by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
Hawai’i Triennial 2022 (HT22) presented by Hawai’i Contemporary opened to public viewing earlier this year. Preceded by two biennials in 2017 and 2019, the 11-week, city-wide art exhibition entitled Pacific Century – E Ho‘omau no Moananuiākea marks its third iteration with a new format and major expansion. The biggest contemporary art event in Hawaii - HT22 - is featuring works in response to the complex and nuanced intercultural exchanges observed across the archipelago of Hawaii. Installations by artists from Hawaii, Asia-Pacific and beyond collectively address the legacies of an American 20th century while turning toward a very different 21st century, one influenced by Pacific powers and cultural concerns.
A large-scale, outdoor projection composed of digitally animated flowers by Los Angeles-based artist Jennifer Steinkamp responds to the legacy of Queen Lili‘uokalani and her garden Uluhaimalama. Displayed at Iolani Palace grounds, this is the first of its kind partnership in the country. “The Friends of Iolani Palace are delighted to be a presenting exhibition partner for the Triennial that provides an important opportunity for the Hawaii art community to celebrate the intersection of contemporary art and culture at Iolani Palace,” says Executive Director, Paula Akana. In 2022, the palace also celebrates its 140th anniversary and the legacy of King Kalākaua. Monumental installations and experiences by artists Ai Weiwei, Leeroy New, and TOQA activate the public gardens with contemporary art while commenting on environmental and ecological issues.
I speak to HT22 Associate Curator, Drew Kahu‘āina Broderick, about the curatorial premise and the vision of the Triennial.
Rahul Kumar: How are some of the unique cultural nuances of the archipelago of Hawaii explored through the works presented at the triennial?
Drew Kahu‘āina Broderick: Cultural nuances of ka paeʻāina o Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian archipelago, are explored in different ways through the projects presented in Hawaiʻi Triennial 2022 (HT22) by Kānaka ʻŌiwi / Native Hawaiian and local artists and collectives. One example included at the Hawaiʻi State Art Museum is the installation of Ai Pōhaku Press. Ai Pōhaku was established by community organiser Maile Meyer and book designer Barbara Pope in 1993, as an act of healing to mark the 100th anniversary of the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.
For HT22, in support of the transformational potential of researching, writing, publishing, and reading, ʻAi Pōhaku offers a “study room” to guests—residents and visitors alike. Within its permeable walls are an extensive selection of titles, some released by the press and others relevant to its ethos. In keeping with cultural practices, visitors are invited to remove their footwear, take a seat on screen printed zabuton (care of textile designer Colleen Kimura) and a large moena lauhala (woven by Keanahala, a community weaving group). Photographs of storied places and reproductions of historic maps of ahupuaʻa (land divisions) surround readers on three sides, as they immerse themselves in publications of Hawaiʻi, further establishing connections to ʻāina—that which feeds and is sustained by many cultures of Hawaiʻi.
Rahul: Please elaborate the curatorial focus of “Pacific powers and cultural concerns” that the triennial aims to investigate?
Drew: The three excerpts below, from an edited curatorial roundtable conversation between Melissa Chiu, Miwako Tezuka, and Drew Kahuʻāina Broderick elaborate on the curatorial focus of Pacific Century – E Hoʻomau no Moananuiākea.
Melissa Chiu: “Hawaiʻi is a significant broker of this in-between moment—between two centuries and multiple cultural influences, assisted by its geographic and political position and its complex cultural history of resilient Native Hawaiian communities, migration, colonisation and ongoing occupation.”
Drew Kahuʻāina Broderick: “As we persevere across time and space, we do so in relation to one another. Continuity surrounds us, it flows through us, like the ocean…Perhaps we understand a Pacific Century differently, based on our respective positions. For some, it may have already come; for others, it may not have yet arrived. Regardless, as sea levels continue to rise, so too will Oceanic perspectives.”
