Atlas Portal: Poyen Wang + Kio Griffith
Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles
Through January 4, 2019
By Lorraine Heitzman
Despite the fact that the world has become undeniably more connected through technology, there are still many ways in which people and communities are isolated and alienated. Ironically, the root causes of estrangement are often the very forces that most commonly bind people together: nationality, race, and religion. For the disenfranchised, the experience may be painful and stigmatizing, but for individuals willing to examine their identities, it can be transformative and revealing.
Many artists and authors have sought to make sense of their outsider status, offering their unique perspectives as they examined their place in a foreign world. In Atlas Portal, at the Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles, located in Westwood, two artists continue this tradition. Kio Griffith presents video projections and installations by Taiwanese born artist, Poyen Wang and pairs them with one of his own videos in a show that delves into the dual natures of their lives.
Poyen Wang, who now lives in New York, addresses themes of displacement and identity in his work. Crossing, a two-channel animated video installation, seeks to capture the expat’s bifurcated existence. Comprised of two open book-like forms that sit side by side on the floor of the gallery, each “book” shows an interior of two separate rooms, recorded over time without sound. As one interior is enshrouded in darkness, illuminated by lamplight, the other half is a daytime tableau. As sunlight gradually seeps into the frame in one room, the light fixtures gain prominence in the opposing interior scene as the room darkens. There is an elegiac quality in the silence and the meditative pace of the transitions between two places that are as much about a state of mind as a locale. We are encouraged to imagine the loss of what is left behind, the experience of not being fully in any one place, and the realization that time (and life) continue in a perpetual forward motion.
A second installation by Wang, A Fabricated Personal Archive, is a more complex undertaking. A grid of children’s faces is projected onto the wall in front of a vitrine filled with 3-D printed, mask-like faces. Above that, a suspended horizontal screen displays pictures of children superimposed against a smaller grid of faces. The images were culled from home movies posted on the Internet and then manipulated to reflect the artist’s face. This fascination with becoming the “other” extends to his sculptural installation, Route of Obsession Series. Here he selects commuters and follows them as he notates their appearance and maps out their routes in wall sculptures of disembodied subway lines, recognizable to anyone familiar with the New York subway map. His interest in strangers and the desire to own their actions and images is one that reveals the depth of his alienation.
Mixed in between Wang’s installations is Griffith’s poignant Proof Of Person (Birth), a single channel video with sound. Griffith, whose father is American and mother is Japanese, grew up under the influence of two cultures in his native Japan. Lacking an official birth certificate, we learn through Griffith’s narration that his lack of documentation has very real consequences, and also, quite possibly, personal repercussions. During a conversation with his mother who is heard but not seen, Griffith replicates the document she made to substitute for his official birth record. We discover how his mother used her ingenuity to create legitimacy for her son, raising questions about gender and class, and about the causes and pitfalls of being undocumented. As a person who embraces two cultures by virtue of his parentage, Griffith comes to his duality naturally, and through his reenactment of establishing identity, the viewer is privy to an exploration that is revealing, both culturally and personally.
Identity and legitimacy are universal problems that affect immigrants and the undocumented alike. In the current political climate of America First, we need to expand our understanding and compassion for those who are different. Atlas Portal challenges our assumptions about identity by exploring the experiences of the displaced and Poyen Wang and Kio Griffith help us by generously sharing their lives in an intimate and illuminating show.
Taiwan Academy In Los Angeles