Features, News

Visiting Obon 2011 – Nishihongwanji – Little Tokyo

 

In Japan, Obon is a day to remember the dead.


As a youth, the Obon festival or “carnival” was something I looked forward to every year. It took place at my local Buddhist Temple in West Los Angeles every summer in July. The side street gets blocked off and lined with lit chochin (paper lanterns) that would sway in the western breeze at magic hour. There were no carnival rides, but the festiveness made you feel like there was a lot going on. This was a local event and the attendees were mostly Japanese Americans. I’d go and see my world – J.A. kids from both of my schools, the daily American, and my saturday Japanese school. There was nothing like eating chicken teriyaki, then holding a snow cone, and playing the vendor games like throwing a softball into tic tac toe, “dough ball”, or tossing metal rings to win coins. Then doing it all over again. Life was great on that day.

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Features, people, Podcast, Reviews Cinema

Giant Robot Podcast: Director Dave Boyle

Director Dave Boyle with his next film budget.

Dave Boyle has made three feature films including Big Dreams, Little Tokyo, White on Rice, and Surrogate Valentine which is currently touring film festivals. Surrogate Valentine stars musician Goh Nakamura and debuted at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin and has shown at film festivals including Cleveland International, Seattle International, Dallas International, Bamfest, and San Francisco International Asian American. In this podcast, Boyle explains how he’s fluent in Japanese, why his films feature Asian Americans, how he’s come up with his movie ideas, filmmaking, and what projects he’s working on next.

 

Giant Robot Podcast: Director Dave Boyle by realgiantrobot



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animation, Features, News, Photos

Anime Expo Photos by Dean Gojobori

 

There’s even more photos ahead.

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Features, Music, News, random musings

Have Will, Guitar Travels: 10 Tips For The Modern Flying Guitarist.

I’ve lost track of how many times that I’ve flown with a guitar, but I’ve been doing it with various degrees of success since I was a teenager. It’s always a source of anxiety for me, but here are some tips that have helped me navigate the not-always-so-friendly-(to-musician)-skies.

1) Travel with a smaller guitar.

If you’re gigging regularly, you can invest in a smaller guitar. Martin and Taylor both make “mini” models that are travel friendly and play pretty well. There is even a company that makes a guitar that folds in half!

My “travelling” guitar is a Parlor guitar, which is smaller bodied than your standard folk/steel string guitar that you see most people play. A lot of folk and blues musicians back in the day liked these because they were more affordable and mass produced.

You can see the size difference, and how that would matter when you’re trying to store it above you.

Guitar Ready Bins!

After much research, I kept my eyes peeled for a used “Larivee” brand guitar. Luckily, one showed up in a local guitar shop, so I checked it out. It played and sounded great. There’s a famous Frank Zappa quote “If you pick up a guitar and it says, ‘Take me, I’m yours,’ then that’s the one for you.” I took it home.

Though it doesn’t sound as full or warm as my concert sized Martin or Taylor, it sounds fantastic when I plug it in to a P.A. or amp. I had bay area luthier/guitar repair whiz Mike Gold equip it with a pickup (Seymour Duncan Mag Mic)

If you travel with an electric guitar, you can probably get away with having a softcase or “gig bag” which you can sling over your shoulder, and store it in the overhead bin. I see this alot for acoustic guitars too. Never, under any circumstances, check a softcase as luggage though. Once it touches the conveyor belt, you can pretty much kiss your axe goodbye.

2) A Case for a Good Hard Case.

If you insist on bringing your $110,000 Les Paul from 1957, then by all means order yourself a professional case, or an “ATA” flight case

These are almost indestructible. They also cost about $700-1k. You’ll have to check it as luggage too, but at least it will be safe… (unless someone steals it, since these cases usually store really nice guitars)

3) Choose a Guitar friendly airline:

Southwest: Make sure you are an early boarder, i.e. the “A” group. You get on first and have first pick of overhead storage space.

Virgin, Jet Blue, American: When you pick your seat, get seated near the back of the plane (seats 19-23) Last Seats (24, 25) usually don’t have overhead space because that’s where they stash their water/beverages. (note: I’m typing this on an American flight, and in seat 25F where there is overhead space.)

4) Rent a guitar.

Some local used music stores will rent you a used guitar for the night. On a recent gig, I felt like playing an electric guitar, (I was playing with a band) so went and rented one for a night. Set me back $40, but I think people bought me about $40 in drinks, so maybe it was worth it. I definitely had more fun playing the electric that night, so it was a win for me.

5) Borrow a guitar.

If you don’t mind playing someone else’s gear, the best thing is to find a friend who has a guitar that you can borrow at your destination. Eliminates the need to babysit it everywhere you go too. I find that I end up playing the guitar for about 3-4 hours tops when I travel to and from gig.

How I Roll

6) The Force is With You, but Don’t Force it.

