THE BLOG

09
Sep

Kaka’ako Agora

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A dynamic, indoor public space provides a creative meeting place for the community.

Text by Bianca Sewake | Images by Jonas Maon

On Cooke Street in Our Kaka‘ako, within a colorful industrial building also home to the Hawaii Community Development Authority and a bagel shop, there is a surprisingly welcoming warehouse door open to those who pass by. Upon stepping through it into Kaka‘ako Agora, you are met with a warm, double-decker wooden structure that looks like an urban tree house—the first multi-purpose indoor park of its kind in Kaka‘ako. It is simple in design, featuring built-in bench seating and decorated only by lightbulb strands on the ceilings.

The idea of creating a large gathering space was dreamed up by non-profit organization Interisland Terminal. Since the opening of its former (and much smaller) space, R&D, the aim has been to start conversations in Honolulu about contemporary art, design, and film. After successfully hosting events including lectures, workshops, and film screenings, Interisland Terminal wanted to expand, without the commercial aspects of R&D, which involved selling coffee and books.

“Kaka‘ako Agora was sort of the 2.0 version of the vehicle that would help us achieve the goals we wanted to achieve when we first opened R&D,” says Wei Fang, director of Interisland Terminal. Without having even identified a site for the location, Fang emailed Atelier Bow-Wow, a Tokyo-based architecture firm made up of duo Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima.

“Atelier Bow-Wow was one of the few architecture firms in the world to work creatively in a contemporary art setting but also practically in a more social community urban setting,” says Fang. “We felt like those were two specialty areas that very few people have embodied in practice. So they were, to us, an obvious first choice.”

Despite the loose parameters of what Interisland Terminal wanted, Tsukamoto and Kaijima were happy to come on board, gathering design inspiration by observing the way people behave in the Honolulu environment. After stumbling upon the warehouse, they realized the large open space and coverage from the sun provided an ideal starting point.

For things like meeting state and federal construction codes and the practical execution of the Japanese dreamers’ design, local outside parties including Collaborative Studios, Heavy Metal Inc., and Sunworks Construction were also brought in. “It’s kind of like a multi-headed dragon where you’re juggling different kinds of objects together and keeping them all in sync,” Fang muses.

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The results are simple, and strikingly so. The Agora structure was intentionally created to provide a basic and open setting. “Keeping the emptiness is also very important for imagination of new activities,” says Kaijima. Adds Tsukamoto: “We design the infrastructure for the behavior of the people rather than the final behavior itself. We let people discover the way of using the space.”

Interisland Terminal hopes people will come in to hang out with friends, take a lunch break, or make use of the free Wi-Fi to visit its website and reserve the space for events—something that is quickly gaining traction. So far, events have included free film screenings, a curated slideshow featuring local artists, theater readings, and musical showcases.

“People come in here and make themselves at home, which makes us feel really happy,” says Fang. “People are asking us, ‘Oh, how can I use the space for events of my own?’ or ‘I have an idea to do this thing, could I do it at Agora?’ And it’s really nice to see the space be a catalyst for all those ideas.”

Kaka‘ako Agora is located at 441 Cooke St. and is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. For more information or to list an event, visit kakaakoagora.org.

03
Sep

Birds Of A Feather

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Educator Bryan Welch and street artist Swoon team up for upcoming artist residency Present.

Text by Kelli Gratz  

Inside a vast warehouse space, two artists look toward the ceiling where industrial fans hang as they envision a wide-reaching structure made of bamboo, a nest-like construction meant to house a learning workshop for children. The pair, who are upcoming residents and an artistic couple, have recently arrived in Hawai‘i after a scuba diving trip off the coast of Indonesia, continuing their travels to examine the empty space that will eventually become their canvas for the five-week artist residency, Present Project. Caledonia “Swoon” Dance Curry and Bryan Welch are aglow in the present, continuing their island sojourn in slippers and cut-off shorts, but their work for Present will, inevitably, be equally shaped by their respective pasts.

Swoon was raised in Daytona Beach, Florida by “funny rebels” who battled with drug addiction but nevertheless supported her creativity and allowed her to live as she wanted. “Living that life with them had its costs and gifts,” she says, recalling the recent passing away of her mother. “One of the gifts was a no nonsense approach to life, the notion that things don’t always have to go by the books.” She eventually studied at the Pratt Institute before embracing street art culture in the boroughs of New York. For decades, abandoned buildings and empty walks (and the occasional art gallery or museum) benefitted from her life-size wheat-paste prints and paper cutouts of human figures. More recently, she has explored navigation and larger structures.

“I’ve spent years building boats and have a long-standing interest in this strange folk tradition of raft building in the U.S.,” says Swoon, who spent three years constructing flotillas of rafts made from recycled materials and floating them down bodies of water around the world. “But learning about this true spirit of navigation from different perspectives is fascinating. This morning, for instance, we had a great conversation with a traditional boat-builder about the crisis of the oceans and how their work started as a validation of Polynesian voyaging techniques and has become this communication about the oceans.” Though her individual focus for Present may pay homage to boat building and navigation traditions, the curious artist hasn’t decided on the subject matter.

