A window on immigration

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The transition people experience when moving from one town, city or state to another is often overwhelming. That shift in ones life is even more severe when relocating to a new country, speaking a new language and trying to fit in to a new culture while being sure to retain some sense of self and cultural identity.

It is this cultural shift that inspired one of the newest exhibits at the Queens Museum of Art, “Nexus: Taiwan in Queens.”

“It was in 2002 when I decided to resign from my government job and turn into an immigrant,” said exhibit curator Luchia Meihua Lee, who had been working for the Chinese Information and Cultural Center in Taiwan for the seven years prior to her choice to move.

“I decided to join a society in an immigrant area, and I experienced deep feelings about the transition from my prior life to my new one,” she said.

The change in Lee’s life may have been the inspiration for the new exhibit, but she did not want to simply tell the story of the immigrant experience. Rather, the exhibit focuses on relocation, assimilation, transition, and transformation in the context of the Taiwanese-American experience.

The pieces presented in the exhibit are as diverse in media, scale and content as the artists themselves. The only constant theme is the fact that all the artists are Taiwanese immigrants themselves.

Marlene Yu, a painter who lived in Jackson Heights for many years before settling in SoHo, painted two large-scale canvases that are on display at this exhibit. “Avalanche” and “Under Current” are mammoth pieces that combine Chinese brush strokes and American abstract styles to create geometric forms and organic shapes that represent Jade Mountain in Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

Yu noted, however, that the inspiration for “Avalanche,” though the painting represents Jade Mountain, was actually taken from the Rocky Mountains in the vicinity of Boulder Canyon.

One of the less typical pieces in the exhibit is created by Wei Jane Chir, entitled “Yellow Rest Station.”

Her installation is actually on two sides of a single wall. On one side is a small room lined with tatami mats. One projector shows a view from a triple window while a second projector overlays an image of people jostling through subway stations and moving trains.

Around the corner is a yellow wall with a mounted video monitor and a simple pencil drawing of a person in a meditative pose.

Chir had created a similar piece in Newark in 2001 where people in an industrial, urban area were invited to come in and meditate — to find peace in a place of chaos. Footage from the 2001 installation is shown on the mounted video monitor.

Participants of the current exhibit will be able to meditate in the quiet room and then write their feelings on a piece of paper and pin it to the yellow wall around the corner.

“Yellow, in China, is the color of the emperor,” Chir said. “He is the only one who may wear that color. But I like yellow because it is bright. It is an Earth color. When green grass dies it turn yellow. For me, it is a bright color that is for everybody.”

Chir is a practitioner of Falun Gong, the spiritual martial art that has been banned in China and whose practitioners are regularly tortured and killed. She said she sees a parallel between the torture of Falun Gong followers and people who live with other stress in their lives.

People who practice Falun Gong are at peace, and to be tortured or killed does not stop them from choosing to do something that brings them that inner peace, she said. Much in the same way, the subway can be so irritating and stressful, yet if your heart is at peace it doesn’t bother you.

Another interactive piece of the exhibit is “The Human Reconstruction: Existence-Identity” by artist Chun Chen. This is a mixed-media installation of photographs on cubes. The photos are of different parts of the human body on a variety of people of different skin tones, gender and modes of dress — most are nude.

The idea behind this piece is that viewers can create their own concept of the human form from a series of standard “cells.” The interactive piece will be filmed and shown in a time-lapse style adjacent to the piece.

In the largest room of the museum there are three installations that are a different from each other as any of the 20 pieces in the exhibit.

The first is “Beautiful Life” by Pey Chwen Lin. This three-dimensional whirlpool of hanging vinyl digital prints shows different images up close and at a distance. Looking closely, each tiny piece looks just like the one next to it. Small three-inch rectangular reproductions of newspaper front pages make up the content of the print. The same newspapers are seen multiple times on each panel.

But from a distance, the piece appears to be a reproduction of “Along the River during the Ching-Ming Festival,” which dates from the Sung Dynasty, approximately 1120 AD. The piece shows an image of city life in the capital of Kai-Fan.

Behind the hanging piece by Pey Chwen Lin is “Clothing & Eating” by Shih Pao Lin. Made of 1,000 pairs of jeans, the piece is inspired by a tale of the Taiwanese working class immigrants, “Three Knives,” which focuses on the lives of a barber, tailor and chef — three of the most common trades for Taiwanese immigrants.

“Jeans are the tool of the immigrant career,” Lin said.

The dichotomy of first- vs. second-generation immigrants is represented in mannequins. The first is wearing jeans and all the tools of the trades immigrants follow. The second represents the children of immigrants, and it is flashy and stylish.

