Among karaoke bars, noodle houses and markets selling imported goods in the Chinatown/International District is Wing Luke. The building blends in seamlessly with its neighbors. The museum is more than a place to go to learn more about the Asian Pacific American (APA) experience. It is a dynamic hub for contemporary art. The exhibit, “Worlds Beyond Here: The Expanding Universe of APA Science Fiction,” takes visitors on a journey through the genre via observation, artifacts and visual arts.
The exhibition appropriately begins in a fully furnished child’s bedroom — a place where unbridled imagination thrives. Dozens of novels, figurines and DVDs line the shelves of bookcases within the space. A kid-sized Jedi costume and Millennium Falcon trick-or-treat bag is also on display.
Across from the bed is a digitial composition by Frank Wu called “Needle Beetles.” Spotlights from below illuminate several airships as they hover near the Space Needle. This is a future where the iconic symbol is still a useful structure and serves as a landing dock for zeppelins. They are being steered with oars, giving them an insect like appearance.
“I love the Space Needle. It’s such a cool thing,” said Wu. “It’s a design that never gets stale. In a hundred years from now it’s going to look futuristic.”
Wu said the idea for turning the structure into a landing dock is rooted in reality. According to the artist, the Empire State Building was once considered as a dock for zeppelins like the Hindenburg, before it exploded. This plan serves as a plot point in the 1989 film, “Sky Captain World of Tomorrow.” Wu’s image was used for Seattle’s bid to host Worldcon, an international science fiction convention, in 2011.
Wu is a longtime sci-fi aficionado. He describes the original Star Trek, starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, as a gateway drug. He watched reruns of the show and praises the world depicted on the small screen. Wu thinks Spock is “cool” and appreciated the show’s humane depiction of aliens. They weren’t horrible monsters trying to take over the galaxy.
“Aliens existed in their own right and were interesting in and of themselves,” said Wu. “And had a right to exist, which is a very progressive, socially just idea back in the ’60s and even today.”
In the next space is Stasia Burrington’s mural, “Alien Landscape.” Eschewing psychedelic colors, she opted for earth tones to depict an arid, otherworldly scene. The artist referred to the project as a “satisfyingly curiosity-tugging meditation on the diversity that is under our feet, and next door and on the other side of the planet.”
From there, visitors are transported via wormhole to the section devoted to Star Trek’s pivotal role in pop culture. Costumes, memorabilia and action figures fill the space. In “Live Long and Prosper (Spock Was A Half Breed),” Debra Yepa Pappan reconstructs a well-known Edward R. Curtis photograph utilizing Asian and Native imagery. The purple haired woman depicted has one hand raised in the Vulcan salute, “Live long and prosper.” Nearby is a section devoted to George Takei and his groundbreaking role as Lt. Hikaru Sulu in the original series. Other actors of Asian descent followed in his footsteps in the years to come.
Sci-fi is ever increasing in popularity and it’s also made an impact on current technology. “Worlds Beyond Here” explores how the two relate to one another. Initially, mobile phones and touchscreens only existed within the intergalactic imagination of science fiction creators. Today they are ubiquitous.
The achievements of Beijing-born Shane Chen are highlighted in the show. Among his many inventions are the Solowheel and Hoverwheel. Each are motorized devices people can use to maneuver sidewalks instead of walking. Chen now lives in Camas, Washington and runs the company Inventist.
Simon Kono’s mural “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats” imagines a futuristic Seattle. The Space Needle, CenturyLink field and Pike Place Market still make up the skyline. A seawall separates people living in small shacks from the rest of the waterfront. The Olympic rainforest is reduced to a biodome structure.
The exhibition also highlights steampunk, described by Wing Luke as a subgenre that plays with the 19th century European or American wild west technology and fashion. A derivative of the genre is silkpunk, a concept coined by author Ken Liu. Silkpunk is steampunk influenced by Asian and Pacific culture. Artist James Ng’s work is representative of this style. “My Studio” portrays the artistic process happening inside his head, a “dreamlike factory.” In a busy scene with clouds of steam emanating from a labyrinth of pipes, a train rides down a track and small bears are shown taking photographs and looking through binoculars. Each symbolizes distractions that pull him away from his artwork.
Like Wu, Ng was drawn to sci-fi as a kid, particularly the Gundam series, a Japanese anime franchise involving giant robots piloted by humans fighting over galactic resources.
“I would draw them nonstop all over my homework and notebooks,” said Ng. His fascination continued with the spinoff series which featured more than 100 robots. “There was only one episode a week and they took forever to introduce each of them. I couldn’t wait for the whole season and ended up designing 108 different robots in one weekend.”
June Sekiguchi’s “Silkpunk Grasshopper Legs” anchors the final section of the exhibit. It’s a large white sculpture hanging from the ceiling. The legs are connected by a ninja star-inspired netting, holding eggs inside. Parts of the piece change color with the aid of LED lights. A dodecahedron hovering above represents the protagonist. It’s easy to envision the sculpture coming to life and fulfilling its purpose as a transport device that can move at warp speed.
“With sci-fi there’s the element of the unknown and therefore danger and the need for defense or offense and weaponry,” said Sekiguchi. “When you’re going from one intergalactic space to another there’s this desire to procreate and regenerate.”
The sculpture was her first foray into creating sci-fi specific work.
“Worlds Beyond Here” is a sweeping exhibition that addresses APA representation and the lack thereof, while showcasing today’s working sci-fi artists.
Ng is in the process of creating a comic book based on one of his works in the show. For Wu, science and science fiction are uniquely intertwined and he enjoys exploring both. He has a doctorate in bacterial genetics from the University of Wisconsin and writes patent applications for a biotech company in Boston. Wu values intellect and believes ingenious solutions will help us solve imminent problems such as global warming.
“What I love about it is the possibilities. We’re not limited by who we are but we’re limited by what we can think of,” said Wu. “We need clever answers and we need smart people to help us save the planet before it’s too late and science fiction just tells us that we can do that.”
WHAT: “Worlds Beyond Here: The Expanding Universe of Asian Pacific American Science Fiction”
WHEN: Runs until Sept. 15
WHERE: Wing Luke museum, 719 S King St, Seattle
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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