From March 2015

converge : foodie

Last Thursday March 20th, YBCA held one of its regular ConVerge public events, this time with a “foodie” theme to connect it to the Rirkrit Tiravanija-curated exhibition currently in the galleries. Since Rirkrit’s own practice famously involves Thai cuisine, YBCA’s lovely, tireless curator of public programs Katya Min organized an event, hosted by Mike Arcega, where about 16 artists and arts thinkers/writers shared dishes inspired by our post-colonial, immigrant family backgrounds.


It was originally conceived of as a small-scale potluck, but somewhere along the way, it became clear that we were going to need to prepare food for as many as 50 or more people each. None of us are food industry professionals, so after about 16 respective heart attacks, we all figured out how to step up our catering game and anticipate the crowds that did indeed descend upon us. Since the food was all free, it ended up feeling like an art nerd’s bourgie soup kitchen with Depression-era bread lines.

raquel and katya

The dishes were often fascinatingly hybrid, like Thea’s Filipino Cajun Jambalaya (in honor of Filipinos’ little-known influence on Louisiana culinary history), Dorothy’s ube waffles, or Mark’s “camp stew,” inspired by his family’s Japanese internment camp recipes.

dorothy serving up ube waffles with charm, plus thea and klo
arcega’s filipino spaghetti
alex wang’s panini bouchon americain

I chose to play it more or less straight, and made a classic Filipino Chicken Adobo (but the slightly-less-common version with coconut milk.)

chicken adobo à la woff

While food has often come up in various incidental ways in my art practice, I’ve rarely made actual dishes AS part of a performance or social practice-type event. It was definitely a little disconcerting, but a good experience. I think I just have too many friends and family who’ve cooked, hosted, or done art/food things professionally to feel particularly cavalier about my own casual stab at it last week.

Still, it went well. The cooking-in-large-batches thing wasn’t so bad, especially with the use of a large suburban kitchen and a little oversight from Mom Woff. The thing that really just about made me lose my mind was delivery: transporting 4 large containers of soupy, liquid-y adobo in the back of a car on a freeway and through San Francisco’s inclines is not for the faint of heart. Each speed bump, brake, turn and hill in the 2 trips it took to get the food to YBCA (at rush hour) gave me one more white hair. I’m surprised I have any brown hair left.

eliza with her cassava cake, black latex gloves, and best apron ever
adobo power fist
The adobo power fist
service with a smile

Insider pro-tip: museum bathrooms are perfectly viable places to prep one’s rice cooker.

ybca women’s restroom

Contributors and dishes:

flight 001:
Ken Lo/Love Potion
Alex Wang/Panini Bouchon Americain
Thea Quiray Tagle/Filipino Cajun Jambalaya
Dorothy Santos/Ube Waffles

flight 002:
Jova Vargas/Jamaican Bun and Cheese
Dave Kim/Korean Kimchi Jjigae
Mike Arcega/Filipino Spaghetti
Taraneh Hemami/Toot Candy

flight 003:
La Chica Boom/Tostadas de Frijoles con “Tapaskeets”
Rafael Vieira/Feijoada
Jenifer Wofford/Adobong Manok sa Gata
Sita Bhaumik/Masala Chai

flight 004:
Kimberley Arteche/Suman sa Lihiya at Budbud
Andrew Wilson/Pot of Beans and Rice
Mark Baugh-Sasaki/Camp Stew with Rice
Eliza Barrios/Cassava Cake (and a little Dinuguan, as well)

All photos courtesy Tommy Lau Photography and YBCA, except the last 2, which come from Rio Valledor and myself.

notes to send earlier

Hi, Susan:

I wish we’d gotten to know each other better in the years since we first met. We had so many people in common: we were so clearly part of the same communities. Your friends and family are shattered– this loss is immeasurably sad, obscenely premature, and you are missed beyond belief. If ever there was a case of needing a copy of “When Bad Things Happen To Good People,” this is probably it, since we can’t have you back. Given your legendary optimism, I wonder what kind of pep talk you’d give us, in coping right now. It’s rattled so many of us to lose you, a much-loved peer, so early and so unfairly: we could probably benefit from a hefty dose of your sunny perspective.