“You labor in the first generation to buy something for the second generation,” Lin said.

Added to the exhibit is a series of Chinese “One Way” traffic signs with phrases in both native and English writing that offer hope for the future. “Merry Christmas,” “Best Wishes” and more adorn the signs, showing that immigrants have only one direction to follow, and that is the one that will put their children in the best position in the future.

Lin noted that he attended a rally for immigrant workers held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park last year. “More than 90 percent of the people there were wearing jeans,” he said.

Opposite “Clothing & Eating” is “Tse,” by Lishan Chang, which dominates the entire wall — edge to edge, top to bottom — with charred baguettes.

“I make it, I bake it and I toast it,” Chang, and artists from Woodside, said.

The charred baguettes are arranged in two displays that serve two purposes. The first is fluid — a field of grass that seems to ebb and flow in a breeze blowing against the wall. The second is more solid — the firm roots of the grass sunk deep into the ground.

Chang went to bakeries in Woodside and the surrounding area to try to find the best recipe for his baguettes. He wanted ones that would bubble on the crust and found it at Western Beef. For two months he would go in at 6 a.m. every day to make a total of 2,000 baguettes. After they were cooked properly in the Western Beef ovens Change took them home to char them in his own oven.

“People would call the fire department because they were worried,” he said. “But when they came I told them I was working on a piece for the Queens Museum of Art, and they said ‘Oh, okay,’ and it was fine.”

The other pieces on display the exhibit are:

“Somni-floating” by Jiun-ting Lin, located in the museum’s elevator, provides and escape from reality into a Unicorn-themes, carousel-style experience.

“United World Theatre on Theatre Wall” by Hsian Fu Lu uses mirrors opposite the museum’s bathrooms to show Eastern and Western cultures blending by having people opposite the men’s room see the women’s room and vice versa.

“Christmas Lanterns” Celebrating is Identifyin­g/Celebrat­ing is Being,” also by Hu, shows the blend of Eastern and Western cultures by combining traditional Chinese holiday lanterns with American Christmas lights.

“Neck Massage: Choking leads to a firm grasp of the realities of life” by the Massage Group is a video and photo piece that blends street performances and sidewalk masseurs.

“Memory in the Box” by Te-ho Wang coaxes viewers into remembering their own past while looking into the artist’s. By producing a sense of alienation and identification it mirrors some of the emotions felt by immigrants who move into an enclave in a new land.

“Rites on Water” and “Endless Flow” by Ma Li Wu both focus on people who live surrounded by water — such as the residents of both Taiwan and Manhattan.

Chung Hsien Yan uses fabric in “Journey to the West” to create a temple constructed of “soft architecture.”

Lishan Chang, who created the baguette piece, drove the streets of New York in a van for two years as he tried to learn English. In “Id — by Van,” Chang took the notes he made and diaries he kept from that time period and blotted out each word individually so he could show the progress of his life but not get bogged down in the details of language.

Another interactive piece at the exhibit is “Immiflecti­scope” by Yungshu Chao. The title of the piece means “the observation of the development of a community being built by a group of committed people who moved into a new territory.” Visitors will build miniature houses and place them on the lawn in front of the museum.

In one of the most interesting pieces of the exhibit artist Shih Chieh Huang uses the Panorama of the City of New York as his backdrop to install “OC-NYP” and “RTI-EX-4,” two mechanical, kinetic pieces that seem to be an alien invasion of Staten Island via the Atlantic Ocean in the museum’s premier permanent exhibition.

“Nature/Nur­ture” by Chien Hsing Jeff Liao shows through photographs how Chinese and Taiwanese children each have a yearning to learn more of the other’s culture.

In “Transmigra­tion II” by Shu-Min Lin, bodies and body parts are squeezed into shipping boxes and give the illusion of being born out of cardboard eggs.

Red ghostly mirror images lurk in a corner in Su-Chen Hung’s “Connection­/Reflection,” where opposite images share space at a corner to symbolize the connection between East and West.

C.J. Yeh’s “Liquid_Mon­drian” and “myData=myM­ondrian” reflect the works of abstract artist Piet Mondrian using grids and color blocks in what appears to be a computer printout, but is actually a series of oil paintings on canvas. In the second part of the piece, viewers get to input their own information and make their own Mondrian-style computer-generated paintings.

For more information on this exhibit go to www.queensmuseum.org or call 718-592-9700.

The Flushing Development Center will run a trolley starting May 2 every Saturday, Sunday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from the LaGuardia hotel area to the museum and then to the Flushing Mall. Furthur details will be announced Monday, April 26.

Updated 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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