“Just dip the brush in the water and then touch it to a color you like,” says Art School director Vince Hazen, offering a paintbrush and gesturing to a bowl of water and a piece of moldy bread on a folding table. “Whatever color you pick to paint with, that’s what will show up first—whether it’s the chartreuse or the darker green, up to you.”
It is Friday, Dec. 29—Hazen’s last day at the Art School. In 2018 he begins a new career as a ceramics and printmaking instructor at Kamehameha Schools. He cleaned out his office earlier in the week and after a tearful goodbye with HoMA staff this morning, he is spending the day building his first Nanogallery installation—Loafer. The installation consists of dozens of slices of white bread consumed by varying amounts of bright green mold—each individually packaged in plastic sandwich bags and affixed to the walls of the micro gallery space.
Hazen converted the 12 square foot former phone booth in the Art School lobby to the Nanogallery in 2012, and since then every month it has featured a new installation, many of them by museum staff. It is perhaps fitting that—as Hazen embarks on a path he hopes will allow him to spend more time on his own creative practice—his first installation in the space should also serve as a farewell.
Between soliciting mold “paintings” from passing colleagues and friends and adding them to his curated collection of cultures on the eight-foot-tall walls of the Nanogallery, Hazen took time to reflect on this installation and his 12 years at the Art School.
So what’s with the mold?
An ongoing strategy for my art-making practice is to take these things that are sort of a nuisance—like moldy bread—and then recontextualize them into an art project. That way, at least for the time you’re working on it, it’s not a problem—it makes you see it in a different way. Instead of worrying about bread going bad I start focusing on something that I’m looking for in the mold, like a color.
Is there any particular message you are trying to convey with this work?
The epiphany of art can come at any moment and it can be really banal and it can be part of your domestic life. This is a lot about making lunches for my children—that’s where the plastic bags came from. It’s about how art can come out of your everyday life.
What is your favorite memory of your time here?
A couple of my outreach assignments are really memorable to me. [Hazen managed the Art School’s outreach program prior to becoming director in 2009.] One was the Kahuku Alternative Learning Center. These were students who had been kicked off of campus and were going to a one-room schoolhouse at Kahana State Park. It was a challenge to engage those students. We did a lot of our art at the beach—that was one way to get them interested. Another that I really remember was Pālolo Elementary School. It was an all-boys program and it was a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the “Bigs” were St. Louis high school students paired with all these young boys. That was really fun.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Probably the Celebrate Micronesia Festival and the exhibitions that have gone with that. It began when we started an afterschool program for English language learners at Queen Ka’ahumanu School, and we noticed a lot of negative attitudes about having Micronesian students in class. We thought we should find a way to celebrate the positive aspects of their culture, so we hosted an exhibition in the Mezzanine Gallery featuring Micronesian crafts. For the opening, three different groups came to perform. We had a pretty good sized crowd and the performances and the crowd felt really special. So the next year we planned a whole day of activities like that and it has grown bigger every year.
What will you miss most about the Art School?
All my friends! All the people I work with and all the students and teachers. I’ll miss them a lot. I’ll also miss being so close to the collection. It’s been a real privilege to be able to go see the pieces I like frequently, just go visit them. The Bontecou is probably my favorite piece in the museum, so I’ll miss that. [You can see Lee Bontecou’s Untitled in the Gallery of Modern Highlights.]
Vince Hazen’s Loafer is on view in the Nanogallery through Jan. 30. If you are interested in showing work in the Nanogallery, contact Art School graphic designer and exhibition coordinator Sarah Smith at gro.muesumululonohnull@htimss.