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)
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.
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
EXHIBITION II – TO BRIDGE
EXHIBITION III – TO STAGE
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。
EXHIBITION IV – TO FLY
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。
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。