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Dear Reader,

Now that the semester and year has ended (about a month ago), our Microcosm posts will be less frequent, at times even on hold until school starts up again. Til then, wishing you a restful, productive summer! Enjoy!

Love,

Microcosm

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Keith Photography

When it comes to anything glamour related, it’s hard to see humility in the persons who live it, whether it be through lifestyle, profession, constructed media identity, or something else. But talking with Bay Area’s makeup artist Van Pham, founder of Vanity Pham, cosmetics become more than the surface, by making up and thereby creating an aesthetically inclined membrane. She specializes in pageantry and wedding makeup for her work, but her talents and training bring her to areas of work that don’t necessarily make the general civilian think of “makeup artist needed”, i.e. to create gorey looks. Makeup art is one of those places where the line of selling out to working purely for money and client satisfaction runs parallel with the line of being completely independent and free as an artist; this is where Van sets herself apart as one who manages to converge and balance the two by owning both. Perhaps that is because the conversation is shared with Van, or perhaps the conversation serves to represent for the microcosm of makeup art.
Van Pham has always loved makeup. She experimented with makeup on her own face, dashing dark hues, bright colors, and contouring her face into all sorts of shapes through the stroke of a shade. She found that most others didn’t really want to get experimented on, but rather desire to be “beautified”. The various ways of “beautifying” to clients’ satisfaction range as long as their individual interpretations of how to appear beautiful, usually based on media’s wide propagation. They typically come to Van with a desire to look like Celebrity x-y-z. With every face Van makes, she is sensitive to the client’s desire, whether it be a gorey look for Halloween, or a China-doll face for a pageant. Due to her experimental and professional experiences, she can often tell what will compliment clients’ facial anatomy from first glance. Sometimes, clients are very set on a particular shade of red for lipstick, or simply cannot handle “looking so gorgeous”. They tell her just that, saying they don’t feel it’s quite their own face. In those cases, Van will wipe off all the makeup and begin again. As a commercial makeup artist, the client’s wishes are completely privileged. Van just brings her palette of expertise and carefully sensitive consideration. The humility she practices in serving others’ beauty, costume, and or confidence needs is the primer to her professional practice. But when she’s in her own private space, she spirals out with her artistic creativity, having been inspired by the nature around her every day.
Though she loves color, the gentleness and harmony of flowers are also reflected in her professional development and practice. She’s been assistants to master makeup artists, where she learned how to read a face for all its texture variations (i.e. wrinkles, i.e. acne, i.e. scars), moisture and oil production, as well as bone structure. From there, she considers her Asian background as a blessing when she caters to both Asian and non-Asian clientel. Her sensitivity to Asian clients a la being equipped with eyelid tape and fake eyelashes are another aspect of her uniqueness, when others may only be able to make a face appear symmetrical through contouring. But make no mistake, doing makeup is not in Van’s genes, or done out of monetary need.
Van did makeup secretly until she couldn’t keep it in any longer. Her clientel grew, as did pageants to work at, and weddings booked, to stay quiet. Her parents wanted her to “get a good job like being a doctor” because they themselves immigrated to the U.S. and resorted to the beauty industry out of monetary need. But after seeing Van love her work and being loved by her work, they too are proud of her being a makeup conoisseur and experimental artist.
The genuine truthfulness Van brings to her practice is one of the elements for what sets her apart as an artist. She is fully aware of the fact that cosmetics can only cover blemishes i.e. acne and wrinkles, and that they cannot provide a permanent alteration. She lets her clients know that though the makeup will make their face look a certain way for the camera, the fact that they need to drink more water to make their skin brilliant all the time, is something her brushes, creams and powders cannot provide. While cameras have come a long way in technology, the human eye can still spot more than just the aesthetic superficial.
Van’s role as an artist, while quieter than her commercial ego, is still a recognizable one. She’s constantly doing work with other artists, particularly models and photographers. She’s done makeup for photography exhibitions at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and University of California – Davis. And for those who can call a pageant a beauty spectacle or performance involving multi-media, Van’s always sought for those events as well. Maybe you can be the next one to be a time-based art piece of Van Pham.

