BREAKING THE WAVES: SPF Projects

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Photo credit: Drew Broderick

Drew Broderick is a man with a vision.  A visual artist by trade, Broderick’s passion for contemporary art in Hawai‘i led him to starting SPF Projects, a new art space located in the heart of Kaka’ako’s developing urban center. I caught up with him recently at his still under-construction space to talk candidly about curating, contemporaneity, and what he has planned for the space.

First off, I’m curious, what does SPF stand for?

Sun Protection Factor. I like the idea of questioning this thick white substance that we are accustomed to slathering all over ourselves as protection from the sun. I also want to think about how this space can provide all of the people who aren’t completely satisfied with the current state of things here – artists I should say – a little protection.

How did SPF come about? 

This is something I wanted to do ever since I came home to Hawai‘i. I finally got the space in February of this year and have been demo-ing and working on it since then. Originally, I was going to do it with two other artists, but they had to back out because of other responsibilities.

That really got me thinking about how difficult it can be to immerse yourself in more than one place, or in this case, project. For me though, that’s kind of the point. SPF aside, I want to be present in Hawai‘i, but maybe not through physically dwelling here all year round. I haven’t been able to really make that happen yet, but I think it’s an important thing to think about. This is especially the case for younger generations.

What’s your vision for SPF?

I’ll be programming shows that are related to my own interests, but are  also a vision of the arts in Hawai‘i that I want to support and advance. I want this space to be an amplification of Hawai‘i. My objective is to promote a certain kind of art that doesn’t really get shown here. Well, it gets shown, but not as often as I think it should. Part of that has to do with not having enough gallery space, different institutions not taking the risks that they should, lack of a market, etc.

I will say that this space is a project. It’s not about staying power. I’ll present maybe a year or two of shows and be done. There are a lot of reasons I want to do it this way. Most of them have to do with acknowledging where the space is situated and contemplating what it means to be an entity here.
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IT’S COUNTERPRODUCTIVE TO NOT DO ANYTHING SIMPLY BECAUSE OF A RESISTANCE TO IMPERMANENCE. SPF IS AN EXTENSION OF ACKNOWLEDGING THE PROCESS OF TRANSITION AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, CHANGE.
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I love that you’re incorporating the context of the space itself. The where in this context is Kaka’ako. This is such a unique place; a center of active industrial, economic, and urban development. In many ways, this entire area is also transitory.

Yeah. I’ve heard a lot of people express frustration or dissatisfaction with the way in which KS is promoting this area; specifically the act of bringing in young creatives who are down to put in time and energy and using them to build publicity or their development projects. There are a lot of short-term leases here which allow for the transition into the next phase. But I love that! I’m all about that. I think it’s counterproductive to not do anything simply because of a resistance to impermanence. SPF is an extension of acknowledging the process of transition and more importantly, change.

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Photo credit: Drew Broderick

I like your outlook. So tell me a little about yourself – what was your initiation in to the arts?

I feel like I’m just getting into what we call “the arts” now. The vision is finally becoming something where I’m actually involved in a hands-on way. There’s a point where “wanting to” actually becomes “doing it,” and that’s what is unfolding for me right now. I guess it all started with actually making art. I am a visual artist, but I usually hesitate to say so. There’s this weird insecurity surrounding the whole thing. But it’s always satisfying when you get to write down artist as your occupation, right?

How did the transition between visual art and curating happen for you? 

For me, they’ve always been kind of the same thing. The presentation or re-presentation objects in the context of creating visual art is very similar to putting together a show; it’s just a different level of involvement. I realized a while ago that the relationships for both aren’t really between objects but people. I’d like to think that at some point every artist gets to have a hand in organizing a show, even if it’s just one with all of their close friends. That can evolve in to a full-blown curatorial practice for visual artists.

I’m interested in this notion of curating and creating art as synonymous on some level. There’s a common preconception that visual art and curating are two different animals entirely. You would disagree?

I don’t change the way I think when I go from creating artwork to curating a show. I know a lot of people who would disagree with me, though. I’ve heard criticism that I’m over-involved in the curating process, or that I’m in danger of displaying artwork in a way that’s different from what the artist envisioned. These people claim that it’s more about me taking certain liberties in organizing shows, almost as if I’m just an artist pretending to be a curator.

These are familiar qualms that point to larger, underlying problems in the fabric of institutionalization. As a curator myself, I am constantly engaged in this negotiation between structure and experimentation in exhibition design. What are your views on uniformity and regulation?

In defense of more traditional ways of looking at exhibition design, I have to say that it’s a good place to start. Everything needs a foundation. But overall I think allowing yourself to get stuck in all of that is a very dated way of curating. I’ve seen shows where the pieces were all hung upside down. On a more traditional note, you can also take all kinds of objects from different regions and time periods and put them together in the same display case. Here’s to being anachronistic!

