regardregard: project china, chinatown

Danforth Museum of Art
Thursday, April 2, 2009

This dynamic body of work is built over time in layers and is distinguished by exceptionally strong community interaction—a theme of the piece.  The artist’s interest is in the texture of the public lives of Chinese people in traditional neighborhoods—both those who are aging in place in ancient Beijing (the hutong) and also those who dwell now in New York City’s Chinatown.  In “regardregard” time and place are explored through a range of modalities, visual and auditory, still and moving, printed and projected.

In Phase One, in the summer of 2008, Hamill loaned her cameras to older residents in Beijing’s crowded ancient alleyways for them to take pictures of one another and of their lives on the streets. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the director of the Community Culture Center in Yan Yue hutong, the resultant photographs became the occasion and the focus for a festive exhibition there with singing, dancing, and sport.

Phase Two, in November 2008, addressed the immigrants on the streets of New York’s Chinatown. Images of the old homeland rose up in the context of the new as the artist projected documentary video footage from the Beijing phase onto a range of meaningful surfaces. For example, intriguing video footage of an older hutong merchant sitting in front of her bread shop is projected onto the oranges of a Chinatown vendor’s corner fruit stand; and a classical Beijing artist’s black ink drawings of birds are projected onto the corrugated façade of New York’s original tenement building.

This sensitive, layered artwork shows mature people from a culture based on thousands of years of reverence for family and neighbors. Today, when globalization and urban development impel a modification of such traditional ways of life, Hamill has had the privilege of making art with the Chinese people both in China and in the US. As many images in this two-city exhibition reveal, the ongoing traditions of lively communal interaction continue to be cherished.

The involvement of the subjects in making the art is central to Hamill’s work. This unique aesthetic --- showing collaborative art from China cast for further participation in the United States--- has a reflexive character: it can stimulate viewers to an awareness of their own participation and to a revelation of the self-reflexive character of the artistic process.

Copyright © 2009 Danforth Museum of Art. All rights reserved.

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