To see more of her work, here is her website: www.VanityPham.com.

She’s currently involved with Miss San Francisco, Miss Asia Sacramento, and Miss Asia America, just to name a few.
Ellice Park
s

Justin Hoch, http://www.jhoch.com

Meet Jen Kwok. A slim, cute Asian American working in New York City as a musician, comedian, and writer all rolled into one. Wait, what? Yeah, she’s Asian American… But instead of the usual stereotypical job that Asian American’s have: nail manicurists, restaurant owners, cleaners, taxi drivers, etc, or being a housewife to another stereotyped Asian man with a small penis, this gal is actually trying to fight the stereotype. But wait, she hasn’t joined a human rights’ campaign? How can she possibly be an active advocate? Here’s the catch: comedy through music. Take a look:


Credits: Jen Kwok & her band.

Hollaaa!

Jen has received a lot of great feedback from her audiences– from inspiring some to become writers, to having Asian drag troupes perform “Date an Asian” onstage, to people covering some of her other songs, Jen has received positive response from excited audiences online and off– not only for her comedic performances but also for the messages that she conveys through her songs. She wants them to just have a good time with it and take it lightheartedly.

In getting to know her a bit, we see that we really get a better climpse at the pan-Asian-American landscape of immigration stories. Jen grew up in Palmdale, California, where she and her family were the only Asian Americans around. The only Asian Americans she ever knew were blood related until the beginning of high school. We see the states as a cultural melting pot, but when Jen was growing up, her teachers wouldn’t even believe that she ate jellyfish. Instead, they told her not to lie. Such a statement is met with either mild surprise or disgust, if not a mixture of both. Another instance of cultural misconception she encountered at a young age was when she was told she couldn’t marry celebrity Jonathan Taylor Thomas because she isn’t white. It was understood as a general assumption that races don’t mix except for polite conversation and in the necessary workforce. At home she’d semiotically translate jokes, and outside the home she’d translate her skin color.

She found that expressing herself through comedy as a language combined with song were two things that could hold people’s attention positively. She spins tunes out of her negative experiences and realities to empower the pan-Asian American voice and shed light on stereotypical injustices. Though she did pursue the job of an accountant after majoring in business, she quickly quit the job to pursue a career in comedy. Good thing she did, otherwise where would we get these great videos that make us laugh and a little more culturally aware? With her ukelele in one hand and microphone in the other, Kwok uses her humour to encourage other young Asian Americans, East and Middle Eastern, especially those interested in the arts–to constantly look within and have integrity with everything they do in life, honestly questioning everything. Then do what they feel is right. She encourages us all to do things for ourselves and not others’ expectations, even if it is incredibly difficult.

Stay tuned to see more of her! She’s coming up with a new music video in April featuring some of the performers in her “Date an Asian” video. And for more Jen Kwok while awaiting the release of her music videos (her youtube site), keep up with her blog! Jenkwok.wordpress.com.

By Ellice Park and Mon-Mon Wu

Californians Teresa & Serena Wu shared with us their experiences and ongoing adventures since they founded mymomisafob.com and mydadisafob.com. This project, launched by creative assignment, garnered immense popularity within its first week, and will become a book published by Penguin’s Perigee books. “F.O.B.” standing for “fresh off (the) boat”, used to be a derogatory term for immigrants, but through their good-natured humor, “fob: is evolving into a more beloved and endearing term.  We tip our super-size sun visors to visionary and accidental pioneers like Teresa & Serena.

Ellice Park: How do you manage your two sites?

Teresa Wu: Serena manages http://mydadisafob.com, I manage http://mymomisafob.com.  She takes care of the technical stuff, and I run the social media stuff.

Jenny Robinson: Was there a particular incident that inspired you two to make these sites?

