2002 United States Department of State Office of Academic Programs
J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Award
Grants to Individual Artists, Jury Award
2000 San Francisco Art Institute
David S. McMillian Award
2000 Headlands Center for the Arts
MFA Studio Award
1999 San Francisco Foundation
Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship in the Fine Arts
2009 Present Tense Biennial (catalog)
Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco. San Francisco, CA
SF Camerawork. San Francisco, CA
2008 Eureka! (catalog)
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. San Jose, CA
Intersection for the Arts. San Francico, CA
2006 Orientalism (Individual Show)
Lisa Dent Gallery. San Francisco, CA
2005 Aqua Art Miami
Aqua Hotel. Miami Beach, FL
2005 Mystery Ball
Headlands Center for the Arts. Sausalito, CA
2005 Photo San Francisco
Fort Mason. San Francisco, CA
2004 Structure, Grid, and Line
Key Tower Gallery, Seattle, WA
Southern Exposure Gallery San Francisco, CA
2003 Thomas Chang, Blue McRight, Genevive Quick
101 California Street, San Francisco, CA.
2003 Bay Area Now 3.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts San Francisco, CA (Catalog)
2002 Same / Difference
SF Camerawork Hotel Triton, San Francisco, CA
2002 Chromogenic Prints
Andrea Schwartz Gallery San Francisco, CA
2001 The Art Council Awards Show
Limn Gallery San Francisco, CA
Southern Exposure Gallery San Francisco, CA
2001 Project Space
Headlands Center for the Arts Sausilito, CA
M.Y. Art Prospects New York City, NY
2000 Fuzzy Logic
Southern Exposure Gallery San Francisco, CA
2000 Visions of Excellence
Mumm Cuvee Photography Gallery. Napa, CA
GenArt/SF San Francisco Art Institute Annex San Francisco, CA
2000 San Francisco Art Institute MFA Exhibit
Fort Mason Center San Francisco, CA (Individual Show. Catalog.)
Diego Rivera Gallery San Francisco, CA (Individual Show.)
2000 American Artists
Charles H. Scott Gallery Toronto, Canada.
(select citation for full text)Olson, Marisa S., "'Bay Area Now 3'", Artweek, Vol. 33, Issue 10, Dec 2002 / Jan 2003.
Olson, Marisa S., "Same/Diference", Camerawork, Vol. 29, No.2, Fall/Winter 2002.
Brenneman, Christine, "Thomas Chang, Belinda Gray and Sharon Wickham at Andrea Schwartz Gallery", Artweek, October 2002.
Bing, Alison, "Thomas Chang makes a Scene", AsianWeek, August 29, 2002.
Westbrook, Lindsey, "Critic's Choice" San Francisco Bay Guardian, Aug. 14-20, 2002.
Bing, Alison, "Fine Furnishings", SF Gate, August 22, 2002.
Kerr, Merrily , "Absence/Presence", New York Art World Magazine, May 2001.
Olson, Marisa S., "Thomas Chang", Surface Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2000.
Diaz, Rodrigo, "GenArtSF Presents 'Emerge 2000'", SF Station, July 2000.
Marquez, Josi, "SF Art Institute MFA Show", SF Weekly, 24 May 2000.
Media Coverage for
PRESENT TENSE Biennial: Chinese Character
“Vibrant, political, poetic and challenging … Go see this show !!!” - SF Art Examiner
“Present Tense Biennial (…) is exciting …” - KQED Arts
“An unsung hoops hero hits Chinatown storefront” - SF Chronicle
” [Present Tense Biennial] is energetic …” - SF Weekly Arts
Present Tense Biennial: Chinese Character
By Claire Light
May 05, 2009
“…Thomas Chang, who's been making a career out of photographing charged spaces empty of people, to see what is left behind; Chang's photo series of Chinese landmarks can only be called surreal in the scenes' utter absence of human presence. It's squirmily uncomfortable, and some of the best work such a show can present.”
