Artist-Architect Sean Connelly (b.1984, O‘ahu / Oceania) is a sculptor, land artist, data analyst, experimental cartographer, filmmaker, architect/landscape architect, expert witness, geomancer-mystic from Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Sean identifies as a ghost in the field. He/They operates patiently and collaboratively in the outliers of the profession, collaborating with those willing to legitimately intervene and address the complexities of indigenous futures for Hawai‘i.
As a queer, diasporic Pacific-Islander American white-passing person-of-color, local settler grandchild of immigrants raised in a Hawaiian-Ilocano family from Kalihi and He'eia, Sean's accumulative work over the past decade represents humble ideas in art, architecture, landscape, and design theory around Hawai‘i, the Pacific, and beyond. Sean's interest strives to connect community in dismantling architectures that oppress indigenous thinking and ways of knowing.
Sean incorporated AFTER OCEANIC (Projects for Architecture Landscape Infrastructure and Art) to represent his/their artistic social practice emerged to assist in the contemporary recovery of indigenous systems (e.g. moku, ahupua‘a) as the basis for an ecological revolution in architecture, landscape, and urbanism.
The abbreviation of the studio name AO learns from the Hawaiian word 'ao' defined by Mary Kawena Pukui: (1) light, day, daylight, grow light, enlightened, to regain consciousness; (2) any kind of cloud; (3) world, earth, realm; (4) to be careful, beware, watch-out; (5) upland area; (6) the exact image of; (7) a kind of fine map; (8) a kind of fish. This term ao is typographically distinct from that which focuses sean’s practice, the term au, described by Rubellite Kawena Johnson to combine notions of (1) space, au; (2) time, au; and (3) flow, au; into a single term ‘au,’ suggesting the existence of a pristine epistemology that is ecologically fluid (total). AO is therefore a spatial, temporal, and mobile practice.
Studio-driven works include theoretical new-media open-access research anthology exhibited as “anti-essays” such as: Hawai‘i Futures (2010-), a virtual intervention on island urbanism; Africa-Pacific (2015-), an architectural theory of the Oceanic; Ala Wai Centennial Memorial Project (2017-2019), a hypothetical simulation of Waikīkī; Oahu 2450 (2019), the first forensic 3D mapping of the United States militarization on the Island of O‘ahu from 1898-Present. Together these works exhibited online have accumulated an analytic record of over 40,000 visits online. These works enable Sean’s mission to transform experience and broadcasts a novel architectural history and theory from the Pacific, from Hawai‘i. The intellectual output of this studio-driven research forms the basis of Sean’s creative body of curated works and collaborative client projects.
Curated works explore and exhibit issues of material (sky/ground), information (space/flow), reference (climate/energy), and time (phantasmic/holographic). Current installations include a prominent public sculpture at Thomas Square commissioned by the City and County of Honolulu Arts Commission (2021). Past installations include sculptures exhibited at ii Gallery, Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu Biennial at Foster Botanical Gardens, Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, and Akron Art Museum in Ohio.
Collaborative client works include donor-funded cultural plans for Native Hawaiian organizations focused on recovering indigenous food systems across the Hawaiian islands. Recently completed recovery plans involving expertise in architecture, landscape, real estate, and culture include a 1,600-acre recovery strategy (2021) for Mālama Loko Ea Foundation to restore a historic Hawaiian fishpond located in Haleiwa, Hawai‘i; and a 400-acre landscape plan (2019) for Hui Mālama i ke AlaʻŪlili funded by Kamehameha Schools. Auxiliary works include the first statewide cartographic analysis of child abuse and neglect from 1992-2017 in Hawai‘i for Consuelo Foundation (2019).
Supporting artist residencies have included NTUCCA Singapore with Ute Meta Bauer (2018) and Santa Fe Art Institute with Jaime Blosser (2016). Additionally, Sean attended Standing Rock (2016), and has previously marched for Black Lives Matters (2014), and various other LGBTQ causes and environmental activism (2006-onward).