TW: I had done a creative writing assignment for one of my classes where I just strung together a bunch of emails and conversations I had with my mom and it got a really awesome response from the prof/class.  I’d always posted funny snippets from my mom in my blog so I mentioned the idea to Serena and she thought it’d be funny too.  We started gathering emails from out own moms and from our friends and… site was born =)

JR: Did you and your friends ever get feedback about the site from your parents?

TW: Serena’s mom thinks it’s hilarious and wants to be friends with all the other Asian moms, with my mom, I have to explain all the posts to her because she’s so fobby she doesn’t understand why they’re funny.

EP: Were you and Serena born/raised in California?  I lived in CA for two years and it was basically Asia #2.

TW: We were both born/raised in California, in Fremont which is SUPER Asian.  Our high school was 70% Asian.  I think having a big community of Asians around made it easier to celebrate our fobbiness.

EP: Being in a diversely Asian community, do you see yourselves as just Asian American, or do you identify with your ethnicity?

TW: I definitely see myself as Taiwanese American… if you grew up in a less diverse area I could see why you might just identify as Asian American, but since we have SO MANY ethnicities I do think people identify with their individual cultures.

Serena Wu: same, in high school we had multicultural week and a lot of my friends were Indian and we’d attend their Indian potluck parties once in awhile, so it was a good mix.  But I never really thought of myself as Taiwanese American until I started attending Taiwanese American conferences and such.

EP: I feel that it is awesome that you two created something that doesn’t enhance the lines between Asians, but rather unifies Asian Americans and yet, how pronounced each ethnicity might be?

SW: Freshmen year of college, I had this discussion w/my roommate who went to a school in Los Angeles which was also very Asian, and she said there was an intense Chinese vs. Taiwanese debate at her High School, though that was never an issue for us at our high school.  Everyone was just… friends.  No one was really I’M KINDA INDIAN or I’M THIS KINDA CHINESE. Wasn’t very… discriminatory.  The community itself was very multicultural and everyone embraced each other’s cultural differences.

TW: The thing that’s great about the site is that yeah, we do have distinctly different identities, but Asian Americans all grew up with so many similarities, things like our parent’s attitudes towards academics… sex… you name it.

SW: The sites aren’t very representative of our backgrounds necessarily; since we get submissions from literally, all sorts of people even Russian immigrants.  The sites show how we’re never really self-conscious or embarrassed about having first-generation parents because most, if not all of our friends did as well, so it was never like we experienced any racial stereotyping, name-calling, any of that

EP: Has the way you viewed the project evolved at all?

SW: The project has definitely evolved, I mean we started it as something just for fun, but Now we’re being published by Penguin’s perigee books, definitely something we’d ever imagine happening.  Oh we had Margaret Cho write our intro though, that was nice of her.

EP: Congratssss =)

JR: What I really liked about the site was that it brings humor to fobbiness when I think my mom was insecure about her own fobbiness, it was great when I shower her the site and she was able to find humor in the fobbiness that made her insecure in our dominantly white community.

SW: Yeah I’m glad your moms enjoy the sites, my mom actually wants me to connect her with other moms, I think they have the comfort of knowing that “hey, I say that to my kids as well” or “I have the same set of values” etc.  Whereas, kids find comfort knowing, hey, I’m not the only person with a misspelled name or its not so weird that I wasn’t allowed to date until college, etc.  And then there’s an audience who just wants to read a bit of humor, even if they can’t really relate and even that’s good because they begin to understand a bit more about our social pressures or traditional values. Example, why we never talk about sex openly lol; why our parents blatantly call us fat all the time etc.  I’d say a lot of the things parents say are… so common among all parents lol.  Every time we read another submission we’re like, HAHA about that again.

TW: Yeah, there are so many things people probably think are stories unique to them, but it happens over and over, for example, moms ordering doggy-style fries instead of animal style fries.

JR: What are some of your favorite submissions?