Read the full article:
Chinese Cultural Center and Kearny Street Workshop: Present Tense Biennial
By Marisa Nakasone
SF Art Examiner
May 6, 2009
Copyright © 2009 Clarity Digital Group LLC d/b/a Examiner.com
”Thomas Chang's series of photographs taken from Splendid China Theme Park in Orlando, Florida reframe the meta-Chinese Monuments (see the architectural wonders of China at 1/10th the size!) such that the images take on a surreal appearance of both authenticity and artifice. In this way, Chang's photography incisively highlights the disjunction between cultural legacy and historical tourism and the resultingly muddled messages this sends to the public.”
Read the full article:
Published July 7, 2009
"Thomas Chang, for example, explores what’s left of a theme park in Orlando, Florida fallen into disrepair. The miniature monuments captured in C-Prints have a haziness in the details which only serves to draw attention to the haziness behind the enterprise itself. The brain child of the Chinese government, the amusement site was meant to foster interest in tourism with replicas of famous sites in 1/10th scale. A facsimile of Tengwang Pavilion however is now gutted, the front exposed like a doll house and overgrown with weeds. This official “imprimatur” of Chinese culture, made for export and based on sites of historic importance and grandeur, has an interesting counterpart in the export of Americaness in Charlene Tan’s work (more on that in a bit)."
Read the full article:
BAY AREA NOW 3
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Oct 26–Jan 12, 2003
The third in YBCA's widely acclaimed, landmark series of triennial surveys, Bay Area Now 3 is a Center-wide festival that presents snapshots of the artistic currents and recent developments of Northern California's vital arts community. This exhibition combines a bevy of emerging talents in an exploration of work by some of the area's most revered yet underrecognized established practitioners.
from the catalog
Thomas Chang is best known for two bodies of work: Decadence, which portrays architectural details of affluent homes and plush hotels in Southern California; and Strip Tease, a look at the barren interiors of night clubs and strip joints in San Francisco. His new body of work, tentatively titled China Series, is an examination of Beijing, a city whose dynamic urban, social and economic changes are in stark contrast to the stagnant nostalgia and exoticism placed on it by the West. While the three projects seem to address very different matters, they all share the same theme - empty spaces. As a form of photographic anthropology, Chang's practice is to examine static environments in an attempt to understand those who have built and occupy the spaces.
His stylistic use of emptiness and the recurrent lack of human activity, serve as a metaphor for what the artist believes to be the invisible desires of those who might inhabit these spaces. Decadence depicts the materalistic accoutrements used to fill a spiratual void, and Strip Tease shows artificial environments that promise spectacle and satisfaction yet yield nothing. Chang's China Series portrays the desire of those liviing in this city to contend with the enormous changes around them due to the increasing availability of resources from the ouside world. Every photograph in Chang's oeuvre is immaculately contructed. Formally rigorous, he balances rich details with an economy of means, filling every sqare inch with well-considered information in an attempt to outline the invisible in the midst of it all.
Rene de Guzman
Visual Arts Curator
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
"Bay Area Now 3"
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Vol. 33, Issue 10, Dec 2002 / Jan 2003.
by Marisa S. Olson
Thomas Chang's photos from Beijing take Vegas-style hyper-reality conversations global. In them we see the Great Wall re-created for a theme park the way The Strip is re-creating the neighboring Grand Canyon. Caricatures of "traditional" Chinese restaurants and gardens. The content of Chang's poignant documents reads more like momento mori to a bygone culture than self-homage they might hope to connote.
Absence / Presence
M.Y. Art Prospects is pleased to present Absence / Presence, a three-person exhibition featuring photography by Thomas Chang, a mixed-media sculpture installation by Kaoru Motomiya, and drawings by Sung-Ah Chang. The opening reception will take place on Wednesday, March 21, 6-8pm, as part of the citywide "Asia Week" celebration.
Organized by art historian and curator Doryun Chong, this exhibition presents works of three young artists, which all revolve around the dual concepts of Absence/Presence, despite their clearly distinct aesthetic qualities.
Thomas Chang's photography explores environments of genteel consumption, sexual gratification, and display of wealth and privilege. They are spaces pregnant with socioeconomic implications of interpersonal relationships, but Chang's images clinically evacuate any human presence. Suffused with gorgeous and sensual hues, Chang's works explore stimulating new dimensions in color photography.
