It can be frustrating to explain who you are. "Who are you? Who are you?" Anthony Michael Hall famously asks in the 1980s teen film classic The Breakfast Club. The question, asked by an uninterested authority figure, inspires Hall's character to stick two pens in his mouth and respond rhetorically, "I am the walrus." At "Present Tense Biennial: Chinese Character," 31 artists respond, essentially, to the questions "What is Chinese? What is Chinese-American?" The resulting visual answers are, like Hall's gesture, cheeky, poetic, sad, and funny. They are also gorgeous, and brilliantly curated by Intersection for the Arts program director Kevin B. Chen, who presents the work not only in a gallery across the street from Portsmouth Square, but also in scattered storefronts throughout the area. With that, "Present Tense" effectively turns Chinatown itself into a gallery, or more precisely, culls all of Chinatown as part of the exhibit, and turns the neighborhood itself into art. (Which makes us think of Wayne Wang's charming, sharp 1982 film Chan Is Missing.) Some of our favorite local artists are featured, including Kenneth Lo, Suzanne Husky, and Charlene Tan. But many names are new to us, some hailing from China, some from elsewhere: Sean Marc Lee is from San Bruno, and his photography features his fabulously stereotype-busting father, while part-time Beijing resident Fang Lu produces a video called Straight Outta HK, which Chen calls "a real culture fuck."
May 1-Aug. 23, 2009