Dealing with the Airline Gate Attendants always reminds me of the scene in Star Wars, in which Obi Wan uses the force on the stormtroopers. The gate attendant is the stormtrooper. He/she is a robot who is programmed to not allow items of a certain size onboard. They are often kind of pissy and angry because they have to deal with mean people every day. Once in awhile, you will get a sympathetic guitar pickin’ human who will help you, but that is rare. Most of the time they are robots reading from a script to get everyone through as efficiently as possible. They will see you with your guitar, and say “this is a full flight, you’re going to have to gate check that”

Don’t panic. Definitely don’t be a wise ass or put up a stink. “Gate check” means your item is too big to fit above the overhead. They will attach a pink or red tag to your guitar and give you a claim tag, then instruct you to leave your guitar at the end of the boarding ramp where everyone puts their strollers and stuff. From there, they will put it below the plane, which is not optimal (due to cold temperatures) but it’s a hell of a lot better than checking it as luggage. (never do that)

What I do is say “thanks” and then walk right on the plane with the guitar. If the flight attendant tries to stop me, I gently and politely ask “Well- is it ok if I try and find a place for it in an overhead bin?” Usually there will be a cool flight attendant on board who will try their best to find a space for your guitar.

Some tactics that have worked before, but I haven’t used recently:

7) Try “PreBoarding”

When they announce “we are now boarding people with small children, or people who need a little more time on the ramp.” walk up with your guitar. If they question you, just say “I need a litte time to assure that I can stow this, which is like a child to me” I did this successfully on the suggestion of a gate attendant in 2006, but I think it was because she had a soft spot for guitar players.

8 ) The Price of Rock n’ Roll

Try to stash it in any open overhead bin you can while you’re going to your seat. People might get mad, but that is the price of rock and roll.

9) Call for Back Up

If you’re traveling with friends, lovers, or band mates, they might have some extra space. It will increase your chances to get your axe on board.

10) Give up.

There’s too many guitar players. Take up the shakuhachi or skin flute. Be an iPhone DJ! Bring “Mime” back! Start a portable musical revolution! …or take the train.

So to sum up…

Never:

Check your guitar in a gig bag.

Argue with the staff, you will lose.

It’s OK to Gate Check, but try and store it above.

One last tip: Allow yourself plenty of extra time, especially if your acoustic guitar has a pickup with a battery in it. Remove the battery if you can. It looks like a bomb when it goes through the x-ray with all the wires and electronics. Most of the people who are doing the screening have no idea what an acoustic guitar pickup is.

Happy Travels!

If any of you have any instrument travel stories/tips, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.



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animation, Features, News, Photos

Anime Expo Cosplay Photos by Oscar Rios

 

One Hundred More Photos Below

(even more added July 5)

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Features, Music, MW, News

Meet the Street Eaters

Megan March + Johnny Geek = Street Eaters

After being impressed by the Street Eaters’ opening set for forgetters at the Echo earlier this year, I began corresponding with the guitarist and scored some of the duo’s vinyl output. I found the records to be honest, touching, and punk as hell–worth hearing in a non-blown-out, moderately engineered setting. The powerful give-and-take between Megan March and Johnny Geek’s ruthless drums, catchy guitars, and vocals serve as a potent reminder that all you need is two people to form a gang, start a fight, or make rad music, and the new album, Rusty Eyes and Hydrocarbons, cranks it up yet another notch. The band is touring in support of it, so I had to hit them up on the road.

The LP and CD come in different colors!

MW: Coming off 7″ singles, split singles, and an EP, what was your approach to recording your first full-length album?
JG: We liked the idea of building into a debut full-length gradually, and we really tightened up our whole ship to make the album as great as possible. We had the split with White Night first, and then the We See Monsters EP. Around a year later, we put out the split with Severance Package and the “Ashby and Shattuck” 7″ picture disc. The whole time, we were writing, recording, and editing the stuff that would eventually end up on the album. It was all a very deliberate process of building up to a killer full-length.

MM: We recorded the record in several chunks so we could step back, view it, and envision what songs should be written and recorded to make it more complete.

MW: Is “Two Heads” about the movie The Thing with Two Heads, your band, or something else altogether?
MM: You’d probably have to ask Grace Slick. “Two Heads” is a Jefferson Airplane cover. But we interpret it to be a pro-feminist, anti-religious fundamentalist song. We also like it because it is weird.

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Art, Features

NASA – ART: 50 Years of Exploration – also Air and Space Museum pics

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is hosting an art exhibition in their main flagship space in Washington D.C. I’ve been to this museum a few times now, and each time it gets larger and larger. But the last thing I saw which was sort of tucked away in the last gallery on the second floor in the space section was the art exhibit. I’m guessing art among the space ships would be the most boring for the kids, but it might have been the most memorable. The US Space program is unrivaled except maybe a now splintered USSR program which in the end, probably got the best start and does continue onward. Asia? Not as much, although the space art on postage stamps from Mongolia might be the best.

