The first time I met Chen Chi, a Chinese girl with black hair, big smiles and innocent eyes, she was talking about the philosophy of depression, a rather dark topic for such a seemingly bright personality. She was working on an art project called “Collecting Anxiety.” Carrying a big backpack, she handed out her cards in high streets and back lanes in New York, telling people that “if you feel depressed, please record your voice and send it to me. Voice of your anxiety, irritation, madness or just blowing off some steam, anything will do.” “Any people respond?” I asked. “More than I can imagine. Every day e-mails containing strange, fragmented voice in different languages come pouring in, venting out disappointment or fear at the same time. Such an explosion of negative energy, when faced head on, inspires positive thinking. But the hypocritical ‘positive energy’ touted by mainstream society prompted us to look away from depression, a constant existence in our life, thus depriving us the ability to live with it.”

The next time I met her was at my apartment in New York. Despite the pouring rain, she was in high spirits, heading to the beach with a big camera on her back to pick garbage with an artist. She invited me to join her. “Why?” I asked. Smiling, she explained that all the works of the artist were made from garbage. Finding this both fascinating and hard to believe, she decided to witness for herself how something negative was turned into the positive. Then she winked at me and said mysteriously: “This is the second stage of my project, Lydia. With the help of many musicians and artists, the voice of depression I collected is being turned into a new energy and taking on a new look. This will provoke thinking among people, which is what we, as artists, should contribute to society.” As the rain let up, she receded into the crowd on the street, her red pants bright like the sun after rain.

Later I learned on the phone that her exhibition moved to the next stage. “We can all identify with negative energy. Yet lacking channels to let out steam, to be listened and understood, people have to suppress their true self, disconnecting and isolating it from the increasingly selfish modern society, thus creating a vicious circle of escalating conflicts between self and society. In this stage of my project, I will release the voice of depression in church, which I consider as a positive way to relieve and reconnect.”

One year later, on September 23, 2016, the exhibition “Collecting Anxiety” by Chen Chi opened.

It comprised four stages: TO COLLECT, TO BRIDGE, TO STAGE, and TO FLY, with a one-week interval in between. One week, according to Chen Chi, is the perfect interval in fast-tempo New York, during which audience can process known information and reset their mind to receive new one.

EXHIBITION I – TO COLLECT

On September 23, “Collecting Anxiety” opened. In the first stage, audience listened to voices of emotion fragments in French, Chinese, English, Spanish and Russian telling similar or different stories from across the world, experiencing others’ life and realities, happiness and sorrow.

 

(To Collect. Photo by Chen Chi and Suzie)

 

Opening with Impromptu Electronic Music

The exhibition opened with impromptu electronic music most apt for that day’s occasion, performed by Emily, a musician, based on our previous discussions and understanding of fragility and sound.

(Impromptu Electronic Music Performance)

Collect Old Photos on Site

Each audience was asked to bring one of their own old photos, which were displayed as part of the exhibition and sent back to them afterwards.

(Photo by Suzie)

 

All-night Talking

Talks were held from mid-night till dawn, with clinical psychologist, “geography” poets, CEOs of eco-companies, nurses for cancer patients, etc.

(All-night Talking: Chen Chi and artists whose works were on display)

EXHIBITION II – TO BRIDGE

The second stage of the exhibition was To Bridge. On September 28, Chen Chi, together with all the musicians and sound artists who participated in the project, walked across Manhattan Bridge carrying three QSC’K10 loudspeakers.

Bridge stretches and connects, but also bears witnesses to the history and scars of the city. Many people choose to end their lives on the bridge; and many more grieve for their lost ones after such tragedies as 911.

“Walking on the bridge I feel like I was trekking in the vast desert,” said Chen Chi. “The point is to let people take a break from the cooped-up urban life and stretch out in the outside, and take a look at our city as well as the relationship between us and the surroundings, the past and the present, from distance. In the end the artists hug each other, relieve their emotions and reconnect.”

EXHIBITION III – TO STAGE

The third stage of the exhibition was about confrontation, to explore the game theory of “order” and “disorder” through remote impromptu music performance, performance art, all-night concert, etc.

Remote Impromptu Music Performance

Based on music elements collected in the first stage, musician Nikhil staged a remote impromptu music performance.

Performance Art Customized for “Collecting Anxiety”

Performance artists Lizzy De Vita, Chris De Vita and Mark Bleaky presented a two-hour living sculpture performance, highlighting the tension between man and space.

All-night Concert

A small concert was held in every hour from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., restaging and exploring the confrontation between “order” and “disorder.” Compared to the informative first stage and the flexible and relaxing second stage, the third stage, instead of merely putting everything on display, sought to invoke the inner conflicts among audiences.

EXHIBITION IV – TO FLY

The final chapter, a natural extension and change of body and mind. Yet another grave challenge for Chen Chi, it offered the audience a whole new experience.

Chen Chi is an independent exhibition curator in New York. Born into a family of musicians, she majored in psychology and art history at Syracuse University, and is now studying exhibition and management at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. She once worked in art galleries in British Museum, Chelsea (New York), Firenze and London. As a member of the curating group of Flag Art Foundation, she helped plan the personal exhibitions of Jeff Koons and Betty Tompkins.

