What’s Old is New Again
by Hadley Catalano
Big Island Weekly, Oct. 26, 2011 – As Keith Tallett and Scott Yoell worked to arrange the final pieces in their upcoming exhibition “Cur- rent ReVisions – Hawaiian Craft Today” at the Kahilu Theatre gallery in Waimea, running October 20- November 27, an elderly Hawaiian man circled around the open exhibition space.
He carried on excitedly pointing out different woods he recognized in surfboards leaning in racks along the wall, and admired the handiwork of traditional canoe and sailing paddles.
Whether he was aware or not that the wooden surfboards and paddles, among the many other artworks, were considered contemporary Hawaiian art is exactly the line that Tallett and Yoell hope to blur.
“The art is about looking back but using the present,” explained Tallett, who along with fellow curator Yoell, Sally Lundburg and Margo Ray, established AGGROculture Collective, a Hawai`i based art collective, has a means to create, showcase and promote cutting edge and challenging concepts in contemporary art.
The Current ReVisions exhibition, a free museum/salon style show, in collaboration with the Kahilu Theater Foundation, will feature local artists Tricia Allen (Polynesian tattoo), Dean Edwards, Carlos Kuhn and Bob Russell (wooden surfboards), Henani Enos and Olu Saguid (collaborative painting/wood carving), Gary Eoff (fishing lures), Scott Hendricks and Kaleo Pilago (wooden canoe paddles), Hualalai Keohuloa (canoe restoration), Beau Jack Key (fish hook carving), Carl Pao (ceramics), Nita Pilago (fashion design) and Tallett (mixed media).
The vision of this exposition, according to the artist’s statement, is to investigate how Hawaiian craft lives, influences and has evolved in the twenty first century, calling into question the many contemporary art-making practices and asking, “How has the artist incorporated the skills and techniques of the past into contemporary practices, and what do current skills and techniques tell us about who we are as a society and culture?”
Each artist’s work helps to answer that question with personal creative identity through traditional Hawaiian craft, through the visual examples of tattooing, sailing, surfing, textile and jewelry design, painting, woodworks and basket weaving.
Exploring traditions, decoration, community, design, practices and functionality, Tallett and Yoell hope to open doors to all facets of the Big Island artistic community, providing examples of how traditional Hawaiian art has influenced and adapted in the modern day setting.
“We want to showcase great art, our great culture and this parallels what is happening inside the theatre,” said Yoell, of the Kahilu’s free Makana Series that will be hosting “A Conversation with Hokulani Holt” that will coincide with the artists opening reception on Friday, Oct. 28, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. “We’re putting it out there for the community to see. This is not a gallery or commercial space, this is a show space, with artists who have been working for over 20 years and new up and coming artists feeding off each other, working together for the public to see.”
Yoell referred to the difference in the exhibiting artists. Some have only worked in craft based products, others come from a utilitarian perspective and still others have been invited to participate in local and international art shows. But it is the parallels, the blurring of the art/craft line that has the art collective excited, establishing what can be considered contemporary cultural art.
“This is not a gallery’s preoccupied notions of Hawaiiana,” said Tallett, noting that too often Hawaiian art is catered towards tourists. “This is history, you can see the translation with the patterns, material, and use.” One common problem that many artists around the island experience is lack of available exhibition space.
There are pockets of artistic uprisings such as the Donkey Mill Art Center in Holualoa, the University of Hawai`i at Hilo and through individual efforts of people like Richard Smart and Stephen Freedman, but on the whole the island lacks contemporary art education and availability.
This is where groups such as the AGGROculture and like mind individuals have helped lead by example. All artists themselves, the four-member collective (with Lundburg, Tallett and Ray all born and raised on the island) has reached out and drawn in a wide assortment of artists.
“We try to help people understand that there is value in art besides it’s monetary value,” said Tallett, who is a native Hawaiian artist showcasing his “Flying Hawaiian” mixed media series called Rainbow Apparitions. “We are trying to show that our Hawaiian culture, through art, needs to be valued.”
As with Hawaiian artists and craftsman before, AGGROculture is providing a visual log of Hawaii’s cultural art scene. For future generations looking back, the exhibition provides a snapshot of a blossoming artist community, helping to grow the word slowly in the traditional word of mouth style, to local artists.
AGGROculture’s mission explains that Hawai`i is a place rich in culture, diversity and is a microcosm of local and global issues. These statements will be reproduced and represented through artwork. AGGROculture also nurtures and encourages other Hawai`i based artists and their unique practices through collaborative themed exhibitions that will be available to the community.
For a complete list of artist bios, shows and residences visit www.aggroculture.org or contact collective@aggro- culture.org or Margo Ray and Scott Yoell, Kahilu Gallery Coordinators at KahiluGallery@kahilutheatre.org.
Hadley Catalano. “What’s Old is New Again” Big Island Weekly, 26 Oct. 2011. http://bigislandweekly.com/ae/gallery-exhibit-proves-whats-old-is-new-again.html