 

This Norman Rockwell painting is amazing. Did this happen? Probably not, but the romantic Americana is amazing. Are the helpers really wearing sailor outfits?

 

 

More photos in the form of a photo album follow:

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Features, Food

Izakaya recipe: Buta Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly)

Buta Kakuni. This isn’t a dish I grew up with, but I once read a list of the top 5 things a Japanese man would want their wives to cook for them and this was on the list. The other 4, I no longer remember. Buta kakuni is almost a delicacy. It’s never served in huge quantities. It’s something that you eat, taste, and savor. The moist, soft, and sweet pork belly that falls apart when you pick it up with your sticks. If it had a bone, you’d say the cliche line, “the meat just slides right off the bone.” It’s sweet but at the same time has a rich flavor that attacks your palette, but at the same time won’t continue to dominate it. It’s a companion to a multi course meal, yet at the same time, eaten with a bowl of rice, it could easily be the main feature. The catch? It takes hours to make. Here’s how:

 

Start with about a pound of pork belly. Chop pork belly in pieces. Larger than 1″ cubes are ideal. I’ve seen large pieces closer to 2″ cubes and that works. In a pot, using medium heat, brown the outside for about 5 minutes. I turned the cubes so each side could have it’s sides torched. The meat has fat and will be the natural pan greaser. Remove the meat, and add about 3 tbsps of sugar to the leftover and melt down the sugar.

 

Add chopped green onion, and 6 small slices of ginger.

 

Add about two cups of water, bring to boil and then simmer for… 3 hours or so. Yes, this is a longer process and the part that requires planning. At the the near end mark, I actually added extra soy sauce to taste, and a bit more sugar to taste.

 

When it’s done, serve it with rice, and it’s tasty. I started off with 1″ cube pieces and it does shrink down, so start with larger pieces. Optional: add salt, Coke!, and mirin (sweet sake).



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Art, Features, graffiti, News

Shepard Fairey – Chicago

Best known in Chicago for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster in 2008, artist Shepard Fairey has left his mark on our lakefront.

Under Lake Shore Drive, at the Viaduct for Grand Ave. he created a 130 by 10 feet “Obey” mural featuring record album-like cover works.

As part of the Navy Pier Walk 2011 art exhibition, which is billed as the largest outdoor installation of its kind in the country (officially opens July 1), his work will remain up through October.



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Art, Features, News

White House Antiquities and Art

The White House rooms are each styled and themed with art, mostly paintings of past Presidents and First Ladies. Here’s a collection of art and antiquities themed photographs I shot during the Asian Pacific Islander Celebration. We did get to wander and I couldn’t help but try and document a bit of the art, the sights, and feel, so you can get an idea of what it’s like inside. Take a look at the entire set at the end of the post.

 

I can tell you that the cluster of paintings of first ladies are in the downstairs room that houses the women’s restroom. The Jackie O painting is amazing. Her outfit is a bit eerie. The painting of her husband below is also different since he’s in deep contemplation with his arms folded. His portrait shows less of his face than any other.

 

Many rooms have great chandeliers.

 

This is the red themed room, there’s also a blue and green, adjacent to this room.

 

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Features, people, Reviews Publications

Interview: Mangaka Natsume Ono

Since childhood, mangaka Natsume Ono harbored a deep fascination for Italy and other foreign destinations. She began drawing comics about them as a self-publishing dojinshi artist and eventually had the opportunity to visit the Italian peninsula in 2001. After nearly a year, Ono returned to Japan to start the web-comic La Quinta Camera. Her work was quickly noticed by the manga industry which lead to her start as a professional mangaka. Since her debut, Ono’s follow-up Ristorante Paradiso was a huge success spawning both a sequel and an anime adaptation.

GR: Critics often talk about the complexity in your narrative and your mature writing perspective. Some attribute it to your late start as a mangaka. Do you think starting your career at a later age affected the way you approach your stories and characters?

Natsume Ono: I’ve actually been drawing manga for a while. What’s considered my debut happened after I developed my writing style. So, I’ve been writing a little bit longer than is generally acknowledged.

GR: You were about twenty-six when you started drawing the web comic La Quinta Camera. When did you decide to pursue manga as a profession?

NO: So, I have been drawing manga as a hobby for a few years. I took a break from work to visit Italy for ten months to study Italian. When I returned, I found myself out of work. For nearly a year, I just continued drawing manga. I thought to myself, “This is what I’m doing anyway; I should try to do this professionally.” That was the first time I decided that I want to be a professional mangaka.

GR: You’ve mentioned that you studied abroad in Italy. How old were you?

NO: I was twenty-four/twenty-five. It was 2001-2002. Nine years ago.

GR: Did you travel all along the peninsula or did you stay in a particular city such as Florence, Rome, or Venice?

NO: I was in Bologna. Looking back I wish I visited other cities, but I was just in one city at that time. [laughs]

GR: A major theme in many of your works [such as Not Simple and Ristorante Paradiso] is the concept of travel. Can you discuss the way you use travel as literary technique in your work?

