Visual Arts

Dangerously Political Americana With a Touch of Saccharine

For a glimpse of some dangerously political work, veiled as Americana with a touch of saccharine, be sure to check out Jin Joo Chae’s piece, The Sweet Taste of Capitalism with Communist Cream III in “The Spaces We Know” exhibit at Octavia Art Gallery, a group show featuring works by emerging Asian artists.

From a distance, the words Choco-Pie rendered in the Coca-Cola logo font and printed onto a North Korean newspaper yields interest in its simplicity. Up close, however, is when the “wow factor” kicks in, as the viewer realizes the faux logo is actually printed with milk chocolate and chocolate syrup, yielding a flawless three-dimensional impression. While it’s difficult to get literature out of North Korea, this South Korean artist was able to obtain copies of The Newspaper of the Worker from Columbia University. Even without being able to read the newsprint, one can divine the national pride of a country devoted to founder Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il and third generation leader Kim Jong Un, as the smiling faces of the workers peer through the letters of the logo. Her other two similarly-styled works are equally strong: Choco Pie with Communist Cream with its “everybody is happy” message accented by bittersweet chocolate, and Choco Pie with Capitalist Cream, with its martial arts demonstration enhanced by semi-sweet chocolate. Her last piece fashioned from soda cans, Choco Pie Wrapper, alludes to the subversive practice of handing out the beloved snacks to North Korean workers in lieu of forbidden cash bonuses.

Inspired by the movie classic The Wizard of Oz, Wang JiaJia’s Be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home. succeeds in capturing the vivid Technicolor tornado in bright oranges and yellows, as colorful bits are sucked up from the ground by the vortex. Wang, who hails from a family of Chinese artists, uses the same oil, resin and spray paint technique on his other piece, Once upon a time in the west, with its darker composition. The work, which is as appealing as it is fascinating, can best be described as pumpkin-face-monster and triangle-head friends get attacked by asteroids and aliens from another planet while the world explodes.

Jed Foronda (Philippines) offers a few of his multi-layered topographical maps, where subsequent pages from a periodical are excavated to reveal concave shapes and colors. He offers two from his “birds within birds” series: Polyborus Vulgaris and Le Groenlandais, Faucon Blanc Mue; as well as two that feature geode-like zones with amorphous sides: Palmeria Dolei and Pepra Manacus.

Japanese artist Hidenori Ishii became fascinated by the local fauna that is beginning to take over the site of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster. Works from his “IcePlants” series – Nostalgia I and Nostalgia II – feature muted ivy behind a controlled chain link fence, with colorful flowers beginning to form on the surface and dressed with frenzied strokes of glowing neon.

Guo Hongwei references the systematic classification system of a botanist in his meticulous chart of lilies, read from right to left and demonstrating various bloom states in his delicately rendered watercolor on paper, Plant No. 15.

“The Spaces We Know” continues through October 3, at Octavia Art Gallery, 3637 West Alabama, open Tuesdays to Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-877-1810 or

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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney