Opening this Saturday, Oct. 12, in the John Dominis and Patches Damon Holt Gallery of the Arts of Hawai‘i is DB Amorin: Tracing the Veer. Born and raised in Hawai‘i, Amorin now lives and works in Portland, Oregon. He creates mediated experiences using video, expanded audio, augmented environments (the combining of a real-world image captured from a device’s camera with virtual content, such as digital objects or information) and lo-fi techniques or open-source technology. You may have seen his work A static-favored shape (“”grazed my neck w/ a burnt piece of land in liliha” at this year’s Honolulu Biennial (it was at the Hub), and this fall he was one of seven artists in residence with the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Creative Exchange Lab. In Tracing the Veer, Amorin incorporates recordings of conversations he had with his late grandmother and mother. He took the time to answer questions about his latest mediated experience by email.
HoMA: What inspired Tracing the Veer? Was it a conversation with your grandmother?
DB Amorin: Tracing the Veer describes the current position of an ongoing project which began as a way to collect, transcribe and chart the maternal histories of my family. It is the fourth iterative work using auto-ethnography as a basis to explore the effect that inheritance has upon the lives and perspectives of islanders. During this process, I was struck by the ways stories intersect, cancel each other out, accumulate, magnify or distort one another. I wanted to make a work that mimics the search for knowledge and centers on the omissions or the places in stories where things just don’t align.
After several projects processing this material and trying my best to find and outline something that would do justice to my mothers who carry and care for so much, I realized that truly the most salient aspect of the narratives and the process of recording and expressing them is the most immaterial: the feeling of movement over time, across generations, that echo out ahead of us or come trailing back. I thought about the structure of an island, a physical loop that contains the accumulated, sweeping gesture of untold stories, and the kind of freedom one is afforded in following those movements until a gap is reached and you are allowed to veer off course.
How long has the installation been in the making? When and where did you record conversations with your grandmother and mother?
DB Amorin: The first project using material gathered and recorded from my grandmother and mother was presented in an alternative gallery space in Portland in 2016, a modified 1991 Ford Bronco. Projections onto the windshield and sound from the internal speakers amplified conversations and video I captured with my mother as we drove together on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i, spliced with recordings at my grandmother’s home in Kailua before she passed. These conversations with her are some of the only recordings that exist detailing genealogical and personal information and are interspersed with regular talk story, a non-linear structure I preserved with the first several iterations of this work through 2018. While production on Tracing the Veer began in mid-2018, elements of these previous works are recycled, reprocessed and scrubbed, eventually serving as the basis of this installation for the Honolulu Museum of Art. The project included several collaborations with other artists and fabricators in Portland, including ceramicist Maya Vivas, artist Matt Leavitt and musician Stephen Agustin, another Hawai‘i transplant.
Were the conversations organic, or did you steer them to touch on specific family topics?
One of the recurring elements in the conversations I recorded was the presence of cars, and how they served as sites of liberation, extensions of the body, sources of pride, or risk. It fascinated me to think of the type of movement on an island made possible with the automobile, how transformative it has been within the context of the narratives I was discovering. Using this as a touchpoint, I recorded more conversations with my mother to attempt to chart these significant moments, linked back to previous conversations. This process further exemplified the role that error plays in our understanding of history, as many of the stories were remembered, second-hand from my grandmother or her mother, who are no longer with us to confirm or further complicate. We are left in a type of mythic non-space, where speculation and wonder thrive.
What will the layout of the installation be? Sounds like to will be sectioned off spaces, with different audio playing in different spaces? Paint us a picture.
The installation consists of a two-channel video projected onto constructed panels jutting out of the opposing, parallel gallery walls. A ring of sculptures, propped up on stage flats, is carved out in the center of the gallery. In thinking about the access we truly have to the experience of our ancestors, I have placed these sculptures in a way that restricts movement to a circular path to navigate around the form, and removes access to the center of the gallery directly between the screens. In most of my installations, I draw attention to the divide between media and viewer, often placing screens in awkward positions or proximities, alongside visible, unfinished constructions. Here, the sculptures serve as a barrier and extension of the screens, reflecting and traveling the light from the room along a circular, segmented model of actual engraved audio of the same disembodied recordings that bounce across speakers above the gallery. All of the media seen and heard are the result of imperfect translation processes of information made physical: from sound collages of magnetically erased cassette tape and blank laser-cut acrylic records, the filmed rotations of models I created attempting to map intersecting stories, or the magnified grain of compression artifacts, residual data within image files that do not refresh correctly between scenes.
Did you learn things about your family and/or yourself in working on Tracing the Veer?
I feel we are at a unique moment technologically where we engage with digital archives on a daily basis and the indelibility of information is assumed. However, there is a certain beauty to data loss and the disruption it enacts upon lineages inherited, within cultural and social norms that no longer serve us, or as a foil to other cycles set in motion that maybe we have never chosen. This process of documentation has been illuminating, humbling and cathartic. Ultimately, it is the acceptance that I may never know any of these stories fully that I have found most comforting in an age where nothing can be forgotten.
How has being in Portland informed your work?
Portland has many overlapping, vibrant arts communities that make opportunities for collaboration or transdisciplinary work not only possible but somewhat expected. My recent research residency with the Creative Exchange Lab hosted by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art during their Time-Based Arts Festival is a great example of genuine institutional support for the work of experimental artists working across genres and often collaboratively. It is a unique arena for contemporary inquiry that is largely independent of corporate influence, and deeply tied to critical community engagement. This understanding is so ubiquitous that it remains at the forefront of every initiative, project or exhibition as far as my various circles extend, which has been deeply enriching for my personal practice.
What does it mean to you to have a solo installation at the Honolulu Museum of Art?
To be able to return to Hawai‘i and show new work of a deeply personal nature is quite a surreal experience. The physical remove of living on the mainland, but nevertheless always carrying with me a type of temporal rhythm that doesn’t quite match the continent I currently reside on, has allowed me to view the experiences and histories that have unfolded here in a new light. To feel supported in this vision by curator Healoha Johnston and the Honolulu Museum of Art is truly a gift and a type of homecoming that I could never have imagined.
sounds every turn in silhouette, 2019 (details)
Expanded polystyrene foam, urethane acrylic, automotive paint, wood, hardware