NO: This doesn’t answer the question directly, but I don’t really think about the “why”. So, I’ve never really thought about travelling or what it represents. Because to me, the character just starts moving. Then I look back and think what that might have meant for the characters to have done that. But there isn’t really a purpose when they start moving.

GR: Is it related to the Japanese concept of jibun sagashi no tabi (“a journey of self-discovery”)?

NO: I never tried to impose my personality in any of my books. It is precisely why I’m careful to keep myself out of it, so that common traits are developed which maybe represent something deeper inside of me. But none of it is done consciously. [laughs]

GR: More specifically in the manga Ristorante Paradiso and La Quinta Camera, I’ve noticed you frequently use Italy as the setting. What is it about Italy that inspires you?

NO: I have already been using Italy as a stage for my writing before actually going there. It’s really based on a childhood admiration of Italian culture. There certainly were Italian sports on television, and I loved the food. As a child, I kind of liked Italy and started drawing comics about it. Then I decided that I wanted to keep using Italy as the setting, but wanted to see it before trying it again. That’s why I actually went there so that it would make sense [in my work].

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Features, News

White House x Barack Obama x Asian Pacific Islander Month

 

The White House visits don’t get old. What you see and experience gets more refined and detailed. It’s akin to visiting a museum’s permanent exhibit again and again. That’s what I came away with after my second visit to the most famous house in the world. The security is still at least 4 id stops including a metal detector, the joining rooms are vibrantly color themed, and the classic antiques fit like an Architectural Digest spread.

May was API Heritage Month, and I thought it was funny that Barack Obama blamed the “new zodiac” making it ok that The White House was celebrating it a month later. I doubt he needed his speech writer for us, since everything was quick and casual, yet he was charismatic in front of the dozens of black wearing, black hair sporting Asians with iPhones and cameras snapping and recording.

Blog post from my visit March 2009.

 

 

This visit was different from my last, since instead of an announcement, this was a celebration. The wine, champagne, and soda flowed with the assorted Asian hors d’oeuvres. The best morsel of edibles? Undoubtedly, the sashimi on a skewer. After that, it was dessert, the mini halo halo. I’m not quite sure exactly what the month long celebration is all about since there are unlimited aspects of humans that you can celebrate, but I’ll make the call and say it’s, achievements, effort, and endeavors. From the other side of the “fence” some of you are scratching your heads about this, but being Asian has perks and the month long celebration is one of them.

 

 

The White House invite. I photoshopped some of it, since who knows if those digits are ok in the wrong hands.

 

Visiting paintings are part of the entire experience – just like going to a museum. Paintings can be like old friends. I like this one of Abe. I did shake Barack Obama’s hand again. He has a good grip and his hand is cool in temperature. This was actually nothing compared to the announcement of the Afghanistan troop withdrawal he made just a couple of hours later from same location we were in.

 

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Features, News

Kebabs To Tōhoku, v2.0

the sun rises in the Onagawa

I’ve just returned from another expedition to the disaster-stricken Tōhoku coast and wanted to fill you in on this latest trip. (GR has published earlier reports for anyone interested!) This is the seventh time I’ve made the Tōhoku run since the March 11th quake and, as with previous excursions, I return to Tokyo depleted but also moved and humbled by the experience.

My mission this time was to load up my brother-in-law Kazu’s kebab-mobile in Onagawa and rendezvous in Kesennuma with Eiko Mizuno Gray and the Rainbow Cinema team, a motley crew of volunteers screening films (generously provided by Warners, Fox, Toho, Asmik, and other distributors) for quake survivors in the various shelters up north. The idea was for Kazu and me to provide free fresh kebab and ice cream to viewers during the breaks, while Eiko and her crew would keep the audience stoked during the screenings with their two popcorn machines (salt and caramel, respectively).

Onagawa, my in-laws’ home town was also hit hard by the quake and tsunami, with well over a thousand residents confirmed dead, several hundred still missing, and, according to a recent tally, about 1,200 living in shelters or temporary housing. So the morning before our deployment I had a walk around Onagawa, to see what progress had been made since my last visit a month ago. The whole port area is enveloped in a haze of fishy-smelling dust, but, to be honest, I couldn’t see much clear evidence of improvement. Yes, cranes are demolishing and clearing non-stop, and convoys of trucks haul debris to sorted piles (mountains, really); paths have been cut into the wreckage around the port, and many of the lightweight items (cars, refrigerators, bicycles, propane tanks) seem to have been gathered up. Nonetheless, the clean-up still appears quite superficial, just peeling away at the skin of an onion. A big-ass onion. Enough said.

flag waving in Onagawa

This current trip comes on the heels of a very belated two-weeks of chilling out at my parents’ home in Hermosa Beach (my first visit to the U.S. in well over a year). And what a strange contrast: The coastal villages I drove through on my way up to the far north of Miyagi Prefecture were once not so different from some SoCal beach towns; and yet to look at them now, you’d never know it.

