Oh, Oh, It's Magic

Yasha Wallin

In the Kitchen, New York's legendary performance art space, Glenn Kaino is making magic. After performing several card tricks and linking rings, Kaino has transfixed the gathered crowd with a video projection. It's Kaino's unexpected self-portrait, where the Los Angeles-based Japanese-American artist appears reflected in five mirrors, poker faced while lip-synching a rap song. Kaino doesn't miss a beat -- impressive, given the footage was taken in one shot, at 3 a.m. The piece is just one "experiment" from Experiments from The [Space] Between, a 45-minute show of magic, performance and revelry by Kaino and magician Derek DelGaudio, who together stage "psycho-spatial interventions" under the moniker A.Bandit. Tonight's is one of many happenings the two have organized since their debut as collaborators earlier this year.

The climax comes when a Christie's auctioneer hawks a one of a kind shirt -- sight unseen, description withheld -- created by the artists. The winning bid is $90. And the victor is rewarded with a stencil of "A.Bandit" spray-painted across his own shirt, which happens to be a cashmere sweater. "Selling a decision as an actual art experience was the point," Kaino explains. For the finale, "A Walk Through China," actress and the host of Bravo's Work of Art China Chow is dramatically cut in half and the audience encouraged to "walk through her" to fetch a beer. The show is part spectacle, part comedy and wholly thought-provoking. It's the result of what happens when magic meets art and ideas come to life.

Kaino, 39, has built a career out of questioning traditional art-making practices. Growing up in Cerritos, CA, he was interested in art from an early age, becoming immersed in comic book culture and surrounding himself with musicians and DJs, which informed the way he would think about art. "When I was growing up with all these hip-hop DJs, we started talking about what we called 'scratch mentality.' And then when I was in art school I learned it was called postmodernism. It was always about making art that was both internal and external and had references." For his conceptual investigations, he's done everything from wrapping a pig in a cow's hide, to coaxing Pamela Anderson and Jodie Foster to record their secrets on tape, only to later be locked in a vault, never to be listened to. And while he continues his interventions with DelGaudio, Kaino's solo projects promise a busy winter. In January 2012, he'll examine the idea of "dismantling the nature of mapping" in a show at L.A.'s Honor Fraser gallery; the same month he will participate in a performance festival at the Getty Center in conjunction with "Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980." Additionally, the multifaceted Kaino has always held an impressive "day job," working in music production, TV shows and the tech world -- he founded the online platform uber.com, worked for high profile companies like mp3 innovator Napster and today, heads up the digital team at Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network. He's also a father of two girls, who have dibs on his free time. While these many hats keep him busy, mostly they fuel his practice.

His foray into magic began nearly three years ago after a trip to Art Basel Miami Beach left him disillusioned with the commercial art world. After Miami, "I got back on a plane to L.A. and thought, 'This is horrible, I need to think about belief systems, but real belief systems.'I thought, 'I'm going to suspend the art practice and work on magic.' I had no idea what that meant," Kaino elaborates. What it came to mean is that he embraced the craft head on, studying with masters, like L.A.'s Shoot Ogawa, eventually becoming good enough to be accepted as a member of Hollywood's exclusive magicians-only club, the Magic Castle, where he sometimes performs. If being a little jaded led him to explore this other world, it enthusiastically breathed new life into his work and added another dimension to his already layered process. The format also allowed viewers to engage with his art -- to become a part of it. "When I found and started working with magic, it was the missing component," says Kaino.

Now it's the realm of illusion that permeates every aspect of Kaino's life and the deeper he goes into it, he says, the more he is inspired -- and that's what keeps him going. "We all have to believe what we're doing actually is meaningful for the world," he says. "Because if we don't, no one else is going to believe in it."

Above and middle: Glenn Kaino projects a video of himself and "cuts" China Chow in half during his show that took place at the Kitchen in early October.

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