Extending the boundaries of organic form and function, Kaoru Motomiya creates quietly unsettling sculptures and installations. For her newest work, she sampled small gaps and marks on the wooden floor of her New York studio. Using a variety of odd shapes molded from these patterns, she has created sculptures that evoke a profound sense of the effects of aging and life's ever-changing nature.
Sung-Ah Chang's large drawings present human images - views of a seemingly slumbering person, seen from subtly varying angles. In them, the painter gives equal weight to fine texture and agile movement. She gives the viewer a unique window into the psychological landscape of the drawn subject with supreme exercises in the most basic form of art making.
Thomas Chang studied photography and psychology at University of California at Santa Cruz, and received his M. F. A. in photography at San Francisco Art Institute. Kaoru Motomiya graduated from Musashino University of Art in Tokyo. She has had solo exhibitions in Tokyo, and participated in a number of group shows in Japan, Canada, and USA. Sung-Ah Chang studied painting at Seoul National University and at San Francisco Art Institute.
Vol. 29, No.2, Fall/Winter 2002.
by Marisa S. Olson
Same / Difference calls attention to the unique, subjective experiences that mark hotel rooms, in opposition to the stark sameness of these pseudo-domestic zones. The artists included unravel the uniformity of the hotel space by projecting narrative fantasies onto our reading of a vacant room and commenting on our inability to communicate with others who have inhabited the same space. Visitors to the hotel can check out a key and view work ranging from video and photography to site-specific audio and textile installations.
Tommy Becker has taken over the room’s bathroom with a video installation creating an eerily comic narrative about communication in relationships. Props from his video take on a new life in the room, creating a disjunction between the space of the narrative and the space in which it is experienced. Thomas Chang shows two images from his Decadence series, exploring he often-absurd efforts of "four-star’ hotel proprietors to decorate every inch o of their commercial space. Heather Johnson documents her travels through photographs, text, and textile sculptures. Johnson, has made these documents of exteriority site specific by embroidering the room’s lines, and other objects, with words and images related to travel, transience, and hotel space.
Through the use of the room’s phone, Jeff Karolski invites participants to be telegraphed into a highly intimate space. Forwarding his own personal answering machine messages for the length of the installation, Karolski transforms the hotel room’s voicemail box into a living record of one person’s life.
Laura Larson shows two photos from her newest series on "dirty" hotel rooms, where the generic nature of the spaces is overwritten by the mysterious personal traces left after check-out. Geof Oppenheimer condenses personal living space to the confines of a t-shirt. Hanging in the room’s closet are t-shirts printed with slogans a la the generic "I love New York." Embodying the Same/Difference theme, the shirts are printed in a mass-produced style, yet their messages imply an investment in "uniqueness" and imbue a portability to the materially-constructed identity.
Graham Parker’s slide installations, Diogenes and Barnum, document the artist’s reinterpretation of anecdotal accounts of moments in history. In the desk drawer are printing blocks, ink, and notepads on which visitors can print excerpted myths about Irish playboy soccer star, George Best. This will be the first of an ongoing series made on notepaper from hotels at which the artist has stayed – making messy, physical, and local the portable meme of international anecdote. Sam Kraus displays fifty identical antique keys, within a vintage suitcase, each fictionally-linked to a unique hotel. The keys are meant to reflect the seemingly machine-made, sterile, anonymous side of hotels, juxtaposed with the subjective, mysterious ways that visitors use hotel rooms.
Thomas Chang, Belinda
Gray and Sharon Wickham at Andrea Schwartz Gallery
by Christine Brenneman
There’s nothing quite like a photograph to lend a new perspective and weight to an ordinary object. Taken out of the larger context of the real world, the image and the scene it depicts becomes a thing separate and more easily mined for visual richness. At a recent San Francisco show, three Northern California photographers transformed details from our contemporary landscape into relevant and intriguing artistic motifs. The trio, Thomas Chang, Belinda Gray and Sharon Wickham, all shed light on hidden or ignored spaces in their color prints, but their chosen subject matter wildly divergent.