SW: Online predator,

http://mymomisafob.com/2009/01/11/online-predators-via-youtube/

TW: My favorite entries are pretty much the top rated ones lol

SW: This one where a dad creates a rubric for datable guys,

http://mydadisafob.com/2009/04/03/boys-youre-being-graded/

and I actually know the person who submitted it; shes my neighbor and her mom was my piano teacher lol.

JR: It sounds like you guys started this as a local site for you and your friends but at what point did it get so popular? Did anything happen to enhance its popularity?

SW: haha ok, so we started on tumblr, huge reblogging community, reached over 60,000 hits in one week so had to switch the site over to a self-hosted blog and we also created the dad site all within a week.  I’m glad we made the switch so early otherwise it would’ve been a hassle redirecting people, etc.  Anyway, then exactly a year ago when Teresa was in Cyprus studying abroad our servers were overwhelmed, cause we were reaching all-time hits and we were banned from bluehost 3x so I had to made another switch to linode. Much, more space, more bandwidth.  Hoping it’ll last us lol.  We get most of our publicity from our facebook fan page, I’d say and just word of mouth, oh an the occasional from SFGate, CNNgo, oh in the beginning it was all thanks to angryasianman, disgrasian, and neatorama featuring us.

EP: Just one last question, what do you wish we asked you? And

what do you want people to know about you and

your projects?

SW: So occasionally, we get the angry email about us spurring racial stereotypes, or not respecting our parents, especially as Asians who are supposed to be extremely obedient and polite. In all honesty, we never meant the sites to be negative in any way.  We never meant to just make fun of our parents; it’s more of the idea of sharing the cute things our parents say and people submit because they WANT TO, not because they’re embarrassed. (otherwise they would never submit stuff)  We wanted to create this sharing community and embrace our cultural differences and show that there really isn’t anything to be embarrassed about… oh your mom is a fob? Well so is mine.  She can’t spell either.  But hey, we are a unique generation; there’s only going to be one 2nd generation with 1st generation parents.  It’s a but challenging at times because they’re trying to understand us and we’re trying to accept their traditional values and ideas.  But we’re all overcoming communication barriers, generation gaps, and cultural differences together and that’s worthy of documenting.

To get some more fobby goodness, go to mymomisafob.com & mydadisafob.com Keep your eyes open for their upcoming book, which will be published by Penguin Perigree books this fall.

Interview conducted by Ellice Park and Jenny Robinson 2010

Q: So it’s really interesting that your work as to do with the liminal space in physical atmosphere where there is no fear of political correctness, because the atmosphere belongs to nobody.  And yet, the skies are in a way, owned, according to what section floats above which plot of land.  For example, when the polluted air of one of the northeaster USA states ‘leaked’ into a neighboring state;s air and damaged the air quality there were huge legal bickering over the responsibility of this issue.  You said that you feel comfortable floating in the air, seated within an airplane , because it is a space that allows ultimate relaxation– but only that activity.  Is the work you make pertaining to skies planes mostly focused on the airplane experience?

HS: I think I use airplane images over and over for my artworks.  I think that airplane made it possible for people to travel easily.  People travel.  Some like myself end up staying destination.  Airplane image come with many meaning for me with different mixture of emotion.  Like yoy mentioned, being air is equalizing experience for anyone in the plane.  No Matter who you are, your life is temporarily suspended in the sky.  Rich or poor, tall or short, dark skin or light skin, sick or healthy, man, or woman, … you are above clouds in the sky.  Being air always remind me that how small I am.  How big the world is… I feel humble when I am in the air…  Also being air is unusual and beautiful experience.  Who does not get excited when you see sun hit white clouds under your eye level.

Q:  Do you have an interest or concern for the fact that air moves but land does not move as quickly, so that while everybody takes care to try to pollute less, they can have territorial qualms?

HS: When you are on the land, you are too close to whatever your situation.  It is hard to be objective when you are too close to something.  In the air you are more objective to yourself including human activity  in general.  Territorial qualms seem silly when you are in air.

