Glenn Kaino: Make Responsibly
In the past couple of months, Glenn Kaino: A Shout Within a Storm has overtaken the second floor of the Contemporary Arts Center with activist work. Kaino, an interdisciplinary artist, is a Renaissance man with a breadth of mediums and subject matter throughout his work. Kaino’s practice focuses on incorporation of process-based work as well as conceptual work.
While Kaino’s pieces stand on their own, as they are heavily focused on the reception of the object from the viewer, the artist is also concerned with the evolution of his pieces through focusing on the importance of his making process. According to gallery text, Kaino is known for his sutures between “systems of being, making and thought.” His work has been coined as “kit-bashing”: a process wherein different pieces of toy models are fitted together to create something new. This inventive technique perfectly describes the artist’s work: messy, potentially confusing, but well thought-out work that results in representations of making and the importance of objects, as well as conceptual work that tackles challenging topics.
The partnership of process and concept is a mix not often found harmoniously together in the art world. In A Shout Within a Storm, however, Kaino is obviously aware of the relationships between materials and process—both of which are demonstrated in his Graft series from 2008.
This exhibition, which covers the past 15 years of Kaino’s practice takes on many different topics, with reoccurring themes focusing on the sours of colonialism. It is apparent that Kaino feels a personal connection to not only geographies and peoples, but the relationships between the two and social tensions that arise in processes which result in the displacement of people.
In his piece “The Past Has Not Yet Happened (Panama)” from 2017, Kaino calls upon the inherent violence in territory claiming by distressing a map of Panama. Undoubtedly, whether taking on colonialism, pirates, or the judiciary system, Kaino’s work takes an activist stance and delivers his message to an audience through an amalgam of input, attention to process, and output, final product and demonstration of concept.
One cannot help but wonder if this careful display of Kaino’s messages in his work is somehow connected back to Kaino’s care for process. Perhaps when process is crucial to an artist, the work comes out as a testimony to the time taken and thought put into its creation. In doing so, with his pieces, Kaino calls for hope, activism, and solidarity.
This message is clearly conveyed through “Untitled (Bridge),” in which Kaino heightens the iconic and empowered raised fist of the Black Power movement by portraying it in gold enshrining it in a case. Through reflection, the arm is infinitely repeated and comes together in a shape reminiscent of a bridge. Here, Kaino quite literally “builds a bridge” and calls for solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement of today. Though the artist is not black, he is a fourth generation Japanese American, and therefore not a member of the group being directly affected by police brutality. Kaino does, however, demonstrate the kind of responsibility allies can take on, if they wish to do the heavy lifting involved in social justice work.
This is a stark contrast from more reckless depictions of social commentary that the art world has seen in the past year or so that might leave viewers feeling socially conflicted [I’m looking at you Sam Durant’s Scaffold.] From the work that is on view in A Shout Within a Storm, it is apparent that Kaino utilizes his process, which involves a thoughtful reflection of his activist based concepts, and thereby allows the artist to take on social commentary that is often misconstrued by groups of people not directly affected in today’s art world. Through his signature kit-bashing, Kaino’s show at the CAC has achieved an elegant translation of experiences and calls museum visitors to activism.
Glenn Kaino: A Shout Within a Storm will be on view at the Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. 6th Street, Cincinnati, Ohio through April 22, 2018.
Written by Senja Toivonen