Thomas Chang showed large-scale photos of the vacant interiors of strip clubs, brightly lit and garishly furnished. In his Lap Dance Chair, Boys Toys, deep, overstuffed chairs in tacky fabrics lined up empty against a wall, elevated strip tease poles ascending to the ceiling between each chair. Like a theater set awaiting its actors, the room was conspicuously empty and devoid of life; without undulating flesh, the club seemed plain, boring and entirely uninviting. Yet against this back drop, fantasies of all kinds play out on a nightly basis. Chang allowed entry into these nightspots, minus dancers and patrons, inviting viewers to project their own ideas onto the space.
Tackling an altogether more wholesome American pastime, fellow photographer Belinda Gray shot rural county fairs and showed the culture contained therein. Beauty queens, 4-H girls, and a bevy of fair-goers occupied her huge color prints. Sonoma-Marin county Fair No. 1, Petaluma, CA June 2001 introduced a middle-aged, bleached blonde woman working at a concession stand stuffed with cotton candy and every imaginable variety of junk food. All angles and sun-bleached hues, the piece works not only as portrait of this woman, but also as a portrait of the world of the county fair. For what else is the fair experience if not sugar, townies and too much sun?
Sharon Wickham left the rural milieu far behind in her tiny color studies of abandoned furniture left on the streets of San Francisco. Couches, chairs and anything else discarded on the city’s alleyways and avenues were fair game in Wickham’s works. Her Torso captured the sadly forsaken vestige of a low-slung, creamy-white couch sectional that’s missing a seat cushion. With soft focus, and use of a technique photographer call "vignetting" (darkening the edges of the print in a circle around the subject), Wickham created an old-time portrait feel. She treated these castoffs as something to be revered – or at the very least noticed.
This triumvirate of photographers adeptly recognized and highlighted the overlooked in our surroundings. The mundane, and seemingly unexceptional, became an entirely different creature through the lenses of Chang, Gray and Wickham. Though we may not all frequent strip clubs and county fairs, or comb the streets of a big city for rejected furniture, these things exist in fairly close proximity to most of us; these artists simply took not of the visual facts we usually pass over, and let the rest of us in on the secret.
Photographer Thomas Chang
Makes a Scene
Arts and Entertainment
August 29, 2002
by Alison Bing
Don’t be fooled by his pensive, mild-mannered demeanor. Photographer Thomas Chang knows how to make a scene. Wherever his photographs appear, you’ll hear the same chorus: "Hey, look at this…", " Is that…?" and the occasional "What the…?!"
So why all the ruckus? At first glance, Chang’s large color photographs seem perfectly calm: empty lap dance chairs at sex clubs, unoccupied rooms at fancy hotels and unattended souvenir stalls in China. Without people in them, these places appear to be reserved – in both senses of the word.
But then it strikes you: You may have been to places like this, but you’d never really considered them before. Do people actually find beige vinyl chairs sexy? Who in the world decided palm-frond wallpaper looked ritzy? Isn’t there a certain irony to cashing in on Mao memorabilia? Hence all the musing aloud at a Thomas Chang show. It’s as though there’s a question mark embedded in every piece.
"I look for places that are odd, that don’t make sense to me," explained Chang. "I hope other people find them funny too." It’s impossible to keep my own critique and personal views of these places out of the photographs, but I try very hard not to preach through them. I want to allow the audience to explore these spaces that they might not access for themselves."
ACCESSING ALL AREAS
Chang accesses his photography locations the same way he accesses his viewers’ psyches: by smarts and stealth. This is a man who’s snapped forbidden photographs in Las Vegas casinos and convinced real estate agents into letting him enter $3 million condos cloistered behind closed gates. But his greatest challenge to date has been getting past beefy bouncers to take photographs of strip club furniture for this "Striptease" series.
"I had to stop working on that series because I couldn’t get into any more clubs," he said. But he did talk his way into several, including the newest and oldest strip clubs in San Francisco.
