Article by Miranda Seaver
Venue: San José Museum of Art
Featuring: Beta Space: Pae White – Exhibition
I am a child.
I must be six, maybe seven, and my parents have dragged me along with them to the hardware store. They have their own business to attend to, so much so that they’ve all but tossed me aside so they could focus their attention on doorknobs and light fixtures. And since this is still the dawn of the Smartphone Age, I have nothing to distract myself. So I take to wandering through the aisles, toying vaguely with these artifacts of a life miles away form my own. It’s not much, but few things pass the time better than ascribing great intent to a meaningless subject.
Well over a decade later I still fall into similar habits. Some people call it “window shopping”, but that doesn’t quite capture what I’m sure we all did as children. The separation, I think, is comprehension. If you walked into somewhere like a hardware store today, you could likely place most of the items on the shelves. As a child, however, disconnected from context and vocabulary, it’s all shapes. Textures. Colors and light. That’s where the magic of these kinds of exploration comes in – from the gentle vulnerability of surrendering yourself to the sense memory of a new situation.
This is where we find ourselves in Beta Space, Pae White’s collection of old and new work organized to celebrate the San Jose Museum of Art’s 50th anniversary.
Pae White is a multimedia artist specializing in the exceptional quality existing in what most would consider mundane. Her current exhibit contains two notable installations that take up the space with an astounding scope. There’s foreverago (2017), a massive tapestry running at 127 feet long. It snakes through the center of the exhibit’s small room, coiling into little alcoves one can stand and be surrounded by cotton, cashmere and metal. You can watch it for it’s details, specially the scattered insects and depictions of psychoactive plants. Or you can let your eyes blur and focus on the colors and shapes, patches of silver and gold, and the most perfect shade of mauve.
The second biggest piece is AGAMEMNOMICS (2013), a massive collection of toys and tchotchkes lined up in a long case that stretches across most of the room. The work started off when White found a number of forgotten toys while in Vienna. With them she fashioned a chess set, and she took photos of nine different pieces and sent them to artists and fabricators all across the world, from Los Angeles to Germany and China. From there they created their own interpretation of the toy, made in the material of their choice. From that point on she amassed a series of mirrors in front of mirrors, reflections echoed enough to fade familiarity into only its barest outline.
And suddenly you’re a child again, wandering around your guardian’s orbit and taking in things you’re too young to understand. It’s a warm feeling, especially in the realm of art world academia, to see an exhibit from your heart and not your head. White’s work has been described as kinesthetic, being “as much a bodily as visual experience that plays with the senses”. Her focus is on our relationship with the ordinary, something that all too many of us take advantage of on a day-to-day basis.
You can do that for yourself even outside of Beta Space. Perhaps when you wake up in the morning you can dedicated a bit more thought to the things you usually ignore. Feel the way the bristles of your brush feel against your teeth, or how the heat gathers in your coffee cup. Curiosity doesn’t go away – not really – it just sometimes needs a little push to rise to the surface. That’s what Pae White is working towards.
So let her help you. Come loose yourself in Beta Space – at least, until your parents are ready to go.