Lydia Duanmu: What’s the motivation behind your series art activities?

Chen Chi: To me, my curatorial practice could be seen as an urge. We are leaving in an era full of illusions and urban people are very alienated. The ‘self’ gets repressed, and is disconnected with the ‘other’. I’ve always been hoping to revoke the interconnection among human beings through exhibition making, therefore I initiated Collecting Anxiety and Wasteland of the Future. The message I want to send is that we are in need of vulnerability and compassion. And, I hope to build an alternative experience that’s outside the white cube gallery system.

Lydia Duanmu: What are the challenges during the process?

Chen Chi: The biggest challenge is the execution. It is especially difficult to be an independent curator in New York. These exhibitions are not through gallery system, in-stead, it is about to collaboratively implant an idea inside a totally distinguished sys-tem the underground space or the church system. Through this way the energy of each art piece got fully expressed. Therefore, each exhibition is like a negotiation with the whole city. Also, the alternative spaces are more than the space, rather, they represent alternative social sectors.

Lydia Duanmu: What messages do you hope to bring to the society through your art works?

Chen Chi: I hope audience could really be part of these art activities. It is vital to confront the true ‘self’ and the social issues behind the individual existence. I also want to emphasize the importance of ‘openness’: to expand our vision to the social field and to break the ‘closeness’ among people and community. I really hope people can take something away with them after the exhibition. That means a lot to me.

Lydia Duanmu: As a young Chinese artist living and studying in New York, what do you think is the biggest difference between young Chinese artists and their American counterparts?

Chen Chi: It’s a very interesting question because I seldom label artists by nationality. It might because of New York’s diversity. However, there are two types of differences between Chinese and American young artist if I must say. First type of difference is the way they view the art system. The second difference is how they identify themselves. For instance, some Chinese artists would emphasize the Chinese elements or symbols to be distinct, but some (who are born in the US) show very little difference, in terms of race identity, from the Americans.

 

CHINESE / Lydia Duanmu

第一次遇见她,这个留着一头乌黑的头发,一笑就露出满口洁白牙齿的中国女孩,漂亮的眼睛里满是天真,却和我聊起了抑郁的人性哲学,聊起了她正在做的艺术项目“collecting anxiety”收集抑郁。她背着大大的书包,跑遍了纽约的大街小巷,到处散发她的名片,“如果你感到抑郁了,录下来你的声音发给我,你的焦虑,急躁,疯狂,发泄,都可以,什么都可以,录下你的声音发给我。”“你收到的声音多吗?”我问她,“超出我的想象,每天回到家里,打开邮件,是各种奇怪的声音,各种语言的,各种抑郁的破碎片段声音,在这个小小的电脑里。每个人在同一个时刻,发泄着对生活的失望和恐惧,当这种巨大的负能量聚集在一起发生时,它产生了一种强大的冲击,直面面对它时,它变成了一种积极的思考,抑郁是我们每个人的生活常态,过度虚假的‘正能量’让我们不敢面对这种常态,从而失去了与它相处的能力。”

第二次我们的见面是在我的纽约公寓里,那天的雨好大,她兴冲冲的背着一个巨大的相机,邀请我和她一起去海边和一位艺术家捡垃圾,“为什么?”她看出了我的疑虑,笑嘻嘻的向我解释,她参观艺术家的工作室时,被他的美丽作品吸引,但是无法相信这些作品来自于生活垃圾,她要亲自去见证一下这些物品由负变正的过程。然后她神秘的向我眨眨眼说:“Lydia,这是我的作品的第二个过程,很多音乐家,艺术家的参与,把我收集的这些抑郁的声音转化为另外一种能量,一种新的面貌。这是一个能引起人们思考的哲学问题,同时也是我们艺术家应该做的社会贡献。”雨越来越小了,她的红裤子像雨后的太阳一样耀眼,在纽约街头黑压压的人群里穿梭远去。

接下来我们通了一次电话,她的展览到了下一个阶段,“把这些声音在一个教堂里释放,对于负能量,我们都具备同理心,但人们渴望被理解和倾听时,由于无从疏导,他们真实的自我不得不被压抑,这种压抑会在这个日趋自私的社会里不断的被孤立,隔断,从而导致自我之间以及和社会之间的矛盾恶性循环。在教堂将这些声音释放,我想应该是一个积极的链接方式吧。”

9月23日,Collecting Anxiety展览开幕。身临第一阶段的展览中,我们听到了法语、中文、英语、西班牙语、俄罗斯语的抑郁情绪碎片……我们感知到世界各地的人,有时说着类似的事情,在某一个角落面对千奇百怪的现实,过着喜剧悲剧的人生。

即兴电音开幕

与音乐人Emily的合作始于对脆弱的探讨、对声音的理解,最后发展到很自然且最“准确”对焦那天在地环境的即兴。

(即兴电音现场)

