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Pieds Band├ęs_2000_color photograph of two feet wrapped in saran wrap_29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches (74.9 x 74.9 cm)

Pieds Bandés, 2000, color photograph on aluminum panel, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches (74.9 x 74.9 cm)

Su-Mei Tse’s multimedia installation lives up to demanding setting of Seattle Asian Art Museum 
By Sheila Farr
July 11, 2008

Seattle Asian Art Museum, poised among the trees at Volunteer Park, remains my favorite Northwest museum. I love the graceful art deco building, peaceful galleries and the familiar but always heart-stopping perfection of its Asian art masterpieces.

There’s a nostalgia factor, too: It’s the first art museum I ever visited, back in the days when it was the Seattle Art Museum. The setting isn’t bad either, of course; and who’d complain about free parking?

All that to preface my appreciation for the exhibition contemporary-art curator Michael Darling chose for such a demanding setting. Su-Mei Tse’s multimedia installation “East Wind” lives up to the place. Part of its charm is the way it interacts with the environment and the permanent collection.

You don’t need to read any wall text to get the artist’s intentions — the visuals and sound carry you along quite nicely, sowing their metaphors along the way. I’ve visited several times and will happily return again.

Tse’s two videos anchor the main installation in a darkened east gallery. If you rush through, you’ll miss out. Plan on slowing down your workday pace and let the artworks do their job.

Sit on one of the benches and watch “Mistelpartition” to the eerie refrains of Shostakovich’s cello concerto in E flat major. The image moves continually. You seem to be passing along a row of trees dotted with clumps of mistletoe. It’s hypnotic. Nothing is happening, just motion and music. Then the mistletoe, highlighted, begins to mark the music, like a written score.

The other video, “The Yellow Mountain,” at first seems to be a still projection on the wall, a typical Chinese mountain landscape. But stick around for the action: It brings a mind-opening little surprise, along with some of the most enchanting music I have ever heard.

Tse’s installation alludes to other kinds of music, too, with a selection of antique bird cages from SAAM’s collection and “SUMY,” a sweet, punning little conceptual sculpture she added to the mix.

Tse, born in 1973 to a Chinese father and English mother, represented her native country of Luxembourg in the 2003 Venice Biennale, where she took the Golden Lion Award.

Her work at SAAM doesn’t end when you leave the east gallery. Continue through the permanent collection and discover two more of her pieces, little epiphanies, in among the classical artworks. Her photograph “Pieds bandés” hangs near an exquisite pair of tiny “Golden Lotus” shoes, created for bound feet — Tse’s way of putting herself in the shoes of her ancestors.

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