Shizugawa 3/14/2011

I was meaning to take the inland route all the way up to Kesennuma, but a wrong turn off the Sanriku Expressway took us straight into downtown hell, ground zero of the tsunami. Shizugawa, Minami Sanrikucho, Koganezawa, and many other little towns that line this particular stretch of Route 45, grew up around river deltas and estuaries, their common geographical feature being a mountain-fed river spilling into the ocean at the mouth of a valley. Seeing the now-familiar pattern of destruction repeated in each of these depopulated port villages, one imagines a wall of black water roaring up the mouth of the valley, erasing everything in it’s path. Imagine turning a corner to see that coming at you! You actually can’t even see the ocean from many of the spots the tsunami hit.

I’d been to Shizugawa and Minami Sanrikucho in the first days following the quake, had stood at the back of the valley looking down on the tsunami’s aftermath, still steaming fresh; impossible to forget the sight of a classroom full of children pried from the wreckage and placed in boxes (boxes for heads, boxes for torsos, hands, etc.). Even now, over a hundred days since the tsunami, the record of what happened is unmistakable. Debris in every possible configuration fills low-lying spots, and the tsunami waterline is in plain sight everywhere one looks. The transition between Unharmed and Obliterated is absurdly drastic. (It was, in fact, quite maddening to contemplate what a difference just a couple meters of elevation might have made at many locations.)

still searching for bodies in Shizugawa

 

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Art, Features, Food, people, random musings

Debbie Carlos Takes Over Chicago

Chicago has a lot of great things happening lately. Alinea for high end gastronomy.  Pitchfork for your summer time music fest cravings.  Half Acre Brewery for well…duh, beer and Hot Doug’s for basically any type of encased meat you probably never even thought of.

Lucky for us, we also have Debbie Carlos calling Chicago home. Her modern photography is some of the quietest and simplest (simple in a good way) photography I have seen and I have been obsessed with her photos since 2005.  Her photos are actually the only pieces of art up in my apartment other than a few Jay Ryan prints and her Antlers photo has been blogged and re-blogged and blogged again throughout the interwebs.

I was lucky enough to sit with Debbie over some pho where we talked about her work and the following questions came from that discussion, our general friendship, and heavy duty emailing back and forth.

Photo of Debbie by Devin Higgins other photos by Debbie Carlos


SIX QUESTIONS WITH Debbie Carlos

GR: 1. You were born in Manila, grew up in LA, lived on the East Coast and have also spent a lot of time in Tapei. How did you make your way to Chicago and what do you dig about this city?

DC: I moved to Chicago from Massachusetts in the spring of ‘04 to study photo at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Of the cities I’ve lived in, I think Chicago was the first one I felt a real connection with. There is such a great sense of history, that you can feel everywhere. You get a lot of culture, and the hustle and bustle of a large city, but there is also a really nice Midwestern relaxed attitude. There is also a diverse set of neighborhoods surrounding downtown, and I think it’s these communities that make the city really interesting.  Also, the eating is pretty excellent.

GR: 2.  You got a bachelor’s in psychology and then made the bold decision to attend School of the Art Institute for a second degree in photography.  How did you make that leap and how did your family react?  Was your mom a “tiger mom”?

DC: Even from the moment I finished my first degree, I really wanted to pursue photography, but was held back because I thought I needed a ‘real job.’ And I thought that was what my family wanted for me. When I got laid off from my office job, though, my hope to study art kind of slipped out over the phone to my mom. She told me to go for it.

I think I have the advantage of having a mom that studied piano and fashion design during her years in college, so I think she is actually really open to me having a non-conventional job. My dad is supportive, too, but I think he leans more to the side of wanting me to have a real and steady job. They both wish that I lived closer to home, of course.

GR: 3. You’re ETSY store features your black and white prints on large-scale architectural stock paper.  I actually have one up in my living room and absolutely love it! How did you move towards that size and do you consider it part of your “signature” now?

DC:My brother first introduced me to this kind of printing a number of years ago, and I loved how much image you could get for a really low price. Photographic prints of this size usually cost hundreds of dollars, whereas I could just print these stock-paper prints out in my school’s architectural department for so much less. I also really just loved the aesthetic of it, and it was kind of an epiphany. Color images come out beautifully muted, and the black and white is rough and textural, which is eventually what I returned to with my posters. I love the idea of art for everybody, so that’s what I wanted to make.

The black and white posters are by far the biggest sellers in my shop, and what brings people to my work…so, yeah, I guess it could be what I’m known for. I love my color prints, too. As much as I do love the posters, I am very much a color girl.

GR: 4. Can you tell us about the relationship between your photography and food?  And what have you been cooking lately?

