Q&A: Asuka Hisa and Clement Hanami of ArtMetroPolis

As the former Santa Monica Museum of Art makes progress on its Downtown LA home, re-opening as the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (ICA LA) in September 2017, the museum is beginning to unveil its uniquely Los Angeles-focused programming. Their newly debuted project, ArtMetroPolis, presents a series of VR experiences showcasing Los Angeles-based artists and their respective art installations on Metro station platforms.

To learn more about the project, we chatted with Asuka Hisa, Director of Education and Public Programs at ICA LA, as well as Clement Hanami, Art Director at the Japanese American National Museum, whose artwork Through the Looking Glass or Traveling at the Speed of Light (Rail) is installed at the East LA/Civic Center Station on the Gold Line.

GDT: ArtMetroPolis is one of the first forward facing projects for the new ICA LA. How did this project come about?

AH: ArtMetroPolis was first developed as a video idea when the museum was in Santa Monica. The Expo Line Phase 2 was about to open and it gave us a chance to reflect on how our city will be further connected and accessible, particularly on the eve of opening up in a new location. The four artists featured in our ArtMetroPolis series have their Metro Art projects at stations from Santa Monica to the Downtown LA — the stretch between our old location and our new one. We wanted to not only learn about the work they created for the stations but to also learn about their experience of the city by riding the Metro with them. We learn more about the themes in their work and what inspires them while on a metropolitan journey.

GDT: Clement, how did you get the opportunity to feature your artwork at a Metro station?

CH: It was mostly persistence. You have to apply for a whole lot of things and you have to continually do it for a really long time. You will get some opportunities, but you will also get a lot of rejections. This persistence really helps me to get better at creating proposals based on experience and criticisms. But I think it is also my work within the community as an artist and museum professional. By working with different constituents in these areas I became more aware of the concerns as well as meet a lot of really great people.

 Artist Clement Hanami (image via Metro)

Artist Clement Hanami (image via Metro)

GDT: This journey of riding the train from an artist’s point of view is made considerably more stimulating by the use of VR. Was there always a virtual reality intent for this project?

AH: Initially, this was going to be a straight video project but then I learned about VR, or Virtual Reality, and switched the production to this type of capture. 360 degree video is going to become more and more common. You can watch the videos without a VR headset on Facebook or YouTube (although the most immersive experience is with gear and headphones). It's exciting to produce some new projects in a space — online — that are accessible to all but also related to an "in real life" experience you can have in the city of LA.

GDT: Beyond the digital sphere, how do you think a public agency like Metro can best engage people “in real life” with art at its stations?

AH: I love art at Metro stations. It's appealing to have an art environment while you wait or even when you are rushing about from one train to the next. Or, best case, someone actually stops their tracks when caught by surprise by a compelling work of art in an unexpected place — they are suspended in a special moment to receive what the artist has offered. I am a cheerleader for more art in the day-to-day.

CH: When an artist is given the opportunity to make public art, it is a big responsibility to consider the needs of the audience. How they see art and what is it that exists in their visual environment. But i would also not just replicate formats that one might feel should exist in a certain environment; rather, I would hope to challenge viewers with something that is both familiar yet completely new that must be seen several times before it makes complete sense. In that way you give the audience an opportunity to take away a variety of meanings for themselves.

As a viewer myself, i think it is important to look at art several times before making any final critiques. and even then, I would never discount anything permanently. There probably is a place and time for every art work and while it might never be something for me, it might be for someone else. I have also seen work that might have had one meaning for me, but then later have a completely different, and more profound meaning once it found its place in my personal areas of experience.

GDT: This project is a great intersection between public transit, artists' stories, virtual reality, and a museum - what else might ICA explore at this intersection?

AH: Intersections are very LA! When we can highlight the intersection of so many vibrant, cultural, civic, social, and artistic endeavors in a city, people can engage from more than one angle. ArtMetroPolis features four artists: Clement Hanami, Shizu Saldamando, Carmen Argote, and Daniel Gonzalez and they talk about their Metro Art work and then expand to such topics as identity, race, getting around, neighborhoods, people, and places of discovery. ArtMetroPolis encourages exploring the city with public transit, through the lens of art and with local artists as guides. It would be great to do more videos like this and explore documentary VR further in collaborations with artists.

GDT: What under construction / proposed Metro line are you most excited about?

CH: The regional connector in downtown for me is the most exciting. I mean, i appreciate the long distances that Metro is seeking to reach out to, but those are in many ways isolated and limited in their service. The Regional Connector, however, is supporting a more central hub to make not only Downtown more accessible, but all the other lines too. The more we can make the inner circle work faster, the better all the lines become to their final destinations.

AH: ArtMetroPolis relates to a couple of current Metro lines: Gold Line and Expo Line. I'm pretty excited about the Purple Line Extension; and we'll see if there's ever progress for an extension into the Arts District, which would service the ICA LA nicely. The Crenshaw/LAX Project will be so good — train to the airport? Yes! I live near Crenshaw and Pico Blvd.

I'm a big advocate for getting around this city in different ways—car, train, bus, bike, ride share, bike share, or on foot. The more options the better. but we need to up the infrastructure for all of it.

CH: And hopefully, more artwork for the masses as they await their next journey.