Present will not be the pair’s first venture together. Swoon and Bryan’s collaboration began in 2010, when Swoon was working to erect the Konbit Shelter, a sustainable building project, in Haiti after the earthquake devastated the country. After hearing about Bryan’s work in education, Swoon brought him on board to develop a community children’s center. Since then, their shared work has taken them around the world, from traversing the Mississippi and the Hudson all the way to the Adriatic Sea.

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Students from Bryan Welch’s Guilds, courtesy of Guilds.

Bryan’s interest in education has early and deep roots. At 16 years old, he dropped out of school to study martial arts. Eventually, he graduated with an education and journalism degree from University of California, Berkley and has devoted himself to developing curriculum programs for alternative education ever since. “I’m interested in the way learning used to happen before there were schools,” he says. “It wasn’t like now, where the children’s school day and the parent’s work day are very separate. The kids were always learning by default about the adult world.” The concept of learning as more of an apprenticeship inspired Bryan’s learning design group, Guilds. Much like a martial arts guild rather than a school, Guilds explores how learning environments for children can exist between informal and formal settings of institutions, communities, and daily life. For Present, Bryan’s art will be one of engagement, honoring the creativity and independence of children through the building of a large installation inspired by the way birds build their nests.

Regardless of where they are or the work that is produced, Swoon and Bryan understand the importance of addressing the cultural conundrum of assimilation. “It’s not just about the art,” says Swoon, “but honoring traditions as an outsider, giving back and paying tribute to something I find beautiful.”

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 Swoon’s flotilla project, courtesy of Swoon.

On September 5, Swoon and Bryan will discuss their work in a special artist talk at University of Hawai‘i Department of Art and Art History, 2535 McCarthy Mall, 6:30–7:30 p.m. For more information on Guilds, visit guilds.co. For more information on Swoon, visit swooninprint.com.

01
Sep

Les Filter Feeders: Disrupting with Compassion

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Image by Tahiti Huetter

Hawai‘i Island-based artists Keith Tallett and Sally Lundberg bring the outside in for Our Kaka‘ako’s artist residency, Present.

Text by Sonny Ganaden | Images courtesy by Les Filter Feeders

Sally Lundberg, Keith Tallett, and their 10-year-old daughter Kia‘i, otherwise known as Les Filter Feeders, are the first family of contemporary art in Hawai‘i. Their participation in the inaugural Our Kaka‘ako artist-in-residence program, Present, both validates the process and connects it to the experience of living in rural Hawai‘i.

“Keith and I come from DIY people,” says Sally. “My dad was a teacher and counselor before he moved us off the grid in the ’70s. We learned to live and create off the land, utilize solar panels, grow our own food—all of that. Keith comes from a grandma and dad that taught him how to make surfboards, quilts, buildings, everything.”

Though the two have primarily worked separately as individual artists, they are moving toward closer collaboration. Their pseudonym is meant to reflect filter feeders like sponges and sharks, “the way they feed in the same waters they swim in, clarifying as they go,” says Sally. “The end product is a support system. Keith is helping me with fabrication, I’m helping him with ideas. The important thing is that we do it as a family.” Even the “Les” has meaning: “We consider ourselves like Switzerland, an autonomous entity on the Big Island,” Sally explains. “We feel isolated when we come to the city. Plus it makes us sound fancy.”

Together, Les Filter Feeders have made magnificent works that explore the liminal spaces of lived Hawai‘i. Keith’s recent paintings have sent the inside out: images of tattoos and camouflage clothing disguised as native design, using the visual vernacular of rural Hawai‘i, free of irony, elevated with proper regard. Sally’s work has brought the outside in: cut logs with images of family members screened and glassed in place on exposed wood, using the rays of gallery lights and treated branches to mimic the dappled feel of the woods, evoking the transcendentalism possible in a gallery space, of entering the woods to find oneself, of being alone without being lonely.

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Les Filter Feeders recent tarp installation at Honolulu Museum of Art School. Image courtesy of Les Filter Feeders. 

For Les Filter Feeders’ recent installation at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, ubiquitous tarps were re-sewn and repurposed as structures weaving through the trees on the school’s lawn. The work had particular relevance in light of the houseless population and the protest group De-Occupy Honolulu, which used tarps for survival in Thomas Square park across the street from the installation. Sovereign, vulnerable spaces of art and protection, facing each other.

The family’s work at Present cannot be described, as it hasn’t yet been created. It will undoubtedly explore the thoughts of previous projects, speaking to an aspiration of mixing family and work lives. Despite creating together for years amidst their isolated property on Hawai‘i Island, the couple’s biggest collaboration thus far has been their daughter, Kia‘i. Days for Kia‘i include bombing the family hill on a big wheel, doing backflips into the pond, making flowcharts, cracking jokes, always talking—a guerilla girl in the making.

She’ll be making art at Present as well, her homeschooling allowing for the month-long move to O‘ahu. “Oh, she has big plans,” Sally says with a laugh. “She’s already asking for her own space, if she can sell things, if she can paint on leaves and install them. For us, we realize this program is how we already live, our daughter’s playing in the shadow of adults.”

Join Keith and Sally for a special artist talk on September 3, 6:30–7:30 p.m. at Kaka‘ako Agora, 441 Cooke St. For more information on Sally and Keith’s work, visit lesfilterfeeders.com. For the full schedule of events for Present Project, click here.