Behind Bars / Beyond Bars |Oakland artist Amy Ho’s visionary collaborations with prison inmates
As you gaze at the arch, the inky blackness enchants you, the muted reflection becomes an ethereal haunting, and the red curves begin to elongate and gain depth. You find yourself facing a portal into the void. Absorbed, you begin to wonder if Amy Ho — the Bay Area artist behind this David Lynchian installation — has witnessed something from the other side, if maybe she has something expansive to share.
Overhead, in old-fashioned pub lettering, the words ‘Harrington-McInnis Co. Printers’ span the length of the small building in Oakland’s Chinatown district; the same words are painted in gold on the window, giving the building a worn, nostalgic feel. On either side of the black industrial front door are weather-worn wood benches surrounded by a slightly chaotic collection of potted succulents.
My nerves are on edge because I don’t know what to expect in meeting Amy Ho, who graduated from UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School while pursuing a double major in Studio Art and a minor in Political Economy, then went on to get her MFA in Studio Art at Mills College. I’m halfway through an email asking Amy how to enter the building when the door opens and she welcomes me in with a kind smile.
As I follow Amy up the back stairs to her studio, which is on the upper right hand side of the studio co-op space directly in front of where the stairs end, she begins our interview by apologizing that she doesn’t have a ‘real’ studio space to show me as her work doesn’t warrant a traditional studio: each project is modeled in miniature in her studio, and is constructed in full size at the gallery site. Though Ho’s art is abstract and ethereal, Amy Ho herself comes across immediately as down-to-earth. She is wearing well-worn denim jeans with holes on both knees, red snowflake socks, sneakers, and brown Kuhl jacket; she later tells me it’s laundry day after she catches herself constantly playing with the denim fray of her jeans during our interview.
There is no door to the studio space and no ceiling. Exposed pipes and beams provide for an open industrial feel that is not gentrified or mechanical but rather basic, barebones. The walls of her studio are white, and lining the foot of the walls are materials from past shows, model-making materials, and boxes of miscellaneous objects. What appears to be her main worktable, and possibly ‘workspace’, is set with a classic white desk lamp (think Pixar), a green architecture cutting board, and her laptop. Along the wall to the right are taped inspiration materials in a straight line at eye level: a cutout of ‘The Brain Versus the Mind’ from the New York Times this past July; two black and white photographs of spaces with drastic light; a retro, magazine-sized Star Trek poster; a glossy print of pine trees against a burgundy night sky dotted with pinpoint stars; a piece of cream colored knitted yarn; a playing card; and a few sketches.
Read more on the "Annex | Cultural Dispatches from UC Berkeley" website