I never got to tell you that 00:56-01:04 of “A Few Yards in San Jose” made me fall in love with you back in 2006. Such a hilarious, awkward, fluid moment on a strange, suburban stage. It’s funny how first memories work like this: you, crawling through that tire swing, is how I think I’ll always remember you–not because it’s indicative of the broader scope of what you did, but because it was my first impression of you, and it was so delightfully strange.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 5.35.56 PM

I didn’t really know you at the time that you exhibited that project at Southern Exposure, but I knew immediately that you were awesome, and that I wanted to be friends with you. Given all of the usual Bay Area excuses and obligations, we never managed to become close, but I was always glad when we did run into each other, and we were clearly part of the same extended family, which seemed to be just fine, and the next best thing.

Like everyone else hoping for some last whiff of you, I spent time lingering on your website, since this is what grieving looks like these days. I was struck by the ironic helpfulness of your blog entry regarding the passing of your mother last year:

I googled “how to manage grief” and “am I depressed or is it grief?” to keep things on track and to make sure that this thing doesn’t spiral. I found the bullet point checklists strangely consoling. Talk to friends, exercise, write in your journal. And remember, these things take time; everyone deals with it differently; be good to yourself; it may be hard to concentrate and be focused, they say. All things I know, sometimes easier said than done.

I also look to art that snap me out of ambivalence and into some clarity. I’m reminded of the human-ness of this endeavor – the primal need to scratch something down, create something out of sorrow, joy, and suffering. The act of doing something, however simple, is transformational. I’m renewed in my belief in the process, and I can hear my mom tell me: if it takes more energy to frown than be happy, trick your brain and smile.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Dear Richard:
It’s clearly been a rough couple of weeks in the tattered remains of the Bay Area art community, and I’m mightily ticked off to be having to write to you, too. I’m also extremely pissed that this is what your so-called “retirement schedule” turned out to be, after so many decades as everybody’s favorite sage curmudgeon at SFAI.

You were one of my two pillars (the other of course being Carlos) when I was a young undergrad, and truly a titan at that school. You were absolutely wonderful and hilarious: everything I learned about how to balance insightfulness and irreverence in the classroom came directly from you, I’m pretty sure. Thank you for your sharp humor, your keen eye, your twisted, masterful dexterity with language, your quirky mentorship and beneath it all, your care and thoughtfulness.


I’m grateful every day that you helped shaped me as a young artist, and that you gave me so many opportunities to grow as a sculptor and a teacher over the years. While it was too little too late, I’m glad that I managed to visit you before you left: I wish I’d known sooner. I’ll miss the hell out of you.

This final segment of this piece of writing from your website hits home, and brings up these notions of ego, mortality and recognition that all of us struggle with, but artists perhaps in their own way:

A more remote memory returns in considering this question, by way of Famadou Don Moy, the percussionist with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He performed solo at the Art Institute some years ago, he filled the stage with a an enormous array of percussion instruments, big, small, formal, informal, Chinese gongs and hubcaps, a night clerks bell and a trap drum set, among many others. He came slowly to the stage from the back of the auditorium, playing a drum in a sling that also was a rattle, bells on his feet and wrists, striking both ends of the drum with maracas, the movement of every extremity expressed in sound, and he chanted: “to all great Black musicians, known and unknown”. Known and unknown. It was an invocation to acknowledge ALL those who gave their lives in pursuit of the great human service, the service of the artist, summarizing peoples experiences in time and space, turning the sometimes unbearable discrepancy between the way things are and the way they ought to be into something that makes us want to dance.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

It’s funny how these dates somehow still read like an exhibition announcement.

