Monday, February 13, 2012

The Laundry Maze is up!

The Laundry Maze

The Portland Building Lobby
1120 SW 5th Avenue
Portland, Oregon

7am to 6pm, Monday through Friday
February 13 - March 16, 2012

Join me and walk through The Laundry Maze on these days

February 16, Thursday, 11am to 1pm
February 23, Thursday, 1pm to 3pm
March 2, Friday, 10am to noon
March 7, 11am to 1pm
March 13, Tuesday, 11am-1pm

I will be adding new material to the maze each week.

What is The Laundry Maze?

The Chinese laundry is an iconic thread of early China-to-US immigration story, and The Laundry Maze references this history to start a conversation about one aspect of immigration — that of the immigrants' changing professional identities.

Over the past few months, I reached out to immigrant communities through personal contacts, ESL classes, and adult literacy programs in Portland and also in other parts of the US. From each participant, I asked for brief descriptions/titles of their professions and jobs before and after they immigrated. Each pair of responses are then sewn on a shirt. Sketches of natural national boundaries — mountains, rivers, and oceans — are painted on the back of each shirt.

At the time of the exhibition's opening date on Feb 13, I have received about 70 pairs of job titles or descriptions. More data continue to arrive, and I will add these to the installation as they come in.

I started this project with a preconception — that most immigrants' after professions tend to be lower in prestige or social status when compared to their before positions. While this is true in some cases, I also find that many people are able to make lateral transitions, sometimes after a few years of additional schooling. Many participants are in this process now — either working or unemployed, but going to school.

As you walk through the maze, you can read and share the immigrants' experiences of changing professions. On another level, the format of the maze creates a sense of mystery and disorientation, sensations familiar to people finding their way in a new country.

At this point, I would also like to share a personal story. My grandfather immigrated from mainland China to Taiwan in the 1930s. After he married my grandmother, they tried several businesses before they found success with a dry cleaning/laundry business. By the time I came along, it was thriving. There was a room where all the cleaned suits, shirts, pants hung tightly on racks, waiting to be picked up. As children, my sister and I played hide and seek among the racks. Thus the seed for The Laundry Maze was planted.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Laundry Maze gets physical

The Laundry Maze is the installation I'm doing at the Portland Building Feb 13 - March 16, 2012. There's been a lot of planning (a web survey, distributing postcard/flyer with self-stamped envelopes, connecting with ESL departments and adult literacy programs throughout the Portland area, asking friends who are immigrants, collecting shirts from friends...).

And now, things are getting physical...the first shirt has rolled off the production line!

I have gesso'ed 48 shirts (although I'm pretty sure I won't need anywhere that many; I'll probably need about 35 or so). So far, I have collected enough data pairs to sew around 2 sets of tags on each shirt. I'm also still setting up appts with ESL & literacy programs for the next few weeks. I will continue to add the tags while the installation is up. Hopefully, by the end of the installation period, I'll have 3-4 tags per shirt.

The back of each shirt will be a landscape sketch that I hope people can interpret in various ways. Each will be a sketch of mountains, rivers, and/or oceans, all natural national boundaries. But landscapes can mean so much in terms of what a 'home' is.

The front of the shirt will have tags of people's professions before and after immigration. Each pair will be stacked on top of each other; the "after" tag can only be read when you lift up the "before" tag.

The serger has been a great investment. It's handy in finishing the tags so that they won't fray as people lift up the before tags to read the after tags.

I have bought the dowels that will serve as the laundry lines, and the clothespins. I just need to finish sketching the remaining shirts, sewing/writing the remaining tags, then it's install, and the show opens!