Here There and Everywhere: Anticipating the Art for the Future
People: Part III   Community

Photo: Seth Bernstein, Eidetic Productions.

Aged in China
working with Chinese communities in Beijing and New York
Mary Hamill • USA

This dynamic body of work, Aged in China, is built over time and is distinguished by exceptionally strong community participation and interaction—a theme of the piece. The artist’s interest is in the texture of the lives lived by older Chinese people—both those in Beijing’s highly traditional neighborhoods (the hutongs) and those who dwell in New York City’s Chinatown. In the summer of 2008, Hamill loaned her cameras to older residents in Beijing’s crowded ancient alleyways for them to take pictures of one another and their lives on the streets. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the director of the Community Culture and Sports Center in the Yan Yue hutong (Mrs. Qiao Yanping), the resultant photographs became the occasion and focus for a festive exhibition there. The Chinese celebrants included not only the hutong’s residents but also the classical painter Mr. Zhou Maihai and the operatic singer Mr. Sun Shi Ying. Held on August 8, 2008, the day of the opening of the Olympic Games, this lively art “opening” included two additional performance components: a tightly choreographed dance by the local troupe of twenty mature redskirted women and a ping-pong exhibition by the American artist and her Chinese challengers.
The second phase of the project, in November 2008, involved the immigrants on the streets of New York’s Chinatown. Images of the old homeland rose up in the context of the new as the artist projected documentary video footage from the Beijing phase onto a range of meaningful surfaces. For example, an intriguing image of an older hutong merchant sitting in front of her bread shop is projected onto the oranges of a Chinatown vendor’s fruit stand; and Mr. Zhou Maihai’s strong black ink drawings were projected onto the corrugated façade of New York’s original tenement building. One recurrent visual motif in these projections was the chessboard: In the 13th century it was the graphic and symbolic basis for the grid-like layout of Beijing’s alleyways; also the chessboard continues to be the most common center for gatherings of older men in China and Chinatown alike. Accordingly, it is represented both in the projected layer from the Beijing footage and also in the surface “receiving” the projection in Chinatown’s Columbus Park.
This sensitive, layered artwork shows older people from a culture where for thousands of years the elders have been revered. Today globalization impels a modification of such traditional ways of life: For example, the upwardly mobile younger generation who traditionally would support their aging parents no longer tend to do so. Also, the kind of urban development that spanned many decades in the West has been compressed into a few years in Beijing. Hamill had the privilege of making art with the older Chinese people both in urban China and the United States during this intense transition. As many images in this two-city exhibition show, the ongoing traditions of lively communal interaction continue to be cherished.

Exhibition Venue:
The Danforth Museum of Art • Framingham, Massachusetts, USA April 2009
The Danforth Museum of Art was established in 1975 when a group of community activists, including educators, business people and art lovers, organized what remains the only fine art museum in the MetroWest. Named Outstanding Cultural Organization for 2008 by the Massachusetts Education Collaborative, the Danforth Museum of Art maintains a collection of over 3,500 works of American Art with a special focus on painterly expressionism.