"Will You be My Neighbor?" Exhibition
In collaboration with Furen Dai
Since the election of Donald Trump, the polarization of Americans across political, social, cultural, and racial lines has never been more apparent, and counterproductive to the advancement of our country. Recent studies have shown that the animosity and partisanship of 2016 has only increased, as Americans have further secluded themselves within their respective media and cultural bubbles. Artists and galleries have responded to the resurgence of white nationalism that Trump represents through works that promote liberal and progressive
agendas. But what is often lacking in those projects is an earnest engagement with those who have different perspectives. Our proposal begins with the idea that respectful dialogue, critical introspection, and the willingness to engage (rather than condemn or ridicule) is necessary to overcome the dividedness that pervades our politics and daily life. We want to change the ways that Americans perceive those unlike themselves, the “Other.” How we view and live with each others’ differences as fellow Americans is of utmost importance, whether we support a different presidential candidate or come from a different economic or cultural background. Because addressing this issue is too ambitious for any single project, our goal for the Recess residency is to examine, debate, and showcase a neighborhood
in New York City where polarization across racial, economic, and cultural divides is apparent and ongoing– Chinatown.
Our project is to transform the gallery into a place for active reflection, discussion, and learning about these complex dynamics in Chinatown and beyond. There are two components of our project that will exist simultaneously in the gallery: a travel agency office
from which we will organize walking tours of Chinatown and a physicalized TripAdvisor website that will display the reactions, photographs, collected objects, and yes, ratings, of tour participants across the gallery walls.
There will be several versions of the tours, each designed for different audiences. One version will be for older Chinese-speaking residents, workers, and shopkeepers whose homes and businesses often abut the art galleries, fashion boutiques, and bougie restaurants that have
opened in Chinatown. Led by a Chinese-speaking art historian or artist, this tour will provide an introduction to the spaces that this Chinese demographic lacks access to. For example, we will organize a tour of a gallery like 47 Canal and explain both the art and the art history context of the work in Chinese. We will also tour Tramps and the Eckhaus Latta store that is just a staircase above New York Mart and other hyperlocal Chinese stores. Part of our project will be to produce pamphlets and marketing materials in Chinese that we distribute at local community centers, restaurants, and churches to advertise these tours. We will also advertise in person by speaking with the owners of local establishments. Another version of the tour will be targeted for younger non-Chinese artists and residents who may live or work in Chinatown. On this tour we will walk through local Chinese community spaces, establishments, and stores in order to provide them with an understanding of Chinatown’s history beyond what they might access through Wikipedia (or even Hyperallergic). We will arrange for things like a personal tour of the Chinese Benevolent Business Association, Hong Kong Supermarket, and incorporate stops at places like Ming’s Cafe where we will speak with the owner about their experience as neighbors to Dimes, Metrograph, and Kikis.
In exchange for the free tours, participants will be asked to rate and describe their reactions to each of the tour stops. This will be accompanied by photographs they take, and possibly things they buy. Their reviews will then be translated into either English or Chinese
(depending on who is writing). The ratings, descriptions, reactions, photographs, and objects will be printed on vinyl and displayed on the walls of the gallery as “community-generated art.” We simply act as the curators and designers of this content that is generated by others. A visual reference we have is Anna Oppermann’s work, where texts, photographs, drawings, and objects are presented as a coherent accumulation on a gallery wall. At the beginning of the residency we will come prepared to install a large map, calendar, and touristy mural in addition to our travel agency office furniture. The gallery will then transform throughout the residency as the feedback from each tour will add more and more material to the walls. The material generated from the different tours will be in open dialogue with itself and the
content generated on earlier tours, and subsequent tours will further enrich and complicate the existing relationships on the gallery walls. While our project visualizes the complexities and relationships within Chinatown, it also validates the opinions of those who may have never stepped inside an art gallery before– the fishmonger can see her ideas and feelings displayed as art, something worthy of a gallery. Because the reviews, photographs, and objects displayed will come from a wide range of participants, we envision that the project will spur discussions about different kinds of value in Chinatown– economic value, cultural value, etc. (While a 35¢ dumpling may mean something to a white millennial, it may signify something totally different for a Chinese immigrant.) The cross-cultural, multi-lingual exchange on the walls is important because not only do you need to see the “Other,” but you also need to understand how the “Other” sees you.