An Exhibition Offers an Ode to the Nuances of Diasporic Identities

Across the second floor of the Shed, Open Call invites monumental remembrances of real and imagined communities molded by urban landscapes, diasporic identity, and grief. Equally playful and entrancing, a wide range of multimedia installations lights up an otherwise dim space, the collective hum of looping video works masking any silence. At first glance, the exhibition presents itself as slices of New York City itself. In spite of a steady stream of critiques denouncing the Shed’s artwashing of Hudson Yards to distract from its controversial financial backing, Open Call offers a glimpse of the many communities that make up the city’s fabric today. 

Now in its second iteration, the Shed’s biennial commissioning program convenes local emerging artists, selected by a panel of fifty critics and professionals, to showcase and perform proposed works through 2021 and 2022. Of the 27 selected proposals, 11 visual artists offer immersive, large-scale video and new media installations, paintings, sculptures, and photographs. The result is a series of equally localized and haptic meditations on what it takes to be present in an increasingly globalized world. 

Installation view of Kenneth Tam, “The Crane and The Snake” (2021), the Shed, 2021 (photo by Hyperallergic)

Standouts among the cohort of New York-based artists include Kenneth Tam’s video and sculptural installation “The Crane and The Snake.” In remembrance of the 2013 hazing death of Pi Delta Psi pledge Chun “Michael” Deng, the Queens-born artist has continued to explore Taoist-inspired alternatives to the sort of ritualized violence that takes place in Asian American fraternities, through explorations of both gendered performance and identity formation. 

Projected along the gallery’s wall, the nine-minute video portrays two men locked in a somatic dance, accentuated by exchanged grunts and the steady bass of a drum as they practice Tai chi under yellow and red filters. Two looped digital animations glow on monitors in front of the projection, rendering the flow of qi on the faces of men, frozen in expressions of either pain and pleasure. Set amongst the monitors, tackling bags are stripped, deconstructed, and then reconstructed to an almost erotic effect. Cuts of red, yellow, and black material are tightly bound while other straps fall away, dangling suggestively. Here, masculinity is both a possibility and a performance — the installation implies a tension between repressed brotherly love and the violence encountered in its wake. Tam’s work rejoices in pleasure in the face of intergenerational trauma, proving diasporic identity to be a balancing act rather than a burden. 

Anne Wu, “A Patterned Universe”, 2021. Stainless steel, rigid insulation foam, tinted joint compound, PVC roof panel, tarp, plastic packing rope, cast and found objects; 10 x 20 x 12 feet (artwork commissioned by the Shed; photo by Ronald Amstutz)

Triangulating Tam’s work are two other monumental installations that explore a multitude of Chinese American experiences. “The Tomb Sweeper’s Mosquito Bite,a felted tapestry by Taiwanese American artist Pauline Shaw also explores Taoist principles in its consideration of embodied memories and cultural heritage. Hanging seventeen feet tall, the fiber work depicts MRI scans as mappings of memories, surrounded by levitating blown glass vessels holding sugar-cast fruits and Taoist altar items. Nearby, Anne Wu’s massive jungle gym, “A Patterned Universe,” sprawls in joyous defiance. The metallic sculptural installation celebrates Flushing, Queens’s distinct architectural style through its use of stainless steel, construction materials such as PVC roof panels, and household items like laundry clips, discs, and plastic packing rope. Collectively, the artists grapple with cultural disidentifications and an almost creolized sense of self in consideration of their claim to New York. 

Other works in the show similarly focus on local New York communities. In the rear viewing room, artist and filmmaker Aisha Amin’s video installation offers a visit to Masjid At-Taqwa, a historic Bedford-Stuyvesant mosque now facing the threat of gentrification. “The Earth Has Been Made a Place of Prayer” reworks the artist’s eponymous documentary into an immersive four-channel installation, displaying the short film on intersecting screens that hang above 40 Islamic prayer mats, all laid pointing towards Mecca. Intercut with observational footage and interviews of the mosque’s founder Imam Siraj Wahhaj, the work paints a colorful portrait of the intergenerational and multicultural community built around the masjid. Watching the film seated on the prayer mat I am offered a seat in a place of devotion, a semblance of what the mosque offers itself. Here and elsewhere, Open Call offers an ode to communities lost in time but immortalized through memory. 

Installation view of Aisha Amin, “The Earth Has Been Made a Place of Prayer” (2021), digital video, color, sound, 6 min., 42 sec., Islamic prayer mats. (artwork commissioned by the Shed; photo by Ronald Amstutz)

Open Call continues through August 1 at the Shed (545 West 30th Street, Hudson Yards, Manhattan). The exhibition was curated by Emma Enderby, Tamara McCaw, and Solana Chehtman, with Alessandra Gómez, Adeze Wilford, and Maggie MacTiernan.

Collectively, the artists present a series of equally localized and haptic meditations on what it takes to be present in an increasingly globalized world.Read MoreArt, Aisha Amin, Anne Wu, Installation Art, Kenneth Tam, New York, Pauline Shaw, Reviews, The ShedHyperallergicRead More

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