"When I went into Boys Toys, it was brand-spanking new," Chang said, pun clearly intended. " I went in through the back alley right into the kitchen, and the guy working there sent me upstairs to see the public relations manager, who was very enthusiastic about me taking photos. Se even said, ‘I can have some dancers come in a stage everything for you." I told her ‘Thanks, I just want to come in some afternoon when the club’s closed and no one’s there" – and she graciously obliged."
While Chang’s shot of Boys Toys eerily resembles a corporate lobby or dentist’s office, his photos of older clubs are considerably seedier. "The inside of the Hungry I looked like how I imagine it looked when it first opened – the same décor, the same moldy curtains," Chang recalled. "those green napkins you see on the side table at the Hungry I were actually there though, and it makes you wonder, what exactly are the for?"
All his time lurking around San Francisco strip clubs paid off for Chang, when his "Striptease" series landed him a Fulbright fellowship to China last year. "I was interested in the spectacle of the East that’s produced for Western tourists," Chang explained. "I got really into Mao kitsch. I wanted to understand how people in the Chinese tourist industry felt about making money off Mao memorabilia from Western tourists, who have no sense of personal histories with Mao. How is it to sell Mao nail clippers, [especially] when Mao has been such a significant, often painful figure in you lifetime?"
Though he was warned that taking photos in Beijing could get him into trouble, Chang nonchalantly shot rolls of film right under the watchful eye of the People’s Liberation Army. "Being Asian American definitely helped, because… people didn’t necessarily know I was American," he said. "But still, I drew a lot of attention because I work very slowly with a large camera and I take pictures of things – which in Chinese culture is just unheard of. There was always the question, ‘Why isn’t someone you know posing and smiling in front of the camera?’"
Politics proved less of an issue for Chang than economics. "People were very open to my taking photographs," he remarked. "Occasionally they’d want me to buy something, which I didn’t want to do for the sake of taking a photograph. That was partly what I was there to critique: Western tourists coming in and giving a dollar to some local to pose for a photograph."
Economics has been a focal concern of Chang’s well before he went to China, beginning with his "Decadence" series taken in Las Vegas casinos, swank hotels and high-priced condos. These photos are the antithesis of the average picture-perfect brochure shots. Instead, they deliberately expose what Chang calls "the cracks in the faćade’ of luxury.
In one telling "Decadence" photograph, a lone hothouse plant holds center stage on a tacky end table, back-lit like an aging movie star by a huge bay window. "That was taken at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which to me represents a whole way of life," Chang explained. "My work is a critique of and curiosity about that upper-class lifestyle, and the priorities that go along with it."
Chang sees right through the gaudy artifice and careful stage-dressing of the supposedly classy joints he photographs, having grown up in the land of movie sets and glamorous fakery commonly know as Los Angeles. "A lot of time, money and thought goes into those ornamental details, and often they’re overlooked," he observed. "But when you put it all in a frame and up on a wall, you look at it very differently…What were they thinking when they wallpapered the ashtray with the same pattern as the walls and the carpet?"
With his provocative, tongue-in-cheek shots of landmark hotels and other roadside attractions, Chang has become a featured attraction in his own right. His "Striptease" photographs recently stole the show at Andrea Schwartz Gallery, and his "Decadence" hotel interiors are the sensational centerpiece of the new S.F. Camerawork show at the Hotel Triton. Come October, Chang’s photographs of Mao souvenir stands will be causing the commotion at Bay Area Now, the annual show of rising art stars at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Look out for him there – he’ll be the guy surveying the scene from an odd angle, with the astutely appraising eye.
San Francisco Bay Guardian
Aug. 14-20, 2002
by Lindsey Westbrook
Thomas Chang, Belinda Gray, Sharon Wickham at Andrea Schwartz Gallery
THOMAS CHANG'S PHOTOGRAPHS of anonymous empty chairs and couches seem at first as though they could have been shot in any office lobby or airport lounge. Then you start to notice the other furniture in the rooms, such as the vertical metal poles and wall-mounted TVs, and if that doesn't tip you off, then the titles (Voyeur's Lounge, Lap Dance Chair) certainly will. It's surprising how spooky a vacant strip club can look in the bright light of day. The rooms have a subtly malevolent vibe, like a Twin Peaks set. The head-on photographs put us in the position of neither dancer nor patron, but of awkward visitor/voyeur with nothing to watch and not even any darkness or crowd in which to hide.
