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"Perpetual Irrelevance"

Masahiro Sugano installation at Feast Arts Center

“xxx,” by Masahiro Sugano. Photo courtesy Feast Arts Center

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Masahiro Sugano's installation at Feast Arts Center is as gutsy as anything you're likely to see, and I mean that both literally and metaphorically. It is gutsy in the sense of taking chances and - slightly more literally, as you will see - in the sense of the popular basketball-metaphor of leaving it all on the court. Literally, there are blood-red sculptural intestines and hearts and spleens and other body parts all over the floor and blood splatters everywhere.

Sugano is an award-winning filmmaker. His 2013 series Verses in Exile about Cambodian deportations was broadcast on PBS online, and his documentary Cambodian Son won Best Documentary award at the 2014 CAAMFEST and a Special Jury Prize at Cultural Resistance Film Fest of Lebanon. In this exhibition, he exhibits artifacts from his more than 25 films.

The front of the gallery is a sculpture of a man, presumably Sugano, on his knees and penetrated by a metal rod. The sculpture is crafted from wood and mannequin parts. From here the artist "spills his guts" in a stream that crosses the gallery floor to a rough wooden workbench laden with piles of detritus from his career in filmmaking: reels, DVDs, books, clothing, a boot and a United States flag. The significance of the flag, which some viewers may see as a desecration, is that much of his art and many of his films are about refugees to the U.S., their lives here, and their treatment at the hands of our country, including the deportation of Cambodian-Americans who have been here since early childhood, as documented in Cambodian Son, a film about Kosal Khiev, a refugee from Cambodia at the age of 1 year old. Khiev became a well-known poet and was deported back to Cambodia at the age of 32, a country he knew nothing about and where he couldn't even speak the language.  

The gallery at Feast Arts Center is a long, narrow space with a doorway on one end and a window on the other, meaning there are only two walls for hanging paintings, drawings and photos. Sugano utilizes these two walls to display two lines of photographs, mostly film stills documenting his many films. Included are photos of performance art pieces by his wife, Anida Yoeu Ali, who curated this show. Also on the walls are small and excruciatingly precise charts labeling each photograph with titles and notations on what film or performance piece each is from.

The blood splatters (red paint) is heavy on the floor and is slung up both walls. It is more controlled than it might at first appear, heavy where it needs to be and lighter where other things need to be seen. The splatters go under the photographs and directionally lead the eye through the various parts of the installation and serve as a visually unifying element.

In a written statement, Sugano states, "(Americans of all colors) cannot figure out what to make of me - a Japanese dude doing something in the U.S. But their eyes light up and the apprehension dissipates when I say I used to make sushi. Sushi is absolutely irrelevant to me but to this day it defines me. I fear sometimes that my filmmaking existence is as irrelevant to America. This show is about the stuff I have been doing over twenty-five years and will be doing until the moment I die."

I suspect visitors who take the time to carefully view this work will indeed figure out what to make of this Japanese dude who has lived in three different countries and now lives in Tacoma.

"Perpetual Irrelevance," noon to 4 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, and by appointment, through Aug. 11, Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, feastarts.com

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