DC:I love photography, and I love cooking and eating food. I think it was a really natural step for me to photograph it. I think I first started to think about food photography as a valid area of interest for me when I picked up Donna Hay magazine. I loved how her images were soft, clean and dreamy, unlike a lot of the slick and modern food photography back then. I saw the images in her magazine and thought, I want to do that! Also, it gives me an excuse to photograph, cook and eat. WIN WIN WIN

I’m not sure if I’m cooking anything very special these days. My go-to meal is any kind of thing with a  fried, runny egg on top. I’ve been asked to make the cake and sweets spread for the wedding of two of my closest friends in a couple weeks, so I’m totally excited about that.

GR: 5.  If you could only grab one camera to shoot with, which one would it be?

DC: It will always be my old trusty Pentax p30 35mm SLR.

GR: 6. A lot of your photos feature your bunny and cat as models.  So who would win in a fight? Bunny vs. Cat?

DC: Cat! She’s got smarts. Bunny only knows her constant need to eat food. Bunny wins for softness though.

You can visit Debbie here or shop her Etsy store!



 



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Art, Features, GR2

Giant Robot Artist Interview – Sean Chao

 

Sean Chao is an Art Center graduate, who lives and works in Los Angeles but is originally from Taiwan. When I first saw his works, I was captivated by the exciting and energetic sculptures which sparked everyone’s imagination. What’s going on in there? Who are these tiny people? The pieces are microcosms of his world, yet at the same time, they’re mini installations. Each piece takes you inside much like a terrarium, except you get to dream up a story with his “tiny people”. You’ll get lost in his sometimes-fairytale and oftentimes-idyllic pieces. His works are exciting and pure, and along with Inés Estrada, we’re excited to have him in Blithe Spirits at Giant Robot 2. Sean Chao; Preview Images from Blithe Spirits.

 

GR: Can you talk a little about the world you create? Where is it coming from and why does it have it’s forms?
SC: The world and the characters I created are base on my imagination, and they are inspired and influenced by interesting things and fun experiences that happen around me. The mischievous characters were sort of created accidentally, It all started from a random drawing I did on a photograph. Eventually I developed the character from the drawing and I made a sculpture out of it.

GR: Is there  general narrative?
SC: There is always a narrative idea behind each piece of my works. I usually tell a story of daily experiences and show snapshots of regular interactions. These situations may be looked at as simple everyday occurrences, but I expand on those and add more to make it an interesting narrative Sometimes the story can get a little bizarre and psychedelic, but most of the works are simple ideas that people can relate to.

 

GR: There seems to be a color palate for them. Why those colors?
SC: The colors just came natural to me. Most of my works are involved with humor and warm feelings, so the color choices I make are directly related to those emotions.

 

GR: Did your instructors at Art Center have an opinion on what you were making?
SC: When I was in the school my instructors encouraged me to create works with my own sense of style. I believe their teaching completely changed my attitude and respect to art. Without the education, I will most likely still be working in an art related field, but I might not be creating art of my own.

GR: How did you get into sculpting?

SC: I was always very fascinated with sculpting since I was very young. We used to have a sandbox at my elementary school, and I would stay after classes and play in the sand until sunset every day. I remember once I was building a small city in the sand box. I went next to the pond to scoop water for the river in my sand city, and all of a sudden I fell right into the pond. I also tripped over the roots of a banyan tree. I was soaked, but it didn’t stop me from what I had planned. I took some water back and continued with my sand sculpting. After sunset I walked home soaking wet, my mom was totally freaked out to see her son drenching wet and covered in sand. I was sick for a whole week but I was so eager to go back to school to see my sand city, but of course it was gone when I got back.

When I was in college I took an anatomy class, the assignment was to build a human anatomic model with wire armature and Sculpey clay. Anatomy was interesting, but I was more excited to work with clay again. It reminded me of how passionate I was with sculpting when I was young. Eventually I started to use clay as a new material to create my work.

GR: Is any of your art work aspects from Taiwan? Whether it’s subject matter, or technique.

SC: I believe the culture from Taiwan definitely influenced the direction of my work. Taiwan is a very beautiful and unique place. When the Portuguese first sailed to Taiwan in the 15th century, they gave it the name, Formosa, which means “beautiful” in Portuguese. Taiwan is a place that conjoins various cultures from China, Japan and local natives. After the Chinese civil war, people originating from every region of China settled in Taiwan. Similar to as if a large group of people from each state decide to permanently move to Hawaii. The capital, Taipei also had a great number of businessman from all over the world. Growing up in the diverse city of Taipei was a great experience. I was able to meet people from different parts of the world and to learn how to combine different types of ideas harmoniously. Taiwanese people are generally very warm and friendly. I always tell my friends if they travel to Taiwan they don’t need a tour guide to show them places, because the locals are always eager to show visitors the best parts of the town. In my work, I also attempt to express the same kind of warmth and friendliness, to welcome people into the world I create. Beside the natural beauty of the island, Taiwan was also highly industrialized during the 70s to the 90s. Growing up watching the city gradually develop into a modernized society, it was enlightening to see how nature and machinery coexist. I create a world that is occupied with the both extremes of Taiwan, combining the organic elements that nurtured its people and the technological creations that made the people proud. My favorites being automobiles and bikes. While some argue that the two sides contradict one another, I believe both play a vital role in our society as they portray a harmonious world.