Whereas Chang takes photos of environments with their usual subjects mysteriously absent, Sharon Wickham zooms in on her subjects, almost completely removing them from their environments. Wickham roams San Francisco's sidewalks in search of abandoned furniture. Totally decontextualized and in fuzzy focus, the discarded sofas and mattresses in her pictures almost come alive, taking on distinct personalities of their own. Wickham helps them along with humorous titles: for example, She's Gone (a love seat that's missing a cushion) and Courting (a couple of sofa cushions in a libidinous position). Her photos include elements of lighthearted goofiness, but the effect is overshadowed by an even stronger sense of melancholy; viewing her row of images is a little like walking past the cages at the pound, wishing you could take all the puppies home with you and knowing that you can't. Gloomy, muted light and a monochromatic color palette warn of impending bad weather; the rain isn't going to make this sad, lonely furniture any more adoptable.
SF Gate (San Francisco Chronicle Online)
August 22, 2002
by Alison Bing
If you're looking to furnish your mental space with some new ideas, head over to Andrea Schwartz's new group show. Devoid of occupants and their fantasies, Thomas Chang's show-stealing lap-dance chairs are deliberately and provocatively uncomfortable. The beige vinyl overstuffed chairs and wall-mounted television in "Lap Dance Chair, Boys Toys" are exactly the nondescript, clinical decor you'd find in a dentist's office, but for the poles rigged up between them and the prominently featured magnum of champagne. "Lap Dance Chair, Gold Club" shows more signs of humanity -- perhaps too many for comfort, what with the indelible hiney-print in the red plush couch, the used green cocktail napkins on the gold side table, the stained red walls and the worn-out palm-frond carpeting.
Belinda Gray shows spectators as part of the furniture at rural county fairs, just as surely as the ring toss and roller coasters. "Lassen County Fair No. 3, Susanville, CA, July 2001" shows a carny flanked by sawdust-stuffed animals and a wall of balloons to be as colorful and elusive as her surroundings: Her gray hair is dyed caution orange, a faint mustache asserts itself on her upper lip, and her eyes seem far away. In "California State Fair No. 4, Sacramento, CA, July 2001," a couple dressed up in anticipation of a big day out is captured taking a breather in the misleadingly named "Oriental Fantasy Garden." This couple could come off as caricatures given his toupee and ironed blue jeans and her rhinestone-studded shades and blond bouffant, except for the evident amusement Gray captures in the gentleman's spry blue eyes.
Sharon Wickham's intimate portraits of discarded furniture have a certain melancholy flair; it's as though we're seeing homes breaking before our eyes. "She's Gone" shows an abandoned tan couch missing a cushion, its pink underbelly bared to view as it sits on the sidewalk. There's a whimsical humor here, too -- "Patriot" shows an upended blue couch with exposed red-and-white lining as a desultory salute to our throwaway culture. -- Alison Bing, special to SF Gate Andrea Schwartz Gallery, 333 Bryant St., Suite 180, SF; Mon-Fri 9 am-5 pm and Sat by appointment; free; (415) 495-2090.
M.Y. Art Prospects
The New York Art World
by Merrily Kerr
This show focuses on how the human body relates to physical spaces, in the absence or intimate presence of unspecified people, on the example of work by three artsists; each of whom utilizes different media.
Kaoru Motomiya’s Untitiled installation, comprised of over thirty delicate strings covered with shinning beads of resin and ending in organic, egg-like globes, hang from the ceiling over carefully arranged pieces of a broken mirror and black glass. As part of a very different piece, entitled Seven pieces for studio #11 of ISCP, Motomiya made casts from the empty spaces between the floorboards of her studio during a recent residency. In three small sculptures made of leather and clay she reproduces the empty spaces filled by her castes, sewing each closed with colored thread.
