Mel Chin’s Wake – On View in the South Slope through September 7
March 13, 2020
Wake, Mel Chin’s giant animatronic sculpture, installed in New York City’s Times Square last summer, will be on view in Asheville from March 15 to September 7 at 44 Collier Avenue. Chin, a WNC based conceptual artist, was named a MacArthur Fellow in September 2019.
Ellington Realty Group is proud to be a sponsor of the event, and to have donated the site for the installation.
Wake was commissioned as part of Mel Chin: All Over the Place, a
multi-site survey of his works from across many decades that took place in
several New York City locations. A collaborative group, led by UNC Asheville’s
Steam Studio and The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, formed to
plan and raise funds for the sculpture to be seen locally.
Wake – 60 feet long, 34 feet wide and 24 feet high, conceived and
designed by the artist – was engineered, sculpted and fabricated by an
interdisciplinary team of UNC Asheville students, faculty, staff and community
artists led by Chin. Wake is
interactive and features decks and places to sit and contemplate.
Wake evokes the hull of a shipwreck
crossed with the skeletal remains of a marine mammal. The structure is linked
with a carved, 21-foot-tall animatronic sculpture, accurately derived from a
figurehead of the opera star Jenny Lind that was once mounted on the 19th
century clipper ship, USS Nightingale.
Jenny Lind moves subtly as she breathes and scans the sky.
“She may be looking at what cannot be
seen as she moves away from the wreckage of her past,” explained Chin. “It’s about
relationships we have to history. It’s almost an obligation to understand our
relationships with our environment now and an opportunity to project what
things could be like far into the future if we’re not engaged.”
The artwork is not only a comment on climate change, it calls forth a history
that includes ships, like the USS Nightingale
and many other vessels, used to move tea, guns and slaves that augmented the
nation’s burgeoning economy. “These expanding past economies serve as prologue and
perhaps a warning to our current environmental dilemma,” said Chin.
“Wake is a powerful comment on how the
tides of history have shaped many communities, including Asheville,” said
Steph Dahl, who manages the City of Asheville’s Public Art Program. “The
piece asks us to acknowledge and discuss a long and complicated past, one that
has left us operating in a sea of racial inequities and environmental
crises. Wake’s temporary presence in an empty lot where the history
and future of the Southside and South Slope meet is part of its power, and its
impermanent nature underscores some of the tough questions we need to address
“Jenny Lind was
the Beyoncé or Adele of her time,” said Chin. “She was brought by P.T. Barnum
to tour America as the Swedish Nightingale. Barnum initiated American mass marketing and the world still
lives in the real wake of this marketing enterprise. American commercialism
provided profound advancement and wealth, but it came with real costs including
colonialism, enslavement and rapid expansion. Jenny Lind, an abolitionist
herself, had nothing to do with the USS Nightingale,
but as its figurehead, she is an integral part.
You can’t escape the web you’re in whether you are in New York City or
Western North Carolina.”
Since the late 90’s Chin has lived and
worked in Egypt Township, outside of Burnsville in Yancey County, North
Carolina. His work has been exhibited by major art centers nationally and
globally. He is described in his MacArthur entry as “a category-defying artist
whose practice calls attention to complex social and environmental issues. In
an expansive body of work ranging from collages, sculptural objects, animated
films and video games to large-scale, collaboratively produced public
installations, Chin demonstrates a unique ability to engage people from diverse
backgrounds and to utilize unexpected materials and places.”
Visitors can experience Wake daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 44
Collier Avenue. For more details about the piece and public programming, visit ashevillearts.com.