Artist Profile: Janice Ngan

Nathaniel Ancheta, Platform, Art in Residence, Lancaster California. Image courtesy of the artist

From Solar Field to The Anthrophony of Manuela Garcia

Written by Genie Davis
Janice Ngan is currently involved in two very different, deeply engaging projects, as wide-ranging in geography – from Lancaster, Calif., to the Autry Museum in Griffith Park – as in content. The co-founder and artist liaison for the Art in Residence Gallery, Ngan describes the curation of Solar Field, in Lancaster, a location which borders Art in Residence’s own, in the adjacent Antelope Acres community. “Lancaster is a city that’s currently producing as much energy as it consumes. It is home to one of the largest operational solar energy farms on the planet. Solar Field was devised and curated with the intention to address and serve as a catalyst to stimulate conversation about future research in the field of solar farms’ integration and aesthetic impact.”

Inspired by the proliferation of the large-scale solar farms throughout the Antelope Valley, Ngan says the exhibition takes all aspects of the farms into consideration: their effect socially, politically, historically, phenomenologically, and environmentally.

“We began examining the functional and aesthetic dichotomy that exists within the technology. The following questions lie at the core of the exhibition: One, how do we feel for something that is inanimate? Two, how do we sympathize with something that does not feel emotion? Three, how do we relate to something that feels almost alien? And four, how do we see past what it is and see what it could be?” 

The exhibition uses Fluxus philosophy as the structure, shaping each individual work as episode throughout the duration of the overall exhibition. Participating artist-curator Nathaniel Ancheta describes it as “unfolding in episodic form,” building upon each piece that came before it, where a singular piece serves as the “platform” for the episodes to unfold.

According to Ngan, “Each episode focuses on a different critique of the social, environmental, and political implications surrounding sustainable energy, and more specifically, solar energy. Though each work is disparate from one another, they’re all related to a singular theme and frame each other.”

The participating artists and their works were chosen in a very particular order for this reason. They include Ancheta, as well as Beatriz Cortez, Rafa Esparza, and Debra Scacco. 

“As we researched further into the field of solar energy and attempted to answer these questions, the concerns underlying this exhibition called attention to a larger issue of environmental sustainability,” Ngan says. She notes that despite the many different benefits provided by the solar panels, the cost is high and often intangible.

“This technology affects the environment in and around locations greatly; from the clearing of land which could cause desert degradation and dust abatement, to disrupting the habitat of indigenous native plants, animals, and people. By aestheticizing solar farms, we can begin to alter our perspectives, and address the question of how we can advance solar energy with all these considerations in mind,” Ngan explains. 

Ancheta invited the participating artists based on their personal practices and themes, Ngan relates. The artists were asked to “change perspectives on the subject of solar power, and to investigate what and how” solar power affects everything from agriculture to social and economic change. This approach allowed each work to take on a different aspect of the issue.

The exhibition will hold its closing reception October 31st, on-site at sunset. It will be presented and hosted by the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster.

Ngan wants the exhibition to “kick-start conversations on any large-scale solar farms nationally from an artistic perspective.” She quotes participating artists Debra Scacco as hoping to call into question “the priority of the industry over the community, by addressing physical and systemic power structures.”

Image by LAPL Labs

Across Los Angeles County, at the Autry Museum, Ngan is presenting a project honoring Manuela Garcia. She describes the project Versos y Besos: The Anthrophony of Manuela García as having several “moving parts.” It will be presented both online and in-person. 

“Due to COVID-19, the in-person exhibition What’s Her Story: Women in the Archives that this project is a part of has been postponed to November 20th. Until museums re-open in LA, and public access is granted to the space, this project will be accessible online,” Ngan says. 

Her artist collective for the project has also been invited by ASAP/J to “partake in their special publishing event, Thinking With, where we will be sharing our collaborative processes that culminated in the final product: a 15-minute binaural soundscape telling the untold history of Manuela Garcia and her family.”

In ASAP/J’s cluster publication, there are archival images, wax cylinder recordings – which Ngan says were a “huge inspiration,” and a multimedia story map, that “invites users to move through Manuela’s spaces and experience a different Los Angeles (created through digital and GIS technologies).”

There is a bi-lingual poem that reinterprets the archive, a bi-lingual essay on popular music, copyright, women’s voices in traditional arts, and writing on different types of technology.”

Each element helps to comprise a collective reception of Manuela, Ngan relates. There is also a contemporary performance of Manuela’s music from an all-female mariachi ensemble, Las Colibrí.

ASAP/J will be publishing the materials mentioned above, in addition to the soundscape, on their platform online on October 15th.

Ngan did not work alone on the massive project. “We partnered with the Los Angeles Public Library, and their librarians and historians helped us greatly in the search for Manuela’s story. The Octavia Lab at the library recently created a coloring sheet of Manuela Garcia.”

Education materials were being developed at press time, and Ngan was in in conversation with Metro Arts about a future activation event for the project, as well.

Her involvement with the project began after serving as a Desert X docent along with the Autry’s Public Engagement Manager, Britt Campbell in 2019. They connected over a mutual love of and passion for music. “In 2018, Britt created and produced a series, Autry After Hours (AAH), that sought, through liminal space and the use of non-collectible artist contributions, to divest in the accumulation of objects and invest in a culture of transparency, collaboration, and mutual understanding.”

That engaging and successful series led to a desire to create a project that involved interdisciplinary collaboration. “Britt took herself out of the driver’s seat, and tapped 3 L.A. thought-leaders to curate their own working collectives to create and produce the 2020 AAH series as an experiment. I was one of three curators who agreed,” Ngan says.

Along with Ngan as curator, the project team included Amy Shimshon-Santo, Poet & Writer & Educator, Susie Garcia, Director of Las Colibri, Delia Xochitl Chavez, Cultural Specialist and Head of the Mexican Department of Culture Marissa Lopez, Associate Professor of English and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA, Britt Campbell, Manager of Public Engagement at the Autry, John Hendicott, Sound Engineer and Co-Founder of Aurelia Soundworks, and Chris Timpson, Sound Engineer and Co-Founder of Aurelia Soundworks.

Working in collaboration, Ngan states “I learned that I could base my project on artifacts within the collection, and that ignited my interest in archival storytelling. In my exploration, I found and chose Manuela Garcia, whose musical entries in the institution’s archive numbered in the hundreds. And yet little was known about her…My team came together to give voice to her stories.”

She describes the project’s original intention was to curate an evening of storytelling through both technological and analog means. “I had plans to pair a live music and poetry performance with custom-made parametric speakers that would bring Manuela’s century-old wax cylinder recordings from the archive to life. I wanted to bring people together for a shared experience, amplified by music and sounds that asserted their role as tools to generate empathy and connection.”

However, when COVID-19 hit, she decided to pivot from an in-person event to digital engagement. And it appears to be a profound event, nonetheless.

Ngan says that following the exhibition on Manuela, the What’s Her Story: Women in the Archives exhibition at the Autry will highlight 5-6 other compelling stories of women “as revealed from within the museum’s library and archives collections.”

For more information, visit the Autry Museum online.

Leave a Reply