Curatorial Projects > Chico & Chang (2011-2012)

Chico & Chang

June 11 - August 20, 2011
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA

June 16 - September 16, 2012
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art
San Jose, CA

A group exhibition featuring work by Pablo Cristi, Sergio De La Torre, Takehito Etani, Ana Teresa Fernandez, Clement Hanami (San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art only), Mike Lai, Angelica Muro & Juan Luna-Avin, Favianna Rodriguez, Lordy Rodriguez, Tracey Snelling, and Charlene Tan

How are place and location defined?

Whose stories of immigration are being told?

Where are sites of cultural connection and discord located?

How does popular culture intersect with larger issues of cultural representation?

Chico & Chang is a group exhibition that looks at the impact of Asian and Latino cultures on the changing face of California through brand new sculpture, video, illustration, and painting. In our rapidly shifting world, diversity is more than a buzzword, it is a perspective necessary for growth and adaptability. Recently released results of the 2010 census show the continuing shift of California’s ethnic composition; Asians and Latinos accounted for virtually all of California’s population growth since 2000. Immigrant communities have always impacted how places look and feel, from domestic interiors to business signage, going hand in hand with the shifting demographic of who lives and works in our state.

The artists in Chico & Chang explore the meshing and sometimes incongruous culture from two of California’s largest populations, the Asian and Latino communities, through irreverent humor and sublime candor. Posing complex questions about the assumption and construction of culture, the work in this exhibition provides ample opportunity to see where the boundaries of culture start to fracture, and where they continue to overlap.

About the participating artists’ work in Chico & Chang:

Pablo Cristi looks to the contemporary gourmet food movement of Nose to Tail, a culinary practice where the entirety of an animal is utilized for dishes, including parts uncommon to today’s Westernized taste buds such as heart, feet, and tripe. Although this method has existed for generations amongst many cultures throughout the world, only recently has this practice been elevated into economically privileged gourmet food circles. Creating a life-size denim pig’s head, Cristi also references the global history of the cultivation and trade of indigo, a plant based dye used in producing denim cloth for blue jeans. Initially used as work clothes, denim fabric now permeates every sector of society, and designer jeans sell for hundreds of dollars each.

Sergio De La Torre’s work about the Chinese immigrant community in Mexico looks at the ways in which this hidden population navigates the daily marginalization they encounter there. He presents a large neon wall sculpture comprised of Chinese characters that translates as “this is not in Spanish,” making reference to both the famous Rene Magritte painting Ceci n'est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe) as well as signs posted in the windows of Chinese establishments in Tijuana.

Takehito Etani creates a series of work about spirituality and the afterlife in two cultural communities that on the surface seem entirely secular: young fashionistas in the Harajuku district of Tokyo and lucha libre wrestlers of Mexico. By meticulously erasing people out of printed photographs, Etani searches for their true nature hidden underneath the layers of costume and fashion, referencing Buddhist philosophies about the soul and lucha libre masks that evoke animals, gods, and other spiritual archetypes. His work also alludes to suminuri kyokasho, a practice of self-censorship by Japanese students and teachers during the American occupation after WWII, where sections of textbooks referring to imperial and militaristic ideologies were blackened out.

Ana Teresa Fernandez’s sculptural installation looks at how immigrant communities utilize the ubiquitous plaid nylon shopping bags as multifunctional material – not just for grocery shopping and taking the wash to the laundrymat, but also for sectional home decoration and placemats. She creates both a fictional and representational interior of a household, where every surface is covered in this material, transforming it into a surreal tapestry of this unique, recognizable pattern. Calling attention to both frugality and resourcefulness, Fernandez celebrates and elevates this cultural phenomena.

Mike Lai’s video explores immigrants’ journies to the U.S. across bodies of water. It takes inspiration from a tragic event in 1988 where a group of immigrants were smuggled across the Niagara River from Ontario to New York in the dead of winter on an inadequately sized raft, only to end with the death of all passengers, including a six year old girl. Referencing 18th Century French heroic paintings, Lai’s video captures passengers in a raft struggling to get through whitewater, inhabiting the tension between life and death, triumph and failure, distilling the countless stories of people risking their lives to enter into this country.

Angelica Muro’s work addresses the different psychosocial codes of class and identity in California culture. Although San Jose, CA (where Muro is based) is home to a large Mexican and Vietnamese demographic, these two cultural groups rarely come together. Collaborating with artist Juan Luna-Avin, she proposes a narrative where these two cultures intersect in both a fictional space as well as a real location, an entertainment venue in downtown San Jose called Lido Night Club. The cultural balance at this venue teeters between a downstairs Mexican cantina and an upstairs Vietnamese dance club. Muro & Luna-Avin look at the cultural similarities of these two immigrant groups through the lens of this unique dance club and bar in sculpture and drawing.

Favianna Rodriguez creates a new large multimedia relief print that looks at deportations of young people, from the Reagan era to the Obama era. Known as an award-winning artist and graphic designer whose work is situated at the intersection of art and civic engagement, Rodriguez looks at the global confluence of cultures, and expands the conversation on immigration to look at the similarities and differences between populations being imprisoned and ultimately deported to Asian and Latin countries.

Lordy Rodriguez’s work emanates from the human urge to locate ourselves by charting our environment in precise detail and utilizes the language of cartography to transcend map-making into abstracted, imaginary terrains. He often reconfigures boundaries and uses text to question social and political classification. Dislocation is a constant theme throughout his work, and he frequently investigates the interchangeability of symbol and meaning. He presents two new paintings for this show, creating maps of the fictional states of Chico and Chang, making reference to ideas of establishing sovereign territories.

Tracey Snelling is known for her miniature sculptural dioramas. Through manipulation of scale, she creates worlds that simultaneously reference real places while invoking archetypal ideas of place. Drawing upon recent trips and residencies in China and Mexico, she creates a hybridized world that combines public street elements that characterize both areas, including billboards, signs, architecture, and props. As immigration continues to change the face of the U.S., Snelling’s work indexes how communities throughout California look and feel, from East Los Angeles to East Oakland, Monterey Park to the Mission District.

Charlene Tan creates a new sculpture based on a childhood memory of crawling underneath her family’s newly purchased dining room table. She found children’s fingerprints on the table’s underside, and wondered who these other children were and if they had helped assemble the table. Tan replicates a high-end designer table and embeds fingerprints throughout the table, calling attention to the anonymous workers who construct the furniture, both abroad and the many undocumented laborers performing similar work domestically, exposing the hidden residue of immigrant labor and consequences of American consumerism.

- Kevin B. Chen