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United by their differences

Asian American artists cover a lot of ground in 'One Way or Another.'

March 11, 2008|Christopher Knight | Times Staff Writer

Chang's work focuses on three people -- two women, one man; one Asian, two Caucasians -- each performing a rough English translation of an essay from a German magazine. The essay, written by cultural critic Walter Benjamin, is a poetic analysis of an encounter with Chinese American movie actress Anna May Wong. The translators grope for understanding, just as the writer does in articulating the chimerical presence of a movie star. Depending on which of the three is speaking for him, the sense of Benjamin's obsession with Wong subtly shifts.

Eastman paints works of art -- an 18th century porcelain cup, a Baroque tapestry, a sculptural dolphin-fountain in a manicured Versailles garden -- each dominated by pictures of nature, especially fish and birds. These depicted animals occupy the fluid space of water and air rather than being earthbound, an effect cleverly underscored in the thinned, fluid colors the artist employs to render them. Eastman's graceful meditations on artifice look upon common cultural objects as something alien and wondrous. In the process, they absorb her own paintings into that marvelous category.

Chang and Eastman engage a deeply cosmopolitan ethos for their impressive work. Although cultural ancestry and political state can function as inescapable markers, being human in a world of common humanity trumps such divisions as nation or ethnicity. That cosmopolitanism is what unites most of the disparate works in "One Way or Another," abandoning older, more conservative models of identity.


christopher.knight@latimes .com

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