(September 2020) Wake, Mel Chin’s giant animatronic sculpture, originally installed in New York City’s Times Square, will remain on view in Asheville at 44 Collier Avenue through March 15, 2021. Wake was scheduled to close on September 7.
Chin, a WNC based conceptual artist, was named a MacArthur Fellow in September 2019. 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 CFWNC, formed to plan and raise funds for the sculpture to be seen locally.
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, through solar power, 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.”
“Jenny Lind was the Beyoncé or Adele of her time,” continued 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. More details are available at the Asheville Area Arts Council website.