Curatorial Probes

CHINATOWN(S) IN MOTION:

READING (RE-READING) THE CITY

"The Public live in a more and more unreal world, necessarily. ..."

                      – Wyndham Lewis (to Marshall McLuhan), 1945

 

CHINATOWN(S) IN MOTION: READING (RE-READING) THE CITY is dedicated to the memory of Marshall McLuhan – in recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the pioneering study UNDERSTANDING MEDIA.

Curatorial Statement

"Harmony is different from uniformity."

– Yan Ying (c. 580 - 510 BCE)

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"The city's active role in future is to bring to the highest pitch of development the variety and individuality of regional cultures, personalities. These are complementary purposes: their alternative is the current mechanical grinding down of both the landscape and the human personality."

– Lewis Mumford (1895 - 1990)

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"Environments are not just containers, but are processes that change the content totally."

– Marshall McLuhan (1911 - 1980) 

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"A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window."

– Gilles Deleuze (1925 - 1995)

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CHINATOWN IN MOTION will develop through new fields of communication that draw inspiration from deep-rooted, sustained traditions of Chinese material/spiritual culture [Confucian/Taoist/Buddhist] and their enduring New World [North American] incarnations.

This interdisciplinary/cross-cultural CAUSA initiative – established in association with the University of Manitoba's Asian Studies Centre – will propose new and expansive conceptual links to the four oldest 'literary' texts in China – engraved stone tablets located at the Suzhou Confucian Temple (within the Suzhou Stone Inscription Museum). These 'stellae' present the key themes that will consciously inform a CAUSA /University of Manitoba Asian Studies Centre research programme.

The association of Suzhou stone inscriptions and New World 'Chinatown(s)' extends from specific and self-defining conceptual horizons:

1. LANDSCAPE

2. PEOPLE

3. CITY

4. HEAVEN

As a co-ordinated, multi-site exploration (connecting New Westminster Museum and Archives and the University of British Columbia Barber Learning Centre, Vancouver) CHINATOWN IN MOTION will present (consider/reconsider) broadly contextual aspects of its simultaneously historical / contemporary (prospective) framework. From a broadly and deeply compiled curatorial nexus – thematic compilation / contextualization of pertinent verbal and visual documents (assembled for intermittently edited 'online' digital presentation) – a coherently focused programme of research will function to transmit archival records of timely (critical), 'future-bearing' vitalities.

As an integrated archival engagement and conceptive curatorial envisagement (purposefully translated and projected) READING (RE-READING) THE CITY will connect active cultural memory to the complementary, anticipatory functions of potentiality and revivification.

CAUSA Research Curators



CENTRE / SURROUND

A curatorial research project conceived and developed by CAUSA (Collective for Advanced and Unified Studies in the Visual Arts) in collaboration with Ken Lum.

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•  Pause / Reflect

"The effect of mass migrations has been the creation of radically new types of human being; people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, in memories as much as in material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves – because they are so defined by others – by their otherness; people in whose deepest selves strange fusions occur, unprecedented unions between what they were and where they find themselves."

– Ken Lum

Established in the 1860s (as a result of the 1858 Fraser Canyon  Gold Rush), New Westminster's Chinatown was located at the eastern end of Front Street – between the waterfront and the escarpment. By the 1880s, this New Westminster precinct had been established and densely occupied by settlers from both California and China. It had become an assemblage of two-storey tenement buildings, warehouses, retail stores,  restaurants, railway and shipping terminals, gambling/opium dens, and temples.

With Front Street becoming fully occupied, the Chinese community expanded, through land ownership within a flood-prone area known as the "Swamp". (This second Chinatown district was located in the western portion of the City, in close proximity to the Anvil Centre and Sky Train sites.)

Both Chinatowns were destroyed on the night of September 10-11, 1898. But the first decade of the twentieth century entailed ever-larger growth of the Chinese Community in New Westminster. That trend was halted by the 1913 economic recession.

In 1919, a Provincial Fire Marshall ordered the demolition of Chinatown buildings that were deemed to be "fire traps". Further (officially imposed) demolitions followed, and by 1941, New Westminster's Chinese population had been reduced to a community of four hundred people. (Many inhabitants would have by then relocated to Vancouver's Chinatown – or else moved to a third Chinatown enclave, as represented by a 1912 building known as the Riverside Apartments, located at Royal Avenue and Eleventh Street. (The building was demolished in 1948.)

In 1979 – through a civic gesture that highlights the culturally rooted Chinatown cityscape as a 'continual prospect' containing  future-bearing (positive)  patterns of cross-cultural/trans-generational change – the New Westminster Chinese Benevolent Society donated its official building, and accompanying small tract of land, to the City. This Chinatown building (which had at various times functioned as hospital, school, and home for the elderly, was demolished in 1979. The 'vacant' site has been designated (temporarily) as an Off-Leash Dog Park; it was opened to the public in 2009. Proposals for alternative public use of the site are now underway.

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 KEN LUM / CAUSA, 'Centre/Surround' (Installation view) –     Anvil Centre, New Westminster,   15 September - 30 November 2014.

Window Facade (facing former New Westminster Chinatown precinct). Classical Chinese  Characters [Left to Right].

CENTRE / YELLOW

EAST / BLUE

SOUTH / RED

WEST / WHITE

NORTH / BLACK

"Things start and finish, finish and start, like a circle, having no point of origin...."