现场收集旧照片

参与观众带来一张自己的旧照片,展览期间它会被融合到这个展览中,展览散去后,照片会以邮件的形式寄回给观众。

通宵对谈

从午夜到天明,一系列高密度的对谈——临床心理学家、“地形”诗人、环境生态公司总裁、癌症看护护士……

(通宵对谈现场:陈驰与展览中作品艺术家)

EXHIBITION II – TO BRIDGE

展览第二阶段,To Bridge。9月28日,陈驰和收集抑郁里合作的全部音乐家、声音艺术家一起,携带三个QSC’K10的音箱,从拱桥出发,走过曼哈顿大桥。

桥是延伸、联通、也是承载着一座城市许多历史和伤痕的地方。有很多生命选择在这里一了了之;911这样的惨剧发生时,又有上万的市民在桥上失魂落魄。

陈驰说,我在桥上行走,如同在无垠的沙漠中匀速前进。在前后两个高强度的展览间让参与的人在户外环境中拉伸,抽离开蝼蚁般的都市爬行生活,在高空桥上通过距离重新看一看我们所生活的都市,通过距离和身心的行动,也重新看一看自身与周遭的关系,以及我们所处的历史与当下的融合。最后这些艺术家们在桥上拥抱、释放、连结……

EXHIBITION III – TO STAGE

展览第三阶段,一切都关于对峙(“辩”)。远程即兴音乐、行为艺术、通宵音乐会……在乎于讨论“序”与“杂”间的博弈哲学。

远程投影即兴控乐

结合第一场展览收集的音乐元素,音乐家Nikhil远程即兴控乐。

为收集抑郁特别创作的行为艺术

行为雕塑家Lizzy De Vita携手Chris De Vita 和Mark Bleaky表演。整整两个小时的行为雕塑,由身体遍布到整个空间的来诠释人的关系和场域的紧张感。

通宵轮换“音乐会”

10点至第二天8点,每一个小时都是一场小型“音乐会”,探讨和再现“序”与“杂”的对峙哲学。

或许展览也可以不是简单的呈现,还可以在“展出”的内容上进行一种博弈。这大概就是在非常有厚度的第一阶段和流动且释放的第二阶段之后,第三阶段策展人安排“辩”的阶段的寓意。通过相对冲的概念,对观众产生震动,唤醒观众内心的左右互搏。

EXHIBITION IV – TO FLY

终章,身心本能的拉伸和转换。最后一个阶段陈驰又一次经历了极大的挑战,终章更是被带到史无前例的地方……

纽约独立策展人,成长与音乐世家。本科毕业于雪域大学,主攻心理学和艺术史专业,研究生就读于纽约苏富比艺术学院主攻展览及管理。曾在大英博物馆,纽约切尔西,弗洛伦萨,和伦敦的画廊工作。Flag Art Foundation的策展团队成员,策划参与Jeff Koons和Betty Tompkins的个展。

Lydia Duanmu

什么原因开始让你有了现在你的艺术主题的系列活动?

Chen Chi

其实让我创作的动力还是源于一种心灵诉求。我们当下存在很多问题,真实的自我被压抑,人与人的连接,在这个时代越发隔阂,我希望通过展览创作和演绎来发声。所以从去年的展览到今年未来荒原都始于这股本能与诉求。我一直在思考如何通过展览如何召回人感受力与行动力。从艺术的发展来看,我认为当下也需要一种跨界的,融合的,踏出白盒子的路径来承载前卫艺术的实践。

Lydia Duanmu

在这个过程中的挑战是什么?

Chen Chi

最大的挑战当然是在开拓一个新的思想和实践的同时,要尽全力一步一步落到实处。尤其在纽约,做独立策展的阻力非常大。我的展览模式不仅仅是租一个场地和宣推展览,而是我每次都试图让这个核心的理念能通过合作实践介入、融合到另一个截然不同的系统,从而释放艺术的力量。可以说每一次展览的促成,每一个场域都落实,每一次的交谈,都在全城谈判。希望他们踏足的不仅是alternative space,并且是alternative social sector。

Lydia Duanmu

你希望你的作品带给社会的思考是什么?

Chen Chi

我希望通过我的一套行动方式让不同人可以从不同层面融入进来。首先是直面本质:自身的本质,以及连接着我们背后社会问题的本质。其次是我们需要openness而不是closeness。从审美之维打开,把眼光和实践方向更广也更具体的社会和生活的场域。我相信艺术具有转换力场,能让我们在行动中释放,并带来一点一滴的改变。如此,艺术家的作品才得以更持久的延伸。

Lydia Duanmu

做为留学和生活在纽约的中国年轻艺术家,你觉得中国和美国年轻艺术家最大的不同是什么?

Chen Chi

我觉得这是很有趣的问题,因为我自己很少以国家来加以区分,这似乎也体现纽约这个地方的非常平均化的“杂”。中国和美国年轻艺术家的差异大致有两种方向来看。

一种不同的区分是在对系统的认知上面。还有一种不同是自我的生长脉络或身份认同上的不同。如有的中国艺术家会更走差异或传统路线,这样更容易区分于他人。不过我发现成长于美国生态的中国人,和先在国内生长再介入美国生态的中国艺术家还是有些不同。前者其实和美国人的差异性并不是很大。