Q:  What do you wish to communicate through you work other than your experience and lifestyle of going continuously back and forth from your motherland to other places via opportunities art ushers?  Or it the subjective experience the ultimatum of a canvas for an artist– namely yourself in this case?

HS:  I think the idea of my work is pretty simple.  Most people agree that stormy clouds from airplane window is beautiful.  Most people may have imagined jumping into clouds.  Also, most people think about stuff when they are in air like their past or memories.  Because I am an artist, I have a desire to fix those floating thought.  If I am a writer, I probably will write about it.  If my image remind or recall people similar experience I have, I will be happy.

Q: Is it preferable for a viewer to agree and say that living in air, living in air, living in the skies, traveling there, or having (perhaps frequent) periods of time spent in the sky to be a preferred practice?

HS:  Spending time in the sky is giving a different perspective to people.  It is not as dramatic as an astronaut look the earth from space shuttle but, it is closest experience normal people could experience.

Q:  What brings you to work visually?  What instigates or inspires you?  How often do you think of where you came from and other past memories– these themes which seem to perpetually voice out from you work?

HS:  My process of art making is pretty organic.  Idea come from many sources, such as movie, photograph, other artists works, art history, literature, toys, child plays, memories, or my own works from past.  I usually carry small notebook.  I make small sketches whenever Idea comes to my brain.  It often happen when I sit at cafe by myself.  Then later if I need to have solid information in order to make artworks, I research or do more specific drawing.  So, my work is reflection of my everyday experience and my background including memories.  Both voice are equally important for my art making process.  Some of my work is based on an idea from when I was 10 years old boy.  I am finally able to depict it by using art training.  To me, Making art work is taking care of unfinished business.

Q:  Is art making a means to an end or does the process matter more to you? I wonder this due to the layers of application in some of your pieces, as well as the layers if thought origins that are sort of patched together in a single image piece.

HS:  as an artists, I have desire to fix or depict images or thought in my head on canvas, or paper.  But, I would not know how the image end up till I finish the work.  The process of making often leads another thinking or idea visually and conceptually.  I like the idea od a singel image piece contains so many layer of thinking or aesthetic decision.

Interview between Ellice Park and Hiro Sakaguchi March 2009

Hiro Sakaguchi is a young Japanese artist who earned his MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  He’s shown his work around Pennsylvania, Japan, and is now branching out to other cities as well including our Baltimore.  His website expresses his interest “in making an object, which contains a fictional realm that is relevant to [his] experience as an artist and an individual in this global society.” As a painter, he creates imaginary worlds addressing contemporary issues related to current events and his hybrid identity as an artist of ethnic color.  His work features  confusion of scale while masterfully handling a light hearted aesthetic.

Microcosm had the pleasure of meeting him at the Maryland Art Place’s Julio Fine Arts Gallery  on the opening night of “Fantastical Imaginings” show. While Ms. J. Susan Isaacs did a wonderful job introducing all the artists featured in the group exhibit, Hiro really came alive in his few minutes in the spotlight.  He has a very engaging speak, largely utilizing theatrical hand gestures, and attentiveness.  What’s best is that the ideas he portrays and speaks of through and by his work is the same as the way he speaks aloud conversationally.  There is no hiding of his being of foreign birth, or at least having lived in a foreign place for a significant portion of his life.  Yet there is a familiarity to it all that makes his foreignness nothing like alienness.  It is all remarkably one and parallel with his artwork.

