Timed to coincide with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit arriving the weekend of Nov. 12, the Honolulu Academy of Arts presents Frass, an exhibition from artist Gaye Chan, in which cartography, photography, print and laser intersect in a deliberation on free trade, social class, national boundaries and how information/misinformation are conveyed via the physical/virtual world.
Chan’s 10 large-scale 40” x 60” digital prints consciously overlap Google Map reproductions of the US/Mexican border with the tactility of actual maps inspired by found insect-eaten 19th-century Japanese woodblock illustrations. The term “frass” refers to the dusty material plant-eating insects pass as waste.
Unlike the generic satellite photos on which Frass is partly based, Chan’s work documents a tension living under their road blocked surface: the wavering balance of boundaries, the politicized nature of nature, the tectonic shift towards a globalized economy.
Frass stirs with its ability to call into question this matter-of-“fact”ness, inviting the viewer to look through the deterioration that evenly sweeps across each piece’s surface, adding a sinking sense of movement to its mass, an urgent writ to its organic roots.
Q&A with Gaye Chan, artist
Did you own an ant farm growing up? Frass suggests a familiarity or interests with insects.
What a funny question! I loved ants when I was little. I watched them endlessly, fantasizing about being one of them. Maybe I still do. I’ve included things made by insects in several past works. Watching [them] provides me with a glimpse of seeing human production, or destruction, from a broader vantage point.
I know you’re an avid guerilla gardener. Did that inform your process with Frass?
Not directly, but certainly they’re connected in the broadest sense. Capitalism works great for the richest 10 percent of the world’s population, their income is roughly 117 times higher than the poorest 10 percent. They control media, national governments; this has impacted people’s access to information, consciousness and desires in unprecedented ways. This is unacceptable to me. Hence learning to grow and forage for food, setting up guerilla gardens and freestores, bartering, all are my attempts at learning what is possible outside of the state-capitalist system.
So, is this all a rebuttal to APEC? Maybe that’s not the right word…
No, not a rebuttal, but a response to global capitalism in general, which APEC is the continuation and escalation of.
Will you be inviting APEC delegates to Frass? In a perfect world, let’s say they actually show up.
I understand APEC has booked the [museum] for a few private events, but it’d be naïve to think my exhibit impacts them: They’re already aware of the damage they do. Their sole agenda is profit for the rich at any cost. My audience is not APEC delegates, but all people who stand to lose a lot from their agenda. APEC is held here precisely because they are betting protestors won’t be able to afford to come. It’s crucial for me to be in solidarity with them, to let them know there is an opposition here. An example of what the work of APEC looks like: more than 17,500 farmers a year [globally] killed themselves between 2002 and 2006 in desperation from losing their farms. That is two per hour for four years. For me, Frass is done for these farmers, and for all of us who are identified as APEC’s next quote-unquote barriers.