Sean is a founding board member of Protect Our Ala Wai Watersheds (POAWW), a grassroots advocacy group that organized in 2019 and successfully sued the State of Hawai‘i to halt a United States Army Corps of Engineers proposal to build seven detention basins in the last remaining native portion of stream in Waikīkī. Sean has served as an expert witness in architecture for the State of Hawai‘i and is regarded as an authority in architecture, landscape, and planning.
Academically, Sean is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, teaching a design studio in collaboration with Leong Leong. Previously, Sean has served as Visiting Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture and Planning. Sean has also taught studio and lecture courses at a range of institutions including: University of Hawai‘i School of Architecture, and Harvard Graduate School of Design. Sean has also served as critic for design courses taught at the University of Texas Austin School of Architecture, the University of Oregon School of Architecture & Environment, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning.
Sean has recently published the essays Ahupua‘a for Peace edited by Jaimey Hamilton Faris, and Our City as Ahupua‘a: For Justice-Advancing Futures edited by Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, Craig Howes, Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, and Aiko Yamashiro, which follows the 2013 essay Urbanism as Island Living of the same edited series Value of Hawai‘i.
Sean holds a Doctorate in Architecture from the University of Hawai‘i, a Master's in Design from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Statement of Responsibility to Design
A Personal Statement of Phenomenology (and Ego-Death):
In high school, I chose to pursue architecture as a career path for college with a belief that buildings should be designed with its surroundings in mind. In a 2002 essay titled I want to be an architect, I declared my mission to “keep my home Hawai‘i a beautiful place.”
At that time, questioning ideas of beauty and place while expanding their complexities and connotations provided the nutritious ground in which my responsibility in design grew. The experience of learning and unfolding as a person from a volcanic island was enchantment.
Today, ideas expand and encompass notions of form, cycle, gradient, and interaction. Architecture is a pathway to study the built-environment in terms of material, system, ecology, and justice. Practice is a venue for criticism and creation, a tremendous potential to query and convey feelings of society, mind, and environment as they occur in time and in space. With adjacencies in other fields like geology, biology, and linguistics, architecture emerges culturally scientific.
As an artistic social practice in architecture, I work within a variety of medias in ways that range from multidisciplinary to anti-disciplinary. There are multitudes of disciplines and scales within and around which I am grateful to operate, and I acknowledge and thank the delicate ecosystems of relationships that yield opportunity to do so.
I appreciate Earth as a direct source of data and power. From this approach, mapping is a strategic process to visualize and speculate form and its formations, in and over time. Radical and challenging ideas of energy and ecology are critical venues for rediscovery, and are explored from creation chants to cybernetics to chaos. Emotional affect is achieved in the material and geometric craft of form. Site, history, technology, and ceremony are the basis for dialog, reinvention, and the advancement of justice.
My commitment to the pedagogy and practice of design is informed by my humble role as an accomplice in environmental, social, political, racial, and cultural justice and change. My commitment is developed through conversations and a soft range of experience in activism across different fields of solidarity, as is the network of my family, mentors, friends, and acquaintances whom I remember fondly.
As an educator, I am interested in expanding boundaries through at least four synergistic goals: (1) Heighten creative intelligence as a method for leadership and entrepreneurship to produce works in art and design that renegotiate and reconnect ecology, science, culture, and economics in ways that challenge and provide mediums for people to fulfill diverse needs and aspirations. (2) Embolden art and design as events of activism and inspired change, as works that engage attention spans and organize new pathways to confront and heal the injustices of obsolete design. (3) Recover marginalized histories that hold the insights for creative change. (4) Shift perspectives and possibilities critically through creative research and speculation to uncover the range of issues at the forefront of environmental change, justice, and regained delight.
Acknowledging the constraints of my identity in service to myself and others, I believe in an approach to collaboration that is achieved through active vulnerability, listening, learning, and allied action. Practice is about continuity in acknowledging those around me, those who came before, and those who will rise.
Projects for Architecture, Landscape, and Infrastructure
About Sean Connelly