Right. I think what’s also missing from these “problems” is a general understanding that all curators enter into a kind of dynamic dialogue with the artist or artists they work with. It’s a living process and a lot more personal than one might think.

Absolutely. I deal with that everyday. One of the things I struggled with for SPF was whether or not to keep the existing roll-up door. Artists who’ve reached a certain maturity hesitate to show their work in a space like this because this door would make the entire space open to the elements (rain, wind, dust, etc.) It was difficult, but the final decision was to keep it the way it is. That was an active negotiation between me and the artists who would potentially show here.

Tattooed (Pizzazz Hybrid) sml

Keith Tallett, Tattooed (Pizzazz Hybrid), 2013. Archival inkjet photo.

I’ve always been intrigued by open-air architecture in the context of Hawai‘i. That’s a really interesting concept to ponder for SPF, too. What’s your inaugural show going to be?

Right? There are so many things we could talk about just coming off of that statement. SPF’s inaugural show will be of work by Keith Tallett. I wanted to show Keith’s work for many reasons. He’s a local artist but is not from O‘ahu, which in and of itself is a big deal. There’s a good amount of O‘ahu-centrism in Hawai‘i, which can be limiting. He’s a reminder that there are a lot of artists from the neighbor islands that are producing great stuff. In showing Keith’s work, I want to invite everyone to think beyond O‘ahu’s scene for a second; just step back and consider the big picture. What I also love about his work is that it is about Hawai‘i but it’s not the cliche that much of the rest of the world has about us. This show isn’t going to be about people coming to see and purchase a little piece of paradise to place above their mantles.
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I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT CULTURE IS ALIVE; IT’S SOMETHING THAT IS CONSTANTLY EVOLVING. THIS BY NO MEANS TRANSLATES TO A LOSS OF AUTHENTIC HAWAIIAN CULTURE. CULTURE CAN EVOLVE.
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How did you and Tallett meet?

Believe it or not, we haven’t met…yet! I just contacted Keith to do a show after I saw his work. I thought to myself, this guy gets it! He’s a Hawaiian artist who is making work that’s so much bigger than just being “Hawaiian” in a politicized sense. He identifies as being Hawaiian but doesn’t restrict himself to just that. There are themes of aggression and identity but none of these things are present in an oppressive way. They’re tackled in a vibrant and inclusive way.

What was initially intriguing to me about Tallett’s images was his incorporation of a number of different symbols, themes, and styles that can be traced back to not only Hawaiian culture but other cultures as well. All of these elements can be seen as evidence of globalization in the dawn of “contemporaneity” in Hawaiian Art. What do you think constitutes this?

Yeah, I know what you mean. There’s a lot to consider here. I think there’s still a great deal of hesitation around moving away from tradition within the Hawaiian community, but there’s also the element of outside cultures romanticizing and projecting their views on what Hawaiian art should be. We’re in the midst of an exciting time right now. I think we’re finally starting to ask critical questions. It’s hard to say exactly what. I know a lot of people who consider all Hawaiian art contemporary in the sense that the artists themselves are currently alive and the work is being created now. I agree with this in part, but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that culture is alive; it’s something that is constantly developing. This by no means translates to a loss of authentic Hawaiian culture. Culture can evolve.

I’m definitely glad to be witnessing the shift toward more meaningful and critical discussion on the subject. It sounds like the shows at SPF will help to keep the dialogue going! Let’s close on a more personal note: heard of any noteworthy exhibitions lately, on-island or off?

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There was an interesting show recently at Giorgio de Chirico’s house museum in Rome. I was really struck by how the curators there found a way to engage the artists and audience. They invited different artists from Italy and around the world to come and respond to de Chirico’s house museum. These artists got to become part of the exhibition by contributing a work inspired by this place. By doing this, the exhibition was no longer about simply putting de Chirico’s work on display but rather about people responding and being actively involved with the work. This isn’t really a radical idea, but a lot of people and institutions think it is. Fred Wilson was being radical in the ’90s!

 

SPF projects is located at 729 Auahi St. The inaugural exhibition, Keith Tallett: Militia will open on Thursday, June 13 with a reception from 6-8 p.m. The exhibition will run through July 14. Gallery hours are Mon.–Thu., 7 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun., 1–5 p.m., and by appointment.
For more information, click HERE.

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ARTiculations is a blog on culture and the arts by Carolyn Mirante for FLUX Hawaii. Carolyn is a Honolulu-based art critic and Owner/Director of the Gallery of Hawaii Artists (GoHA), an alternative exhibition space dedicated to the contemporary arts in Hawai’ i.

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