How can shared space drive artistic, healing collaborations? In what ways can art intervene in processes of consumerism, global warming, and the environmental effects of the toy market?
In episode 42 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews artists Solomon Enos, Abigail Romanchak, and John Hina (Prime), who share their experiences working with the innovative ‘Ae Kai Culture Lab coming up July 7th through 9th in Honolulu, Hawai’i.
‘Ae Kai is organized by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC). Following 2016’s transformational Culture Labs—CrossLines in Washington DC and CTRL+ALT in New York City—‘Ae Kai will continue APAC’s practice of community building through curated art making. ‘Ae Kai is the biggest Culture Lab to date, and most of ‘Ae Kai’s participants are based in or rooted in Hawai‘i, with the majority of artists identifying as Pacific Islanders.
Across the three episodes of this miniseries, Cathy talks with curators, artists, and scholars involved with ‘Ae Kai about the themes that this Culture Lab brings together, ranging from climate change and environmental activism in Hawai‘i, solidarities and activism across the Pacific archipelago, queer and trans Indigenous art, Hawaiian sovereignty and the ongoing fight against US colonialism in the region, and the way that the racial, gender, national, decolonial, and environmental convergences of Hawai‘i help us imagine and produce different worlds.
Guests: Solomon Enos, Abigail Romanchak, and John Hina
Solomon Enos is a Native Hawaiian artist born and raised in the Makaha Valley in O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. A self-described “intelligent optimist,” Solomon’s art expresses his aspirational vision of the world at its best, which is, at times, deployed through poly-fantastic (science fiction) narratives. His work touches on themes of ancestry and identity, the human relationship with the Earth, and the future of Hawai‘i, its people, and its resources.
Abigail Romanchak is a visual artist and printmaker based in Hawai’i who uses her prints to empower and assert a Native Hawaiian sense of identity. As an artist she seeks to perpetuate traditional Hawaiian culture through contemporary means so that it may endure for generations to come.
John Hina (“Prime”) is an American graffiti artist who is based in Honolulu, Hawai’i. He is the founder of the 808 Urban Collective, which brings together community cultural workers, artists, organizers, and volunteers committed to improving the quality of life through arts programming. His unique method of youth development is rooted in the art of graffiti muralism, a visual vocabulary of the streets that he has harnessed as a cultural tool for positive social change.
We chatted about
- How the three artists interpret ‘Ae Kai’s theme of convergence in their work (3:00)
- Themes that emerge in the artists’ ‘Ae Kai projects and across their previous work (7:00)
- The benefits of convening at ‘Ae Kai, mingling with fellow artists and local communities (9:00)
- The collaborations involved in their art (12:45)
- How the structure of a “Culture Lab” affects their work (16:00)
- Imagining Otherwise (20:00)
How the three artists interpret ‘Ae Kai’s theme of convergence in their work
Abigail: “I’m going to be interpreting the theme of ‘Ae Kai quite literally. I’m really interested in how the current volcanic activity of Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater on Hawai’i island affects existing costal landscapes. With my work I’m going to be looking at the convergence of land and sea and focusing on imagery from underground magma movement.”
Prime: “Thinking about our shorelines got me thinking about importing and exporting, because we import everything now. I wanted to take this opportunity instead of going with the visual arts as I usually do.”
Solomon: “What I decided to do was create a series of sculptures that look at one glance like the neatest, latest Japanese manga robot. But these are plant-based robots. They are robots that are farmed and have grown from the earth. And because of it, when they get deprogrammed, there’s nothing toxic about them, they just return to the earth again.”
Themes that emerge in the artists’ ‘Ae Kai projects and across their previous work:
Abigail: “My grandfather, Agatin Abbott, was a geologist, and he was a professor at the University of Hawai’i, and published the book Volcanoes in the Sea. Growing up with that book in the house and knowing his work as a geologist in Hawai’i, I’m excited to continue on with the family tradition of researching geology in Hawai’i.”
Prime: “[I’m creating] something that’s out of my own personal box…designing a store where money has no value, only people and relationships carry value. Over here, if we go to someone’s house we’ll take a gift. But [at my ‘Ae Kai store], you come to a store and they’ll gift you. Come to the store with the wrong attitude, and you’ll get nothing. It’s that relationship-building that I wanted to establish here for my installation and for the people visiting.”
The benefits of convening at ‘Ae Kai, mingling with fellow artists and locals
Prime: “Anytime we have visitors come to the islands, we take pride in representing our culture, we take pride in showing them how many great things we have to offer here in Hawai’i. For such a small island, we have everything. I chose not to go into visual art, because I feel like this was the opportunity for [visitors] to come and experience my island, and I have to show them what we have.”
Abigail: “It really encouraged me to carry on with the vision I proposed, because I feel like I got such an enthusiastic response from my fellow ‘Ae Kai artists, and I definitely brought that back to my studio as I continued to carve and print these plates.”
The value of collaboration
Prime: “We’ve been working together, me and Sol, we’ve known each other for years, so this is another opportunity for us to get to share breath in the same space and then share it with everyone else.”
Solomon: “[‘Ae Kai is] providing a pop-up collective dream that collectively allows the community that dream manifests in to collectively dream for a little while around an idea. And then when it disappears, it stays. It’s a memory that people have about going to a show, being exposed to 50, 100 different kinds of ideas.”
Abigail: “This collaboration was rather serendipitous, because I asked [Charlie Cohan] if he would help me print these wood blocks, due to the size and the technical difficulty that’s involved with printing large. Once he realized the imagery I was working with and the plates I was carving, he couldn’t believe how similar it is to the current work he’s producing.”
The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s innovative approach
Prime: “I really love the Smithsonian APAC approach. It’s different ideas from different cultures and different communities in one space. The interactions between artists, their display, and people for a short period of time in a really great location. I think that’s a really great formula that all museums should start looking into.”
Solomon: “If you’re exposed to 50 different radical ideas in such a condensed space, you’re going to walk out of there at least unlocking a little bit of who you are as an individual—the espresso shot of an experience. What these Culture Labs represent to me is so important.”
Abigail: “I want a world that is safe—not just safe from war and violence, but a world where it’s safe to express yourself, no matter what race, gender, political, or religious background you come from.”
Solomon: “There’s a whole ecosystem of a family of idealists. I think when you talk about idealism, the further far out the idea is, the longer the lever. So the further you go, the more torque you can have. In other words, you need wacko, love-rage thinkers like myself, as well as you need folks like Prime who ask, what do we do about it now?”
More from Solomon, Abigail, and Prime
- ‘Ae Kai Culture Lab, coming up July 7-9, 2017 in Honolulu Hawai’i—Come join us and meet the 50+ artists, activists, and scholars who are exploring the theme of convergence
- Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC)
- Smithsonian APAC on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
- Abigail’s website
- Prime’s website
- Prime’s organization, 808 Urban
- Solomon’s website
Projects and people discussed
- Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater
- Honolulu Biennial
- Landesmuseum (Hanover, Germany)
- Kikaider, Kaman Rider, and Ultraman
- East Maui Watershed
- Volcanoes in the Sea by Agatin Abbott (Abigail’s grandfather)
- Charles Cohan
- Honolulu Museum of Art
- Diatoms and phytoplankton
- CTL + ALT Culture Lab in New York
About Imagine Otherwise
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
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