You are installation artists who've done shows in all kinds of places. But the Wing Luke is not like other museums. Why are you doing a show here?
Daniel Mihalyo: The cool thing about this museum is that the stuff they have here, nobody would collect—but it's stuff that really means something. It was donated by businesses, or the families of [Asian people] who have died, or just people finding things in their houses that are important to them. There's also what is considered art, but we're not using what people would consider the "finer" material in the collection.
What's this wrapped Buddha? Why did you pull this out of the basement?
Annie Han: The objects in the show are all related to the experience of the people and their belongings coming and going from impossibly far away. The objects were all chosen because they are containers for holding things that were determined to be important or precious. The important part is somewhere else, but the emptiness is the link back to the memory and a reminder of the things let go. We are left with ordinary crates, luggage, instrument cases, plexi boxes, hatboxes, vases, cardboard boxes, army trunks, doll cases, and drawers. Other items are also empty, stacked and wrapped, thus relieved of function: cups, saucers, dishes, chairs and stools—often in pairs. The Buddha fits in for several reasons, largest of which is my grandmother's conflicted despair over the loss of her invaluable Buddhist material during the move to America. I don't usually talk about this, but my grandmother was a devout Buddhist and fortune-teller in Korea for 30-some years. She had all these rare manuscripts, reference books, shrine material, and even a solid-gold statue of a Buddha. My mom told her not to bring them, but she shipped this whole big armoire packed full of them anyway—except that it never arrived. My grandmother lost everything. She couldn't get out of bed for months. In the case of the Buddha in the exhibit, it is no longer needed, having been pulled from a restaurant demolition. It is useless now except as a reference to another time and place. We've wrapped it—something empty, ordinary, and useless that is carefully wrapped and set aside for no known future purpose.
One of the most striking pieces you made is a sculpture of thin cedar planks tightly stacked into the form of a life-size ticket window. A place you'd go to buy a ticket to somewhere else.
DM: This building used to be a hotel that was built by investments from 170 single Asian men. It was a place you'd come for a few days while waiting for a ship across the Pacific. It's a placeless place, like a lobby, except that it was a vital conduit for their connection back home.
AH: There are these incredible old photos of cedar stacked just like this, so many stories high. Resource extraction is a subject we revisit because it is so fundamental to Seattle's function in the world and, in the context of this show, such a major part of the Asian experience in the Northwest. Many of those who first established a route for those of us who followed later had their start performing the most menial work in various iconic industries. Not least of which was lumbering and sawmilling to build and rebuild Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Somewhere in there is the [symbolic] act of restacking the forest, but later came the opposite, of exporting the same resources for Pacific Rim markets in the postwar boom.
By making art that looks like raw material and using non-art-value objects from the collection, you highlight what humans collect when no auction house or curator is looking. It's a nice coincidence that the Qing dynasty robes Tacoma Art Museum decided were not "museum quality" are now in the process of transitioning here to this very basement.
DM: That's what's so interesting to us: What is museum quality?
AH: And who's to say? Looking at these old objects gives me such a sense of happiness and melancholy all at once.