Susan O’Malley, 1976 – February 25, 2015
Richard Berger , Dec 5, 1944 – March 3, 2015

On Drafts

We had group critiques of recent projects in one of my studio classes the other day. One student, whose project turned out extremely well, was nonetheless weirdly apologetic about it. He expressed frustration that he had needed to take the work through multiple differing drafts, and couldn’t get it quite right, ultimately changing his composition considerably to accommodate and resolve the situation.

(This pic is actually from a 2008 crit in a different class, as I try not to put recent student work online these days. More on that in a different post.)

I joked (sort of) that this was, in fact, exactly what he was supposed to do, not what he had failed to do: proper R&D, trial and error, problem-solve, alternate versions, abandon some/many. That this IS the creative process, not an indicator of failure. It’s messy work; there is no Ctrl+Z (not always, anyway). He was probably the first student I’d had in a while that actually took his work through this full process, and it paid off in really strong, well-thought-out work.

I love teaching: the newness and energy that students bring to art is always a pleasure to work around. I will say, though, that in recent years, across the board, my students have become increasingly reluctant to go through the drafting process, or even just to keep journals just for the sheer joy/practice of it. It seems too abstract/unfamiliar to them, and they get frustrated by the uncertainty or the lack of fruition when the direction they chose for a project doesn’t comply and fall immediately into place.

Part of me wonders is this is the ADHD nature of  American culture in 2015 (I don’t see this in my international students nearly as much), and/or Millenial impatience, and/or peoples’ ever-growing addictions to mobile devices/internet/social media corrupting any ability to focus. While I have to address it with students, there’s also no denying that I’ve found this sliding for myself…for most of the same possible reasons.

I used to putter and muddle through ideas for ages, just exploring and meandering. Once my exhibition career began in earnest, there were long streaks of creative practice that necessitated a very quick, no-room-for-error, deadline-based decision-making process. Working increasingly in the digital realm reshaped certain habits of mind and of studio. This, combined with inconsistent studio access at times (not to mention my procrastinatory tendencies) turned my practice into one that was often site-specific, portable, and improvisatory. Often this was fine; sometimes it was…not. But I’d basically accepted that the nature of some work is speedy, and since I was reasonably good at this (and these skills were useful in my commercial illustration/design work), the practice continued, even at times where this turned out to be counter-productive.

When Eliza and I got our studio space a year ago, I very deliberately set aside time to just noodle and explore ideas slowly, rather than to crank out quick work. It’s been uncertain and frustrating at times, but it’s also felt like a welcome return to a different kind of quality to my practice. With a show coming up this summer, I’m finding myself moving back into production mode, but it feels different/familiar. The ideas and drafts have had more time to stretch and unfurl; my understanding of technique and approach has shifted and grown.

studio noodlings, Nov 2014
studio noodlings, Nov 2014

Last week, I started a smallish painting that I was excited about. Had been collecting reference images for a while; had done a few drafts in my journals. I had an agenda, and enthusiasm and what seemed like clarity for the direction I wanted to go. Spent big chunks of the weekend working on it. Day 1: excited but uncertain. Day 2: some doubts- battled some color issues, but couldn’t resolve composition. Day 3: hated it. Day 4: nuked it, and painted the whole thing over. Day 5: started again.  Days 6 and 7: less certain, but definitely glad that it’s where it is. As part of this recent change in studio strategy, I’ve started a second painting, much larger, in conversation with this first, to see how they might inform one another, since they’re destined for the same exhibition.

The realizations about drafts here are perfectly obvious to any artist with a disciplined practice. For me, this is a written reminder for the next time I’m bone-headed and impatient (either in my studio or with my students): while I don’t necessarily think that time and struggle make for inherently better, more virtuous work, I do think that it’s nice to be back in touch with this kind of rigor, exploration and play in my projects.

Studio putterings, Nov 2014
Studio noodlings, Nov 2014