Miwako Tezuka: “When one thinks about the period after World War II, there was a shift of centre and focus…And the shift was characterised by the arrival of a new avant-garde sensibility that could be seen in the art emerging in the United States during that time. However, the shift to a Pacific Century is less about ‘newness’ or novelty, and more about the long-standing, resilient artistic practices and cultural heritages of the region.”
Rahul: How are some of the site-specific contexts layering the very presentation of art works presented, for instance, the outdoor projection composed of digitally animated flowers by Los Angeles-based artist Jennifer Steinkamp responds to the legacy of Queen Lili‘uokalani and her garden Uluhaimalama, showcased at the Iolani Palace grounds.
Drew: Indeed, place-based meanings emerge and contribute additional layers of significance to works presented by international artists within different HT22 venues. Another example, in addition to Steinkamp’s outdoor projection, can be seen, felt, and heard through the place-responsive work of New York-based artists Michael Joo and Alchemyverse (Yixuan Shao and Bicheng Liang).
Within Castle Building at Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Joo and collaborators engage the world’s largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific cultural artifacts and natural history specimens. Responding through replicas of ancestral belongings, found materials, and amplified sound recordings, the art installation as a whole ruminates on human relationships to deep time, space, land, sea, and cultural heritage. Fossil Bed, one component of the multipart installation, consists of a large fossil slab containing the 400-million-year-old fossilised remains of the Crinoid (sea lily). Visitors are invited to relax on the slab, which itself is set upon a replica four-poster bed frame. Recordings of Queen Liliʻuokalani’s text translation of the Kumulipo, a sacred Hawaiian creation chant, are transmitted through the piece of ancient seabed and the bodies of those who rest on top of it, drawing participants into a meditative space in which to consider migration, displacement, and origin.
Rahul: In the way the triennial is planned across various locations, visitors will chance encounter multitudes of works. Though a temporary event, how do you expect some of the conversations and impact to be long lasting?
Drew: Impact is difficult to measure, especially while an event is still taking place, but one of the questions that has surfaced again and again since opening week is “How can temporary events like Hawaiʻi Triennial have a meaningful presence during the ‘off’ years?” In response to this, i.e. the need to build increased capacity for art and dialogue in Hawaiʻi year-round, the organisation has recommitted itself to supporting the local arts ecosystem through community partnerships and has begun the process of rebuilding relationships by developing potential programs in the years leading up to the next iteration of the event in 2025.
Rahul: Several of the histories and stories of the region, its successes and struggles, remain unknown to the larger global ecosystem. While a triennial as a format remains for those who visit the event in its short duration, are there specific initiatives to document and disseminate to a global audience in times to come?
Drew: Documentation and dissemination are vital aspects of internationally-oriented and locally-rooted triennials. These entwined processes allow lesser-known histories and stories of the archipelago and region at large to be shared with global audiences across different geographic and temporal scales. In response to this dynamic, publications and recorded public programs have featured prominently in the year leading up to HT22 and will continue to do so after the closing of the event.
Building on the inaugural Hawaiʻi Contemporary Art Summit, which took place online from February 10–13, 2021, the organisation also produced several artist publications and an expansive 283-page triennial catalogue released in February 2022. The catalogue features edited transcripts of summit conversations and presentations, newly commissioned curatorial essays, artist write ups, and short texts on places engaged during the event, as well as a selection of reprinted essays written between 1983 and 1998. Together, these resources establish a record of ideas, conversations, installations, and emotions that will in turn serve as references and as sources of inspiration for the arts ecosystem of Hawaiʻi and elsewhere in the years to come.
Additionally, the numerous installations at Hawaiʻi State Art Museum—by ʻAi Pōhaku Press, ʻElepaio Press, Nā Maka o ka ʻĀina, Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Piliāmoʻo, and Lawrence Seward—will be supplemented with work by Ed Greevy and Haunani-Kay Trask following the closing of HT22 on May 8 and remain on view through December 2022. This gesture by the curatorial team and State Museum, the only free venue in HT22, signals an enduring commitment to the local arts ecosystem beyond the 11-week duration of this iteration of the triennial.