Mel Chin: All Over the Place was a multi-location exhibition with exciting manifestations of the work of Mel Chin co-produced by the Queens Museum and No Longer Empty, co-curated by Laura Raicovich and Manon Slome. The exhibition spanned nearly four decades of Chin’s malleable and wide-ranging approach to artistic practice. Exhibition sites in New York City included the Queens Museum, Times Square, and the Broadway-Lafayette subway station.
The objects and project artifacts in All Over the Place were organized around the thematic strands that have long preoccupied Chin’s thinking, including the natural environment, socioeconomic systems and injustice, the weight of lamentations as well as the lightness of humor to reveal truths. Botany, ecology, and oceanography are examples of the disciplines that intersect in the artist’s politically charged work and demonstrate how art can promote social awareness and responsibility and reanimate curiosity. Select works highlighted Chin’s engagement of multi-disciplinary, collaborative teamwork in order to posit community-based solutions to ecological and sociopolitical crises. As a result of such teamwork, Chin’s work challenges the idea of the artist as the exclusive creative force behind an artwork.
All Over the Place debuted four newly commissioned projects, Flint Fit, Soundtrack, Unmoored, and Wake. Flint Fit, an ambitious, boundary-breaking project, consists of a complex triangulation of places and processes. Flint Fit was envisioned as applying the strengths of places, as an action in the face of crisis, connecting New York City; Flint, Michigan; and Greensboro, North Carolina in time, function, and fashion. In Flint, the water is contaminated with lead, and residents must use bottled water for cooking, washing, and drinking, creating countless, constantly accumulating empty plastic vessels. At Chin’s instigation, over 90,000 used water bottles were collected by the people of Flint, and sent to Unifi, Inc, a textile manufacturer in Greensboro, North Carolina where they were shredded and made into fabric. Michigan-born, New York-based fashion designer Tracy Reese designed a capsule collection made from this fabric, with a focus on rain gear and swimwear. The garments were then sewn by women sewing their way back into the workforce at the St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center back in Flint. These designs debuted in a fashion event at the exhibition opening and were displayed at the Queens Museum’s Watershed Gallery.
In a major partnership with Times Square Arts, two works by Chin have been commissioned. Unmoored was a spectacular, surreal phenomenon pushing Mixed Reality to fill the skies above Times Square. It was a work that engendered a moment of awe, with a glimpse into an imperiled future. A parallel work, Wake, commissioned by the Times Square Alliance, was a presence that evoked the hull of a shipwreck crossed with the skeletal remains of a marine mammal bleached by erosion and time. A larger-than-life ship’s figurehead based on Jenny Lind, the superstar of the 19th century, surveyed the air above her. While offering a shift from the frenetic energy of the city, these works evoked the city’s triumphs, its grave dark past, and created and a place for contemplation.