– Hsün Tzu (c. 310 - c. 220 BCE)

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Window Characters

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Monochrome Image

Installation View: Anvil Centre, New Westminster.

KEN LUM / CAUSA, "New Westminster Chinatown and Its Environs – circa 1900." Monochrome image (from archival 'panorama format' photograph) pasted on wall and enclosed by blue-black 'frame', painted on wall. Dimensions variable.

"We can say order the country and bring peace to the world, but we cannot say order the country and bring peace to Heaven and Earth. We can say as we do in China the world at peace or the world in confusion, but we cannot say Heaven and Earth at peace or Heaven and Earth in confusion."

– Fung Yu-Lan (1885 - 1990)

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Anvil Centre Gallery

KEN LUM / CAUSA ... CENTRE / SURROUND ... (Anvil Centre, 2014.)

As a temporary installation "New Westminster Chinatown and Its Environs" was placed in a South-West orientation – facing a vanished Chinatown precinct.

– CAUSA Curators

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Laozi Text 3

Exhibition text [Digital Signage Screen / Display Case Document]: KEN LUM / CAUSA ... CENTRE / SURROUND, Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 2014.

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I see a cloud at day's end and just can't look away.
It has no mind at all, no mind and surely no talent.
A sad flake of bright jade radiant with colour, drifting ten thousand miles of clear sky, nowhere it began.

– Tu Mu (803 - 853 CE)

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"What we call the different appearances of the same thing to different observers are each in a space private to the observer concerned. No place in the private world of one observer is identical with a place in the private world of another observer. There is therefore no question of combining the different appearances in the one place; and the fact that they cannot all exist in the one place affords accordingly no ground whatever for questioning their physical reality. The 'thing' of common sense may in fact be identified with the whole class of its appearances...."

– Bertrand Russell (1914)

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Installation views ... KEN LUM / CAUSA ... CENTRE SURROUND ... Anvil Centre, New Westminster, 2014.

Left: 'Photo-Mirror' (1997)

Centre: 'Photo-Mirror' (1997)

Right: 'Photo-Mirror' (1997)

[Note: Individual photographs –  produced by anonymous visitors,  throughout the duration of a previous exhibition – are  contained within the open framework of an artist's decision  that 'anyone' could assist in the temporary 'completion' of a particular body of work. The  project was initiated at the São Paulo Biennial.]

 Lum Mirrors1

Lum Mirrors2

Lum Mirrors3

Lum Mirrors4

Lum Mirrors5

Lum Mirrors 6

"I'm interested in what constitutes the subject, not only the subject in the work, but the subject standing in front of the mirror. And that constitution has been a recurrent theme in all my work ... always in between.

[...]

Hybrid, always in the process of transformation."

– Ken Lum

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"The problem of motion touches, at once and immediately, the secrets of existence, which are alien to the waking consciousness and yet inexorably press upon it. In posing motion as a problem we affirm our will to comprehend the incomprehensible...."

– Oswald Spengler

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"The Forgotten is not to be remembered for what it has been and what it is, because it has not been anything and is nothing ... but must be remembered as something that never ceases to be forgotten."

– Jean-Francois Lyotard
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Ch'an Master Fa-Yen Wên-I (885 - 958 CE):

The Master pointed to a bamboo tree and asked a monk,
"Do you see it?"
'Yes I do."
"Is it that the bamboo
tree comes to your eyes,
or rather do your eyes go
to it?
The monk answered, "Neither
is the case."

– Recorded in "Ching-te ch'uan-teng lu" / The Transmission of the Lamp (1004 CE)
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Ch'an Master T'ung-shan Shou-ch'u (? - 990 CE) ... Question and Answer:

MONK: "What is it when being and non-being both disappear and both temporal and real are forgotten?

MASTER: "The top of Mount Ch'u
when it is turned upside down."

MONK: "Is it possible for me to understand this?"

MASTER: "There is a way."

MONK: "Please tell me the way."

MASTER: "It is one thousand miles and ten thousand miles."

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MEMO to CAUSA Research Curators:

"I am sure you know that Cantonese still often refer to Vancouver and the Fraser river area as 'Gum Shan' or Gold Mountain."

– Ken Lum, August 2014

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Gold Mountain Installation

Installation in progress: KEN LUM / CAUSA ... CENTRE / SURROUND ... Anvil Centre, New Westminster, September 2014.

[The exhibition contained four plasters – selected from a series of eight works comprising "Gold Mountain (New Westminster Chinatown Punctum)," 2014.]

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Gold Mountain Installation2

Ken Lum, "Gold Mountain (New Westminster Chinatown Punctum), nos. 1 - 4," painted plaster, 2014.

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In metaphysical terms,
The relationship of all under
heaven to the Way
is like that of valley streams
to the river and sea.

– Lao Tzu (sixth century BCE)

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Gold Mountain Installation3

Ken Lum, "Gold Mountain (New Westminster Chinatown Punctum)," painted plaster, 2014.

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Dog Park2a

"Temporary" Off-Leash Dog Park – New Westminster Chinatown precinct, 2014.

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Ch'an Master Joshu (778 - 897 CE) ... Question and Answer:

MONK: "Has a dog the Buddha Nature or not?"

MASTER: "Yes."

MONK: "Having the Buddha Nature, why is he in such a dog body?"

MASTER: "Knowingly he dared to be so."

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