Lions vs. the Fists of Fury, Mike Lai, 2010, Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco

Just closed out my Chinese New Year celebration last Friday by attending Mike Lai’s wacky and inspired performance, The Legendary Lions vs. The Fists Of Fury. Staged one night only at Southern Exposure gallery in San Franciso’s Mission District, the performance was a face-off between two traditional Chinese lion dance troupes and the Fists of Fury, Lai’s goofy take on that venerable martial arts/dance/acrobatic form that featured two gigantic paper mache fists trailing yellow-and-black tails.

Nails of fury, Bruce Lee Manicurist/ Golden Dragon Massacre, Mike Lai, Queen’s Nails Annex, 2007

The performance continued Lai’s obsession/fascination with all things Bruce Lee and included yellow-and-black custom-made M & M’s emblazoned with Lai’s face in a Little Dragon bob. Mike Lai is heavy into Bruce and several of his past performances have referenced Siu Lung and his films. He’s especially fond of Bruce’s signature yellow-and-black tracksuit from Game of Death and has used that motif a bunch of times, including at an excellent event at the Queen’s Nails Annex Gallery where he painted tiny yellow-and-black designs on the nails of lucky manicurees.

Leung’s White Crane tears it up, Southern Exposure, 2010

For the first couple rounds last Friday at Southern Exposure the battle was pretty well-balanced between the lion dancers and Lai’s nouveau-dance Fists, but it was all over when the second lion dance troupe took the stage. Leung’s White Crane is one of the top lion dance crews in the world and they’ve performed in oodles of international competitions—the very next night following the SoEx battle they carried the gigantic dragon puppet at San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade. So though Lai’s Fists put up a valiant fight, they were no match for the mad skillz of Leung’s veteran troupe.

Mike & the Fists, 2010, Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco

Although the event was a bit too oppositional for my acculturist tastes (does it really have to be trad vs. modern?) it was a fun and furious, hella loud experience. The night ended with an impromptu confetti fight between myself, my younger daughter (staying up late to watch performance art with her mama), and Chi-Hui Yang, director and curator of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which is about to start in exactly two weeks. Chi-Hui informed me that Mike and the Fists will reprise their performance at the Film Fest’s big all-day Festival Forum event on Sat. Mar. 13 at 6pm in Japantown’s Peace Plaza. So check it out—it will be brilliant.

Just for kicks, here’s a video of Leung’s White Crane performing atop ten-foot high poles at the 2008 Genting World Lion Dance Championships in Malaysia.

March 4, 2010 at 7:00 am 3 comments


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