Hiro features two of his works at the group show, one of them being Chrysanthemum delivery (2009), a graphite and watercolor piece on paper, the other, Over Clouds (2007), a synthetic polymer paint, colored pencil and ink piece on canvas.  Talking to Hiro, it becomes clear that there is a very fluid perception of sense locale and the liberation it allows any given identity.  Over Clouds shows clouds with random variables of objects, persons and architectural details that gives points of reminisce.  As a whole, it almost looks like a print on a child’s pajamas, in that it exudes comfort, buoyancy, airiness, and its manner of rendering the images.  Chrysanthemum’s Delivery, on the other hand, is more objective in its composition with a clear vehicle with a rider, architecture, and landscape.  The geography and all the rest are fantastical as they are drawn out from his memories.  In both images, airplanes and structures resembling airplanes’ curves are features.  Having been in many different places just for his artistic study and profession alone, Hiro’s found himself to be very comfortable in airplanes.

There is something nearly apolitical about the atmosphere that Hiro finds very compelling and useful.  He says that while the airplane makes travel easy, the process of flying in an airplane with  others is also a very democratic experience.  “No matter who you are, your life is temporarily suspended in the sky.  Rich or poor, tall or short, dark skin or light skin, sick of healthy, man or woman, …  When you are on the land, you are too close to whatever your situation.  It is hard to be objective when you are too close to something.  Territorial qualms seem as silly when you are in the air.”  Hiro shares, in the purest way.  There are elements of Japan, elements of Philadelphia in these pieces and throughout his other works, but overall the works are not marked by a certain politick or geography.  There are recollections of experiences in air, with a blurred memory of ground whence the airplane took off of.

originally written by Ellice Park, March 2009, transcribed by Jenny Robinson February 2010

01_Synecdoche_whtiney-install

By Ellice Park

Byron Kim is a contemporary Korean-American artist. In the early 1990s, Kim made his debut in the art world with his artwork “Synecdoche,” a large group of monochromatic field paintings of various people’s skin tones. It was featured at the 1993 Whitney Biennial, which was also known as the ‘identity’ biennale or ‘multiculturalism’ biennale. Due to the fact that Kim is an artist of color, and having started his career with such artwork, people automatically assume that his work is only about race. Certainly, Kim’s work is often described under the category of identity art–but we learned through his visit to MICA that his work is about that and much more.

Byron Kim visited MICA for a couple of days in October 2008 and did a public lecture that filled up the Falvey Hall at the Brown Center. He also extended his visit by meeting senior undergraduate students, an art history course on contemporary Asia, critiquing graduate students of Hoffberger School of Painting, and talking with Asian students working on this publication, which included getting interviewed. There was certainly a great deal of hype that accompanied this Asian art star’s appearance on campus.

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By Ellice Park, Leslie Morgan Frederick

Brooklyn based artist Byron Kim visited MICA in 2008. He gave a public lecture, visited the Hoffberger School of Painting, seniors in the Painting and Drawing departments, and students in the Art History Course “Contemporary Asia”. He also found time to give Microcosm an hour-long interview. His visit was made possible by the Cultural Expansion Committee, the Hoffberger School of Painting, and the Mixed Media lecture series sponsored by the Painting, GFA and Drawing departments.

Q: How do you feel about being considered an artist who transcends multiculturalism, and do you agree with that notion or not?
BK: I agree with that. I think in the very beginning I very much was a part of the multicultural and I don’t know how intentional that was. I subsequently transcended that… I think that maybe my work has evolved from that. My work has always been somewhat personal,  and so it’s inevitably part of a number of different cultures. It’s part of an art culture, it’s part of a culture of my family. Its particularly part of the art world, but it’s also in some ways a part of the culture of New York. I’ve evolved from multiculturalism if by that you mean some sort of illusion of different, culturally informed content. Maybe I don’t find that model that useful any more.  It was useful for a moment.  It seems less useful now because once that happened, when we got through that, it no longer seemed necessary.  That’s not to say that everything is working perfectly…

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Mission Statement

We’re Artists meeting and talking with other Artists. Our interest is the Asian diaspora, and its farflung influences–and on the other hand, how Asian Culture and Arts have been influenced by the inter-culturalistic points its met in its travels. Tune in on Sundays for Microcosm’s regular goodness, and throughout the week for special surprises.
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