By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The Seattle Convention Center’s new Summit building has now been open for about one year. It is a stunning construction of glass, wood, and steel that increases by almost double the Center’s capacity for meetings, events, and exhibitions. Space for exhibitions, including for art, is particularly notable for the amount of local Asian American and Pacific Islander-made artworks that have been selected for the Summit’s permanent and revolving collection. The Asian Weekly spoke to several AAPI artists whose works were selected and asked them how they felt about being part of this major project.
In total, the building holds about $7.75 million worth of public art. Though it will be viewed mainly by official visitors signed up for an event, versus wandering members of the public off the street, according to Center spokespeople, the Summit’s collection emphasizes “the significance of diverse and engaging public art,” and the Center’s commitment to “supporting the growth of Seattle’s arts economy.” The collection includes permanent commissions from 23 artists and studio works sourced from nearly 40 additional artists. The works range in size and nature, from wall hangings (or entire walls), to ceiling hangings, to water fountains, to gates and doors. Some of it is outside, some of it is in the lobby, so it’s certainly possible to casually view certain pieces.
“I am very happy that my work has been selected for one of the collections of the Summit building,” said Naoko Morisawa, whose work, “Target Forever XII – Round 3,” is one of those included. Morisawa, who has been to view the collection, felt that it was “a great honor and encouragement” to have her work selected for this “new landmark in the Seattle area, as it is an opportunity for many visitors to see my work.” “Target Forever XII – Round 3,” as named, resembles a target and, according to Morisawa, was created “with the image of passion and goal,” while also encouraging the viewer to not get “too hot” or worked up. “I made it with care,” said Morisawa, whose art has been featured in exhibitions around the world and included in multiple public collections. According to her artist’s statement, Morisawa makes art “that is natural, playful, and lifts people’s spirits,” but also is about herself, “like a diary.” Recently, she has been exploring the idea of things that exist “but cannot be seen with the naked eye,” such as Utopia, static electricity, and also the concept of global positioning systems and targets.
Lauren Iida’s work, “Nourishing Heritage,” is a large steel garage door off of Olive Way. In Iida’s trademark papercut style, it features “flora, fauna, and foods prevalent in both Japan and the Pacific Northwest, which share a similar climate,” Iida explained, as well as “a pair of hands in the upper left hand corner that hold a single white flower, a symbol of hope during incarceration during WWII.” For Iida, “it means so much” to have her work commissioned for “such an important and permanent project,” and she considered this to be “one of the pivotal projects in my early public art career.” She has created many permanent public works in cut metal, tile mosaic, painted mural, and other substrates through her company, Monumental Creative, LLC. Iida, who is of Japanese heritage, was born in Seattle and spends her time between here and Cambodia. She is the founder of Open Studio Cambodia which supports Cambodian artists. This particular work at the Summit “honors the Japanese American experience of my ancestors, and others,” said Iida.
The art collection of the Summit tells a story of Seattle perhaps unfound and unprecedented anywhere else in the city. The works selected represent multiple cultures, all of which form a part of our local Seattle culture. The collection is a way for a visitor to Seattle, or a resident, to gain a newfound and deeper understanding of how the different people living here make up the whole.
“Public art collections aid in historicizing the current movements happening in a city,” said Nina Vichayapai, who has two works at the Summit: “Even Tigers Cry” and “Order and Chaos by the Whole Foods Parking Lot.” Vichayapai, who was born in Thailand and who has worked as a docent at the Seattle Art Museum and an educator at the Wing Luke Museum, told the Asian Weekly that she was “excited” and “proud” to have her work included in a public art collection that “highlights the complicated nature of Seattle’s current chapter of development.” The two pieces selected from the artist’s portfolio are on different themes. According to Vichayapai, “Even Tigers Cry,” which depicts the artist’s colorful rendition of that famous healing ointment, Tiger Balm, is “about the need for vulnerability in the process of healing.”
“Order and Chaos” shows a collection of items behind a fence and a “Proposed Land Use Action” sign (marked “Stolen” in red handwriting). More than one language is represented and a traffic cone is conspicuously marked with tiger stripes. Vichayapai explained to the Asian Weekly that the work is “about the rapid development happening around Seattle and the way this development is furthering socioeconomic inequalities.” It’s a subject very current in a city where communities of color constantly struggle to maintain a foothold. Having “Order and Chaos” in a public art collection “feels particularly fitting,” said Vichayapai, who hopes the Convention Center will continue to provide opportunities for the public to view the Summit’s art collection.
Now consider Chinese-born American, Monyee Chau, who has stated in their artist’s profile that their “blood is more familiar and comfortable in the motherland than it is here,” and who creates images that encapsulate the life of Asians and Asian Americans by incorporating familiar foods or traditional crafts, as well as Chinese characters. “I’m so happy to know that the Summit collection was interested in gathering and curating artworks that are created by local artists,” Chau told the Asian Weekly. “I think it’s great to reflect the community in which your building sits in.” Chau’s work, “Ingredients for a Mourning Soup, from the Diaspora,” is just what it says it is: a street vendor’s cart full of tasty options, and the vendor, only partially visible, selecting items for a customer standing nearby. But the work is also everything it doesn’t say, an entire way of life, a feeling. “I was happy to share a work that feels so inherently Taiwanese at the scale it is, and for it to sit in a place that will be viewed by folks that are visiting from everywhere.”
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.