Thomas Chang’s photographs reveal the interior of empty strip clubs, in non-business hours, thereby "stripping bare" the faćade that dim lights, mirrors and loud music create.
Sung-ah Chang delights in the texture of hair. From photographs of her own hair, taken as she lies down, Chang produces large-scale drawings in charcoal in which her face is rarely visible. In Deep Sleeping, she captures waves of hair as they bend, twist, slump and fall during sleep; affecting a uniquely intimate portrait. Each of these artist succeeds in articulating the fragile boundary between private and public space.
by Marisa S. Olson
Fancying himself a bit of a private dick I search of the naked truth, Thomas Chang photographs empty strip clubs, Las Vegas brothels, five star hotel rooms, and other private spaces, launching investigations into their occupants, and focusing on the spectacle of decadence. Indulging a habit of shooting vacant spaces, Chang tries to comment on the missing persons by looking at their remnants. Like a true detective, Chang enjoys the sense of mystery his work invokes, forcing viewers to chase their own stories and questions. "We understand a photograph in terms of what we do not see as much as what we do see, " says the artist. "This shift of absence and presence is mediated by our own everyday experiences." With an education including the usual doses of Benjamin and Baudelaire, Chang’s conversation is laced with the weighty jargon of critics who are as abstracts as they are well-intentioned. The actuality of what goes on in a strip club is a little too obvious for Chang. He does, however, appreciate the ambivalent portability and transience of burlesque décor. "These could be airports, or corporate lounges. There are only a few cues clueing the viewer in to the actual function of these spaces, and the fact that something tawdry may be going on."
Soft-spoken and clean cut, Chang enjoys the "seedy side" of his brand of voyeurism. And occupational hazard some men would die for, Chang estimates he has crossed the threshold of ten strip clubs for every one that has let him take pictures. Bringing his portfolio helps. But Chang generally does not like to show proprietors his finished product. "This is a critique. I am criticizing what happens in these spaces, " the artist plainly states. To his surprise, some club owners have liked his work enough to commission commercial shoots. But Chang isn’t sure they "get it." And in any case he is not comfortable crossing the line between critic and consumer.
"Mystery, helplessness and the barriers between time and space are what disassociate individuals from society, in these clubs," Chang says, justifying his beef with the subjects of his Strip Tease series. Anything but a prude, Chang’s concern actually lies in the lack of sexual satisfaction inherent in the strip joint exchange. " they are offering false promises. People go in seeking one thing and inevitably come out more frustrated, alone, or dissatisfied," explains the pseudo-sociologist. "Club owners and patrons are playing a complicated game, [offering the] illusion of a reward."
The bottom line throughout the entire body of work is that the spaces we most often esteem as attractive generally turn out to be the most vulgar. Questioning the faćade of pleasure’s design through the manipulation of scenery and ornament, Chang diagnoses the maladies of superficiality. This effort extends far beyond the reach of the stripper’s pole, into the living rooms of Beverly Hills’ elite and the garages of suburbia’s fathers.
In his Decadence series, Chang moves beyond looking at absence, into looking at the presence of unnoticed signifies of luxury. Large hotel spaces occupied only by a perfectly-placed exotic plant or piece of furniture express disgust with both unsuccessful luxe and the waste of materials in the name of class. Images of drained hotel and residential swimming pools (the "ultimate ornament" in Chang’s book) read contradictorily as both elaborately staged (perhaps because of the artist’s signature large-scale exhibits), and on-the-fly, by virtue of their ribaldry. Who would dare allow Chang to expose such dirty vacancy to the world? "We try to console ourselves with decorations – things we place on shelves, swimming pools. We seek out these spaces – strip clubs, hotels, pools – in search of need fulfillment, wanton for a sense of comfort, familiarity. Inevitably we are unfulfilled, emptier and out a lot of money."
As Chang describes his philosophy, it seems we lose this game in so many aspects of life: fashion, design, perhaps even spirituality. It’s hard for most of us to face up to Chang’s dogma. But the artist is reassuring: Seeing beyond our statuettes and tree-lined driveways to the beauty in the banal, vernacular and everyday subjects and exchanges of ordinary livelihood, Chang hopes that others will come to assign the same romanticism to ‘real world’ interaction.
