Exhibition Event Title
"Chinese Hand Laundry" and "Field of Waste"
Date of Exhibition Event
May 6 – August 7 1994
Location of Exhibition Event
The New Museum, New York, the United States
Textile, Sewing machines, paper prints (newspapers), metals,.
1500 x 1000 x 280 cm
“To one side [of the work] are bundled New York newspapers in English and Chinese, while, in the opposite corner, are heaped sacks stuffed with assorted items of clothing reminiscent of immigrants' belongings. Passing through a gateway in the steel fence, the visitor encounters an arresting vista. From three sewing machines stretch trains of fabric forming a multicolored carpet which disappears into a veritable mountain of ash at the far end of the gallery. On closer inspection, the fabric is seen to be a roughly stitched melange of thousands of articles of clothing of all kinds, interwoven with Chinese and U.S. flags. The material was gathered by Chen during his month in New York — two tons of newspapers and five cubic meters of clothing. For the artist, China and the U.S. represent the most radical opposition in terms of culture, tradition, political economy, and technological development. The juxtaposition of these two extremes — through the metaphor of the fabric patchwork — is representative of the new world order. Chen juxtaposes and combines two processes to produce a field of symbiotic and coexisting identities — the recurrent destructiveness and consequent renewal through revolution in Chinese history (burning) and the means by which hundreds of thousands of Chinese immigrants have managed to survive abroad (manufacturing clothing). The work enshrines an ancient holistic view of reality in which matter and spirit, " nature," humankind, and manufactured objects exist in a constantly recycling continuum. Indeed, in Taoist thought, burning and the resultant ashes are not symbolic of death, as they are in the West, but of purification and transformation. (Huang, Chen, and Morin, “’Chinese Hand Laundry’ and ‘Field of Waste’”, 1994, The New Museum publication, available on https://archive.newmuseum.org/print-ephemera/8699.) (Jerry Wu’23).