GR: What kinds of comments have you received about your work? Any particular stories?

SC: My favorite comment and reaction I got from people are a simple smile and a good laugh from my quirky humor. There are many people that saw my work and ask if I’ve made any stop motion animation in the past. The answer is no, but I would love to try in the future.

GR: Where does it go from here? Larger pieces? Are you making more 2d art?
SC: I would definitely work on larger scale of works with a concept that embraced a more profound idea. I found making sculptures irresistible, but I do paintings, drawing and make prints as well.

 



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Giant Robot Artist Interview – Inés Estrada

 

Inés Estrada is an artist from Mexico City. Her works display a strong array of color and at the same time possesses a gentleness. She has an indie spirit and with her boyfriend Roi, they are Cafe Con Leche. They make zines and keep their creative energies flowing. She’s part of Blithe Spirits exhibition at Giant Robot 2 along with Sean Chao (who’s words will make it here soon). We’re proud to publish a few words with her and hope you get to know her, a bit about Mexico City, and her works a little better. Hopefully one day soon, we’ll get to meet her. Cafe Con Leche and Inés Estrada. Preview Images from Blithe Spirits.

 

GR: Not a lot of people in the US know about artists from Mexico, can you talk about your area and what your art community is like?

IE: I live in Mexico City, which is the biggest city in the world. It is pretty crazy and there’s always something happening. Though there are people doing things here, it mostly seems like we’re all isolated. The art scene in Mexico is really spread out, so I have a couple of artist friends, but most of them live in other states. That’s what I would consider my art community… and all my friends from other countries.
I think most of the popular Mexican artists in Mexico do graffiti or come from a street art background. That’s what’s really hip here right now, and there’s a bunch of people doing really great stuff in the medium. I’m more of an indoor, small notebook cartoonist kind of person, so I don’t interact with them as much as I’d like.

GR: Is there an audience for comics and zines in Mexico?

IE: Comics in Mexico are mostly seen as “garbage literature”, like something only kids or construction workers should read. So, that said, there isn’t a really big audience for alternative comics, and I think it’s mostly because people don’t know they even exist. Manga has become quite popular in the last decade, but there’s still a lot left for other kind of comics to be introduced.

 

GR: Your work often has people in them, can you talk about what they are doing?

IE: I think most of the people I draw are usually in a state of contemplation. I don’t usually know beforehand what do I want to paint or if I want to say something with it, so this reply is something I came up with right now. You could see them doing something different and it could be possible too.

 

GR: It seems like there’s some fantasy, but can you explain a bit about the people who sit and often have things growing from them?

IE: Most of the characters I draw, I picture them in my head as little gods. This little gods all exist by themselves in their own universe and at the same time are all related and live intertwined. The things growing could be sprouting out of their own will or just symbols of their good aura manifesting. Again I think it’s up to the viewer to decide…

GR: Can you talk about Cafe Con Leche?

IE: Café con Leche is mostly just me and my boyfriend Roi having fun. We usually start our ideas by joking about things we’d like to do and sometimes those jokes eventually come down to things that we really end up doing. We also have an online store, which is the more business side of our project.

 

GR: It looks like you’re into crafts as part of your art, can you talk about that as well?

IE: I like the idea of exploring different mediums, so crafts are a part of that. I also like that crafts are a mix in between an art piece and a mass produced object, so you can have a big production and at the same time it will still be a hand made item.

 

GR: Are any of your influences from Mexico? if so, what does that bring to your work?

IE: I have many influences and definitely the place I’ve lived all my life is one of them. I love Mexican crafts and I think you can find that in my work, in how it’s so busy and colorful. Pre-hispanic cultures are also a really good source of inspiration. Aztecs have a really strong connection with blood, guts, bones, and teeth, and used them a lot as elements for their myths. I’ve always been fascinated by that idea of how they related really violent concepts with others that may seem clashing in our Western culture like love, birth or beauty. This is mixture of the grotesque and violent with the beautiful is also something I like to incorporate in my work.
I feel like a lot of Mexican artists want to give a really obvious Mexican style to their work, using Pre-Hispanic characters, indigenous people, or elements like corn. My work doesn’t have that, and I think that’s why it’s not seen as very distinctively Mexican, but I’m more interested in looking into different ways of showing others what Mexico is like than by falling in corny cliches.

 



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Giant Robot Artist Friends Series – Jeni Yang

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Originally from Taipei but now based in Los Angeles, Jeni Yang is an illustrator who experiments with a wide variety of materials and mediums. The incorporation of woodwork in her whimsical and surreal paintings adds a handcrafted feel; the use of pastels and soft wood stains, nostalgia. She works out of a garage in deep Orange County, and spends 50/50 of her time working on the wood portions of her work and painting. In this Giant Robot Artist Friends film, Yang explains her process further and you’ll get to see her use a scroll saw. Take a look at Jeni Yang’s work as part of Synthesis (showing with Jesse Fillingham).