It may be this self-effacing, unfiltered portrait of American materialism that is indeed the sexiest aspect of Chang’s work. Empty strip joint stages can’t hold a candle to good old-fashioned self-reflection. Fortunately, our ‘true selves’ emerge much more glamorous on the other side of Chang’s rosy lens.
GenArtSF Presents Emerge
by Rodrigo Diaz
GenArtSF's third Emerge exhibition displays a continuing dedication to the organization's mission of presenting the work of emerging artists. This year's roundup of artists shows a great sense of diversity in the types of issues that are addressed in the work. Many of the artists complete their various inquiries thoughtfully, and the resulting work is complimented by its successful execution and delivery. The unique subject matter of the work of two artists, in particular, is especially unique.
Thomas Chang's photographs stands out in their minimalist presentation of a location, their humorous initial deception, and their ideas of gendered space. These photographs interiors that are stark, sparsely decorated, and devoid of people are initially impressive through their quietude, while, at the same time, presenting a calming dullness in their 70's colors and plain decor (almost like some sort of interior design anesthesia). The humor lies in the fact that these dull, hotel lobby-like locations are actually "strip joints." Here, Chang has starkly illuminated the domain of misogyny and patriarchy, where only a select group go to participate in a highly charged dance of sex and power. Yet Chang has documented these interiors with it participants absent. Interestingly, the photographs document a particularly ambiguous environment, which, presented without its participants, is unable to achieve its erotic intent.
Wendy Heldmann's work also deals with constructed environments. Yet hers is a more personal, and more commonplace investigation. Having moved numerous times in her childhood, Heldmann addresses her idea of the "home as an icon." The work is in two distinct formats. One is in the form of small drawings, outlines of houses, repeated over and over on top of one another (giving them the appearance of movement and instability). The drawings are then placed over a symmetrical pattern of small, brightly colored squares. The other format is a construction of a miniature street block, defined by a square of Astroturf, with diminutive houses made of various swatches of fabric, with pictures ironed on their exteriors. Like small windows offering views of their confines, these houses (and the culturally coded swatches of fabric) function as quick snapshots of the families within. Heldmanns investigation of the idea of home is tremendously poignant in a time where housing prices, and the idea of domestic stability are getting exceedingly out of reach for most people. In other pieces, the artist also investigates the construction of suburban track housing by repeating not the outline of a house, but the patterns of housing developments which are traced on top of a checkered background. Where it is now the norm to view homes as investments, hop scotching from larger home to larger home, her questioning of the definition of house vs. a home forms a pointed investigation of the concept of shelter.
There is a final irony in this work being included in GenArtSF's Emerge 2000 exhibition: an annual exhibition that seems to have no permanent home for itself. Despite the challenge of continual dislocation, GenArt is to be commended for it success in effectively supporting young artists whose explorations are often refreshing and definitive.
SF Art Institute MFA
San Francisco Weekly
May 24, 2000
by Josi Marquez
The tantalizing tension between still-life and motion picture turns up in a series of photographs by H. Jung Shim and Thomas Chang. Shim’s deadpan color prints depict scenes from straight porn movies projected, at night, over the facades of staid two-family homes in what appears to be the Sunset district. These funny if pranksterish moments of "uncovering" porn in the parochial neighborhood, (did the people in the house know what was playing outside?) alternate with interior shots of clean and banal living rooms in which television set is also playing porno films.
Chang, on the other hand, takes a more traditional approach to the subject matter, succeeding mainly by dint of his ostensible craft as a photographer. In a series of large color prints, Chang depicts the minimal and tacky interiors of strip joints. Unfortunately, one of the prints had been dinged (vandalism by an adult dancer, angered by his/her absence?) temporarily breaking the spell cast by Chang’s bright and cheery diorama of evacuated "adult dancing" clubs. So familiar did these locales seem, at first, that I mistook them for the basement "rec rooms" of families who suddenly struck it rich in the 1970’s.