Meaning in the multiple: Tropical Disturbance reflects Hawaii in flux
Tropical Disturbance is purposefully disparate: artistic iterations on multiple themes, transience, mistranslation, authenticity, diaspora, nativity and movement between. Many of the pieces consider place as constructed through practice and traverse; how meaning shifts as it passes through multiple contexts, like a plane flying through unstable air.
One theme speaks strongly to me as a historian: the turbulence caused when images of paradise distort one’s experience of Hawai‘i as home place. My eyes are drawn to the work of Alison Beste, who has crafted a series on light trespass, “unnecessary or unwanted light exposure at night.” The creation of tonal patterns created by the mixing of light pollution, gradients of darkness and “nature” no longer visible, moves me to consider the various pō (darknesses) enumerated in the Kumulipo (Source in Deep Darkness, Hawaiian creation chant.) Can we see colors so newly emergent that they lack names? And as climates change and information moves at lightning speed through the air around us, do meanings ever coalesce into substance?
As a historian, I have come to appreciate that Pacific Island and Oceanic narratives grow out of different mana (versions), and it is this preference for multiplicity that continues to shape my writing on Hawai‘i. Reflecting on the show raises questions for me: Where does memory alight, how do we experience each other and ourselves in places whose meanings are always over-determined or contested? The answers came to me in the form of a story.
As a kid raised in small town urban Honolulu, I practically lived at Kam Bowl. By the age of 12, I was queen of video games: “Asteroids,” “Ladybug,” “Mappy.” I would play for hours against my friend Robert, an older hapa kid who chain-smoked. He would laugh quietly whenever I beat him. My friends and I would skitter down the back stairs and lay on the hood of my dad’s car. We’d point up at the clouds at sunset and play: what do you see? A dragon. The cloud city Bespin. The face of a woman, red tinted in the sky’s glow. When my dad bowled until midnight, I would lay my head down on the counter and slumber, enveloped by the fading sound of crashing pins—the most comforting blanket of sound.
I remember the day the alley was torn down. My father cried when they interviewed him for the news. He asked, “Where will the old folks gather now?” That place gave birth to so many relationships, like the Fil-Am league that traveled to the Philipines to bowl. Photos tell the story: people bowling, posing for a group shot outside proudly wearing their matching royal blue and white bowling shirts; a photo in Malacangan Palace, my grandfather reaching to shake Marcos’ hand, my father smiling on in disbelief. All the aunties and uncles I saw every week went their way when the lanes closed. Kam Bowl was a place of community for old and young, a social club for light exercise and talk story, a place for working people. Now the old folks gather in the McDonald’s across the street—a place that was once Kenny’s Burger House—as if waiting for the day when the lanes are miraculously reopened.
Chain stores now occupy the places in our memory: homogeneous, monolithic, effacing the local urban realities of our shared experience. The stores we grew up with are gone—Shirokiya, Liberty House, McInerney’s—replaced by generic global luxury brands: Neiman Marcus, Burberry, Chanel. We are priced out of our home places of leisure into spaces we are asked to clean, or serve in; a population of puka-pocket tour guides. Memories of a community now permeable on all fronts—the portion of place given to a transient sense of the islands as “paradise”—disturbs the coalescence of old and new memories.
I used to beg my dad to take me crayfishing up Nu‘uanu. It was my favorite thing to do with just him. We would go to what appeared to be a river but was probably a rivulet, a stream of small proportion; a micro-world of splashing water; a child’s laughter; sunlight diffused through leaves. I would hop from bank to bank, little red net in hand, pouncing on desperate crayfish, capturing them in my cupped palms. I’m afraid to return there with my kids; what if it’s not there anymore? What if the places I remember can only be communicated through speech, or through the words on a page? What if these places are so widely shared on Instahit or Facebook that when we go we meet busloads of tourists? How do I reconstitute my sense of place—the relationships I experienced through them—if they are stored only in memory, and every place now seems disturbed by irruptions of a non-volcanic nature?
These impressions are not mere nostalgia for a youth-since-passed. Rather, they may be read as further investigating “maoli” both in the native and real sense; a reassertion of the lehulehu, the manomano—the myriad; the possibility for us to thrive when we search for meaning in the multiple, rather than authenticity narrowed to a singular point of origin or, indeed, a return.
Tropical Disturbance: Sensing Place In Hawai‘i // luggagestoregallery.org
Where: The Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
When: Jan. 19–Feb. 23, 2018
Opening reception: Fri., Jan. 19, 6–9pm
Curated by: Trisha Lagaso Goldberg
Artists: Db Amorin, Alison Beste, Sean Connelly, Ara Feducia, Sally Lundburg, Dana Paresa, Maya Lea Portner, Lawrence Seward, Keith Tallett, Lynne Yamamoto
With performances by: Kumu Hula Alena Heim of Hālau Hula Kamaluokalaua‘e, Kumu Hula Patrick Makuakāne and Hālau Hula Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu