One of the hits of the inaugural Honolulu Biennial was Lynne Yamamoto’s quiet, contemplative work Borrowed Time. It sat, familiar and inviting, on a lawn near Sean Connelly’s bigger, muscular Thatch Assembly with Rocks (2060s) at Foster Botanical Garden. The site-specific work made me think about my nisei grandparents, my larger family, about Honolulu and how what seemed permanent to me as a child is actually terrifyingly fleeting, and how even our identities change. For people of a certain age and background born in Hawai‘i, Yamamoto’s echo of a plantation bungalow is so loaded with meaning. It is like a snapshot in an old family album.
Fashioned from materials from ReUse Hawaii, the work was originally destined to be dismantled when the Biennial closed. The museum, which had previously worked with Lynne on her installation House for Listening to Rain, happily offered to be its second home.
Now you can experience Borrowed Time as part of a small village of art in the Spalding House exhibition The World Reflected, on view through October 2018. It is a good neighbor to George Segal’s Japanese Couple (pictured above) along with Jennifer Bartlett’s House with Open Door, and Nam Jun Paik’s one-seat schoolhouse WareZ Academy.
Born and raised in Hawai‘i, Yamamoto is based in Northampton, Mass., and is the Jessie Wells Post Professor of Art at Smith College. But it is clear that her hometown still lays claim to her heart.
Here is what she has to say about Borrowed Time:
It is a structure that embodies the memory of both the bungalow and the plantation styles of vernacular architecture. The bungalow style (front) was associated with the lunas’/middle management homes, and the plantation style (back) was associated with workers’ homes. Thus the structure as a whole refers to the hierarchy of power and status on the plantations. The front is largely white, and the back is largely unpainted.
Since characteristics of both became woven through homes built in the 1920s to 1940s—a period of time that includes 1930, the year Mary Mikahala Robinson Foster deeded the land that became Foster Garden, to the city of Honolulu—I also wanted to convey a sense of the complicated and compelling ways in which historic referents become intertwined with client/carpenter choices. And we see that in the older middle/working neighborhoods right around Foster Garden, as well as in lower Punchbowl, Ka’imuki and Palolo, for example.
I focused on the porch part of the house, because what differentiates historic house construction in Hawai’i from similar structures elsewhere in the U.S., is an emphasis on openness, the porosity of interior and exterior. I tried to have this in the structure. It also seemed appropriate, since it was originally sited in Foster Garden. I wanted it to face Nu’uanu Valley, so that when the tradewinds (out of the Northeast) are blowing, the breeze would flow right through the structure.
I saw this installation on the last day of the exhibit. There was an impressive docent, a lawyer who had taken the afternoon off to be an explainer at the Foster Garden exhibit that afternoon. He knew a lot about the sculpture and related to it on a very personal level – remembering visits to his grandparents on Kauai, who lived in a plantation worker’s house. I sat on the front entry, with the trades blowing through and listened to him talk story about his experiences as a child, what it was like to visit, the lives led by the workers, th different elements of the homes of the lunas and the owners vs. those of the workers represented in the sculpture. I have thought about if many times since.
Very glad to have had his input and very glad I will be able to see it again.