Issue 20.2: April/May 2017
Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Hawai‘i on Exhibit

Story by Alex Deedy.

When artists Sally Lundburg and Keith Tallett, who form the duo called Les Filter Feeders, left San Francisco and moved back to Hawai‘i, they weren’t doing it for the money. “It kind of feels like when you have a show here, it’s a tree falling in the forest,” Lundburg says, meaning that there’s pretty much no one around to see it.

All that could change with the inaugural Honolulu Biennial, which started in March and runs through May 8 at various sites throughout the city. The show is part of a loosely connected series of contemporary art exhibitions held all over the world. Biennials often feature contemporary art and usually attract the curators, press and collectors who have the power change an artist’s career. “To have one of them in Honolulu sets a new bar for what could be here,” Lundburg says.

The first biennial art show ever held in Honolulu began in March and runs through May 8. Some forty artists from Hawai‘i and around the world are participating, including those who made the pieces pictured above: “Never Turn Your Back to the Ocean” by Les Filter Feeders (left) and Kupa‘a Hee’s “Strife of Maui with the Sun” (right).

Nearly forty artists from Hawai‘i, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific have converged on O‘ahu to perform spoken-word and performance art, to exhibit sculpture and painting, and to show multimedia works. The biennial pushes the global artistic and cultural conversation forward, and Hawai‘i is now part of it, says Katherine Tuider, one of the organizers. “We all appreciate the immense talent in the local art scene,” Tuider says, “but we’re frustrated by the fact that people outside Hawai‘i don’t know about our artists.”

Les Filter Feeders is participating, displaying mixed-media “word paintings” that explore the idea of community with wry humor. New Zealand’s Lisa Reihana debuts a video installation based on the chief mourner’s costume from Tahiti that is on permanent display at Bishop Museum. Returning to Honolulu is Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, whose whimsical “Footprints of Life” installation brought the courtyard of the IBM building to life with huge pink polka-dotted blobs in March 2016. O‘ahu-based artist Chris Ritson literally grew his piece. He is letting coralline algae—the glue that holds coral reefs together—grow on clear acrylic sheets submerged in an aquarium. Once the algae is removed, intricately patterned skeletons are left behind.

Yayoi Kusama’s 2016 installation “Footprints of Life.”

Accompanying the exhibits and performances are free screenings, workshops and panel discussions. Though this is Honolulu’s first biennial, the hope is that it will inspire artists and audiences throughout the state for years to come. “Against all the challenges,” says Ritson, “I really think it’s an exciting time for art in Hawai‘i.”