Tacoma resident, artist and film maker Masahiro Sugano has an art installation on view in the gallery space of the Hilltop’s Feast Art Center. The poetically macabre exhibit serves as a teaser — an introduction to Sugano that makes you want to explore more of his work.
The installation, called “Perpetual Irrelevance,” is something of an artist’s self portrait. At the far end of the rectangular space is a near life-sized, puppet-like version of the artist. It is partially made of lumber scraps and partially made of parts of what looks to be a crash test dummy. A plaster cast of Sugano’s face (made at Two Ravens foundry) is mounted on the dummy’s head. The dummy wears one of Sugano’s hats and a pair of his glasses. It is kneeling on a tatami mat and is holding one of the artist’s stoneware mugs. The artist sat in that spot in the empty gallery when he was contemplating what to do with the space.
A steel pipe runs from the dummy to a wooden box that is coated with red paint as if the pipe ran red with the artist’s blood. More of the blood/paint is splashed over the floor and splattered on the walls. A bunch of funny, plastic internal organs, also coated in the red paint, are strewn across the floor. It is as if the artist has been eviscerated. The piece seems to be a literalistic depiction of an idea that artists sometimes express: art as a means of spilling one’s guts out for all the world to see.
Opposite the kneeling figure is a crudely made, but sturdy, table with lengths of celluloid film stretched over the surface. Beneath the table is a chaotic jumble of film, film boxes, boots, clothing, equipment and other detritus from a film studio. It is as if some monster vomited up the contents of the artist’s work space.
Sugano is primarily a filmmaker and still shots from his movies are mounted on the two side walls of the gallery. These striking images pique one’s curiosity. There is an image from “White Mother,” a woman with white powder on her face, dressed in white, archaic Japanese clothing, pushing a stroller down a modern street. From “The Buddhist Bug” are images of a fantastic creature with a human head and long, long, long orange body. One image shows a woman clad in a red burqa surrounded by dozens of American flags.
My response to this striking show was to go dig up more on the artist and to learn more about him and view some of his films. Of Japanese descent, Sugano earned a bachelor of arts in philosophy from Cal State Northridge and a master of fine arts in film/animation from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He now has more than 25 films under his belt and is still going strong. A quick Internet search yields a feast of information on Sugano’s films. Many are short films and make for easy viewing. One example is the five-minute, 2009 “Yarning for Love.” The color is washed out and it is like a silent movie with piano music to fill in the audio. A couple are having a meal and mysterious strings of yarn begin to come out of themselves. Before long they are all tangled up in one another’s yarn. At first they are happy, but eventually they struggle to pull free of one another.
Sugano seems particularly interested in feminist issues and the dynamics of group identity. The spike in hate crimes against Muslims and Muslim Americans in the wake of the 9/11 attack is the topic of “1700% Project: Mistaken for Muslim.”
“Cambodian Son,” a feature length documentary on Kosal Khiev, a gang member turned poet who was deported to Cambodia, earned Sugano several awards at international film festivals.
It is heartening to find such a great film maker living in Tacoma. Talent usually tends to gravitate to the usual cultural magnets like Seattle, Los Angeles, New York or Paris, where one would otherwise expect to find him. It is nice to see someone with the strength of character to recognize a place with heart and buck the conventional wisdom.
“Perpetual Irrelevance” runs through Aug. 11 at Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St. Gallery viewing hours are Saturday noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Send them an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Feast Art Center has a lot going on, so people are there often. For further information on Sugano visit studio-revolt.com.