For much of this year, the Denver Botanic Gardens has been an intersection for Asian and American culture. It began with the Kizuna: West Meets East outdoor exhibit, for which bamboo specialists Tetsunori Kawana and Stephen Talasnik created several site-specific sculptures. They were up in time for the June opening of the Gardens' Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion, which honors the former Denver Post editor and 2007 Civil Rights Award winner. Next to the pavilion the Gardens constructed an authentic Japanese tea house in which to perform traditional tea ceremonies, which complements the facility's already renowned Japanese garden.
And inside, the Gardens has hosted two shows that tie to the West meets East theme. But time is running out for this harmonic convergence.
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Lisa Eldred, director of exhibitions, says the Kizuna works fit in perfectly with Colorado's seasonal climate. "Not only is it a natural material, you're able to see how that natural material reacts to changing seasons," she explains. "When Tetsunori Kawana's installations first went in, there was this fabulous outer layer of green on the bamboo and a yellowish inside. So the twisting forms were two-toned, if you will. Then, within short order and exposure to the sun and dry climate here in Colorado, it became this wonderful golden color. So I think it's been a great way to see how nature and art play together within the natural environment."
Talasnik's "Floating World Installation" is "made up of many components and some of them have been tethered all summer," she adds, "so when there's a slight wind, they move. There is this interactive environment that I think provides a unique experience to the visitors here."
But they'll want to visit soon: The majory if the sculptures will be taken down on November 4, after the show ends this Sunday. However, some will stick around until January, Eldred says, "because they have held up and will look great in snow and lights at night."
The Gardens generally plans indoor shows that work well with any outside exhibits. To go with Kizuna, the Gardens first featured Kenichi Nagakura's unconventional bamboo basket-weaving in Fluid Duality. That was followed by the work of Margaret Kasahara, which the Gardens found through the Sandra Phillips Gallery. Kasahara's Someone Like You exhibit explores American and Japanese identities, pop-culture and stereotypes. As a Japanese-American who has lived in Colorado nearly all her life (she was born in New York), Kasahara has a unique perspective that's reflected in her personal and energetic, yet stoic, style. Her works are neatly balanced and highly segregated, providing a frame in which to compare and contrast whole images in pieces like "Little People (Dolls)," or presenting wholes as fragmented collections of restrictively similar or confusingly wide-ranging pieces.
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In "Fragments (Belief)," for example, the eyes look back at you, infusing the disparate collection of images with humanity and personality. Even in her bold depictions of stereotypical dolls, the apparent simplicity of Kasahara's work is undercut by highly textured coloring; upon closer inspection, nothing is as simple as it seems.
The mediums with which Kasahara produces her art reinforce this notion of bundled wholes: From oil, her primary tool, to printed sheet music to even wine, it takes a bit of everything to produce even one reflection of her being. Kasahara uses bright, playful colors to instill her works with the vibrancy of life.
The only work that seems to achieve holistic peace is one of the few without color -- the purposefully simplistic "Coloring Book (Enso)," which is labeled with the word "expectation," suggesting that total harmony is more a projection of the ideal than reality, and is probably more boring than real life, anyway. Perhaps the most affecting paintings in the exhibit are the simply juxtaposed "Empty/Open" pieces: the orange with a heart full of trinkets, the blue with an empty heart.
Kasahara does a wonderful job of not trying to rationalize her identity, but rather to communicate it as "it simply is." Kasahara's exhibit at the Denver Botanic Gardens will only be up through November 4 (admission to the Gardens is free on Friday, November 2, and Saturday, November 3, from 5-10pm as part of the city-wide Night at the Museums event). She's also featured in an Arvada Center group show, Women of Influence: Colorado Artists and Curators, which runs through November 11.