Tell us a little bit about yourself—your background, major program of study, reasons for taking this trip, and anything else interesting you want to share (maybe something people might not know about you).
Hello readers, my name is Zerlinda Chau and I am a Bachelor of Arts student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Counselling. In January, when the opportunity to attend this year’s Fine Arts Field School came up, I had to make a split decision to apply. In the end, I chose to register for this 6-week program because I have always had an interest in fine arts. Personally, I do artwork in photography and ceramics, and these two have been my preferred art forms since high school. To integrate my passion in both fine arts and psychology, I am pursuing a career in Art Therapy, which I will study at Adler School of Professional Psychology upon graduation from KPU. The two courses that are included in this field school will fulfill my final two requirements for my Certificate in Fine Arts. I will complete my BA within the next year and move onto my Master’s program! Exploring cities has also been a hobby for me. At home, I love to go out to visit different neighbourhoods of Greater Vancouver and participate in local activities such as farmer’s markets, flea markets, special events, and so on. This makes a trip like this extra fun because I can explore an entirely new city.
What has met or exceeded your expectations or surprised you about New York so far?
This brings me to my first impressions of New York City. It is my first time visiting the Big Apple, and I am sorry to say that it has not met the glitz and glamour that I had imagined before arriving here. The songs about the amazing facets of New York seem to apply to only a small portion of the city. However, that doesn’t mean I dislike the city. As a CBC (Canadian Born Chinese), I have found NYC to be the perfect combination of Vancouver and Hong Kong. The entire city looks like Downtown Vancouver in which the blocks are small, buildings are large, streets are cobblestoned, and stores appear one after the next so there is never a lack of things to see. Conversely, the city’s milieu feels like Hong Kong because there is a lot of people, although not as much as HK, and everyone seems to always be in a rush to get somewhere. New Yorkers walk with a purpose. Do not get in their way. Also, the subway here reminds me of HK’s MTR system. They both have underground tunnels taking people to and from nearby stations, which often have stores on either side of the hallways.
On the other hand, something that surprised me about the vibe of the city is its artistic activity. Over the past five days, I have noticed street art, sculptures, graffiti, and countless performances around the city. There was a man who drummed rhythms using the bottom of ice cream tubs; he played in the same location all day. We left the station in the morning for our day’s activities, and returned in the evening to go back home, and he was still there! I saw the same string quartet in different locations of the subway station over the past two days. There were also dance performances in the subway stations, in the park, and on the streets. I find that New York is a city that is always moving. There were also other activities, such as fights in train cars, mice running across people’s feet, and cockroaches roaming the sidewalks. These are all a norm in NYC.
Give us some insight into your assigned artwork from the Museum of Modern Art. Who is the artist? When was this work made? What is the content of this work? In what context and as part of what art movement was it made?
As you may know from previous blog posts, prior to embarking on our adventure, we were in classes for three weeks on campus at KPU. Each student was assigned an artist to study; for me it was Yto Barrada, a French photographer who lives and works in Tangier, Morocco. Barrada is deeply rooted in the history of Tangier as her hometown, and works within the geopolitical space art movement to create work that reflects on the situation of this city. I studied her piece titled Autocar-Tangier, Figs. 1-4 (2004), which depicts four close-up photographs of colourful corporate logos on the sides of buses that travel from Tangier to cities in Europe. For people wishing to cross the border, albeit illegally, these images signify something more important. Each represents a destination to which these individuals may be able to escape. Illiterate migrants use them to distinguish between buses and the prospective cities of freedom to which they could go. After reading some news articles from the 2000s about the tough journeys people endure in order to illegally immigrate to Europe in hopes of a better life, the symbolism behind these bus logos become even more significant. People travel from far and wide, across the desert, from Saudi Arabia, to Tangier just for a chance to get to Spain and other parts of Europe where they envision a new and better life.
How did you approach the creative task of responding to this assigned work in studio? What were your challenges as an artist to be in dialogue with the artwork and artist? Would you do anything differently now that you have seen the work in person?
In dialogue with Barrada’s work, I created a quadriptych of my own, turning the attention to transportation in my own hometown of Surrey, BC. In my piece, I have used logos of the corporate companies related to our transit system: the Compass Card, Coast Mount Bus Company, City of Surrey, and TransLink. Similarly to Barrada, I work in photography, capturing TransLink’s lack of usefulness. Is Surrey’s bus system easy to use? Does Surrey’s bus system do what we need it to do? There are often line ups at bus stops so long that people may even have to wait for the next scheduled bus to get a ride. Another preposterous phenomenon is that people are often waiting outside in a long line when the bus is already at the stop. It is especially ridiculous on a rainy day or in cold weather, and bus drivers would not allow patrons to board the bus and wait where it is warm and dry. The glitches in the final image represent the corruption and untrustworthy nature of these corporations that we, often unwillingly, place the fate of our daily commute.
After seeing your assigned art work in person (and any other related art from the same artist or art movement associated with the assigned work), what struck you most, and/or how did the artwork’s form, content, and context shift for you when seeing it?
It was very exciting to see Yto Barrada’s work at the MoMA! The four photos were approximately 3’x3’ surrounded by an extra foot of white frame. In real life, it is much more evident that the images depict the side of buses because the cracks on the images and the light on the third one have more depth in the real photo than in an image of the photo. Alas, the constraints that we had during our classes did not allow for more extensive artwork. I also like to work in ceramics, but having only one week did not give me enough time to complete my pieces in time. However, I would love to create clay tiles of my pieces which would give it a similar 3D feel that I got from seeing Barrada’s real work in the MoMA. In addition, Barrada’s work in the gallery was situated between two video installations. I could hear the sounds from both sides as I stood sketching the piece: from my right came the sound of breaking glass, and from my left was construction sounds of hammering and drilling. This was striking to me because I found that it accentuates her piece by creating a sense that Tangier is broken and there is a need for rebuilding in that city.
Today’s activity was at the Metropolitan Museum in the Upper East Side neighbourhood. What were your impressions of this part of New York after learning about it first in the pre-departure classes? What will you take away of the experiences of this day? What are the most memorable moments for you?
Today, our adventures took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Uptown East Side. My first impression of the Met before going was of a large museum full of fine art artifacts from around the world. However, my initial idea was an understatement of its true nature. The museum is not simply large, it is colossal. The vastness of the building and the museum’s collection of artwork are astonishing. I could live in New York City for an entire year and visit the Met once every single day and not have enough time to see everything. My most memorable moment of the day was going through one of the temporary exhibitions, China: Through the Looking Glass. I especially enjoyed the Anna Wintour Costume Center where they were showing the costumes worn by Anna May Wong in her films. It was so interesting to see the influence of Chinese culture in Western style high fashion. In the evening, we also visited Times Square where we went to O’Lunneys Pub. That was my favourite part of the trip so far. From here, I am looking forward to other art museums and also our free days, so I can visit more pubs.