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Not so tough, afterall

hosumorobo1Popular Asian cultural forms –monster toys like Transformers, anime, kung fu and monster movies–have fast become popular American cultural forms. Almost every American boy who recently came of age covered his notebooks with bionic bodies and mechanical-looking monsters. And the girls scribbled Sailor Moon look-alikes on theirs.

And now art influenced by Asian pop is appearing across America, a lot of it coming from young Asian-Americans. In “Robots vs. Monsters” at the Asian Arts Initiative, a nice sampling of their work is on view from artists from Philadelphia, California and New York.

huangrobotThe surprise of the show was Huang, Shih-Chieh’s “ES-GK-0203 (Eternal Struggle),” a crude, shrimp-like creature made of a plastic bottle and wooden chunks bristling with plastic ratchet ties. A video nearby showed the monster in action. Pretty hysterical and definitely sushi grade.

Huang, a New York artist who has shown from Taipei to Manhatta, is interested in the interaction between viewer’s movements and his pieces–“the interchaging process between people and space,” he wrote in his statement.

takeda18gildersThere’s a poignant earnestness to a lot of these images. Jesse Olanday’s “Monster Lab,” (shown below left) local artist Clint Takeda’s “I Feel Like 18 Gilders” (shown here right), and Wayne Ho’s “Sumorobo1” (shown at top)–all have a vulnerable sadness beneath the monster proportions.

Ho, a California graphic and toy designer, has made a sumo wrestler whose shoulders droop with the weight of the world and the heft of his mission, whatever that might be. Besides, he has a puppy dog to love. (I worry that we’re raising children who think that if they don’t have six-pack abs they don’t measure up.)

olandaymonsterlabOlanday’s screen printed bogus posters show monsters or robots in moments of defeat or depression. Olanday’s a local Space 1026er.

And Takeda’s sculptures, which have a horror-movie, cloning-experiment-gone wrong touch, have human boy souls peering out from their deformities. Takeda’s a Vox Populi member whose work has shown at the ICA at Penn.

dethuntitledAnd speaking of the dark side of monster life, Deth Sun’s narrative paintings, in somber tones, tell somber stories. I gotta tell you, I almost don’t want to know what’s going through his head, but what’s going through mine is awfully sad. This one says “Oakland” in the banner, and that’s where Sun is from. I find it funny that someone named Sun from Sunny California paints the blues.

chenmiffAmidst all this thwarted testosterone are California graphic artist Grace Chen’s slick, mordant fantasies with their ironically cheerful affect. This one is “MIFF (Molecular Imitation Fine Foods).” From the foods we eat to the air we breathe, modern life a la Chen is m-mmm good.


The show also had a display of masks and monsters produced by the kids in the Asian Arts Intitiatives Robots and Monster Masks Workshop. Here’s a classic from Chris Mejia.