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Giant Robot – Artist Friends Series – Goh Nakamura

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Goh Nakamura is a singer / songwriter hailing out of Saratoga, California. Most know him as a “folk-ish” musician, but little know his past as a shredding guitar player. He attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston straight from high school and learned with some of the best in the country.

Goh Nakamura on guitar. The idea for this short film came from knowing that Goh can play intense solos, but most of you will never see him perform them.

The video was shot at Hakone Gardens, the first and oldest Asian and Japanese Estate in the West, and not far from Goh Nakamura’s residence.

 



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Boris on Attention Please and Heavy Rocks

Boris at The Casbah (July 24, 2010)

The two new releases by Boris, Heavy Rocks and Attention Please, are amazing pieces of work that reinforce how much the Tokyo trio can totally rip as well as well as how they refuse to be chained down to one genre or style of music. Psychedelic shredders, droning sludge, and even some ambient noise are present–and how–but what about straight-up pop? Hell, yes. (Longer reviews are here.) I hit up the drummer/vocalist Atsuo with some questions about the band’s latest earth-shakers as well as Japan’s recent activity, receiving big help from Nao with translation.

Boris at The Casbah (July 24, 2010)

MW: Were you envisioning two albums from the start, or were you simply out of your minds recording? Can you talk about your intentions going into the studio and what you emerged with?

A: While supporting Smile on tour in many countries starting in 2008, we took time to keep recording and finished what we called New Album [totally different from the current Japanese release] in May 2009. It began with the idea of making music to be put on hold so we wouldn’t have so much pressure performing as Boris, and could work with free minds.

Meanwhile, from 2008 to 2010, the circumstances surrounding music changed. It became something that is viewed as merely data, our music was illegally shared, and new songs got leaked before their official release. So we didn’t know what to do with New Album and literally gave up on releasing it, in the end. Then we made more songs, split up the original New Album, and, heading into the next ones, could see two directions. One was typically heavy; the other featured our guitarist Wata’s voice on all the songs. Then we had two albums: Heavy Rocks and Attention Please.

Boris at The Casbah (July 24, 2010)

MW: There is a number of friends who appear on Heavy Rocks. In addition to Michio Kurihara, there’s Ian Astbury (The Cult), Aaron Turner (ISIS), Faith Coloccia (MAMIFFER)… How do you work them into your sound? For example, are they in the studio working out their contribution or do you envision their part beforehand?

A: When we collaborate, we basically give guest players as few directions as possible so that each person’s world can flow naturally. Words can be an obstacle. We like to see and hear what happens and how the songs grow. We listen to the songs, which tell us their directions.

 

MW: There are parts of Attention Please that seem like they’ll be hard to pull of live–or at least will require some new gear on the road. Do you think about stuff like that when you write songs or do songs just happen and you figure them out?

A: Playing live is totally different from recording, where we are lead by the music. Our live set is meant not to recreate the sounds we recorded, although we do think about how to translate it.

Boris at The Casbah (July 24, 2010)

MW: The terrible earthquake struck not too long after the albums were finished. Do you think you could have made the same albums afterward? Has the experience changed your creative process or outlook in any way?

A: It hasn’t specially affected Boris’s activity or the way we consciously create music. We’ll always work with sincerity. But we are aware that the disaster and nuclear accident have created a big change in our peaceful, ordinary life. I think it is part of the normal world. People live on the edge of the death all the time. I think if we remember that, we can move ahead and be happy in this world.

Both albums hit store shelves TODAY, and you can check out Attention Please and Heavy Rocks streaming in their entirety on NPR. Better yet, catch Boris live when they return to the U.S. for the full effect… I got to see the band in concert for a week straight while selling shirts for them with Damon & Naomi on tour in 2007, and there’s no way I’ll ever miss another Boris show when they’re in town.



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On Korean eye jobs–this time on CNN

At the CNN headquarters in Hollywood

My friend/Seoul-based CNN reporter Kyung Lah reported this piece on the popularity of cosmetic surgery in Asia to make Asians look more Caucasian. She asked me to provide critical comments because she couldn’t find any locals that would do it! So I went to the CNN building in Hollywood back in February and answered some questions. The clip is finally airing on cable today, but you can also watch it via the news network’s blog site as well. I look kind of sleepy and probably could have used some eye-opening ssangapul surgery myself, but maybe it’s because this is the third time I’ve provided thoughts on the subject for television. I’d previously done so on Tyra and Dr. Phil (and had makeup and stylists attend to me in those cases). I never aspired to be the go-to guy on Asian eye jobs–each of the programs contacted me–but I think Kyung’s clip is the most comprehensive and investigative and is worthy of a watch. Maybe even a “share”…



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