Mel Chin, Artist | 2019 MacArthur Fellow

Mel Chin, Artist | 2019 MacArthur Fellow


I think what art can provide is an
option that has not been considered before and I think that’s important because
those options may be the liberating factor that is necessary to understand how to
cope with what is going around us. My name is Mel Chin,
I’m an artist. I’ve been identified as being a socially engaged artist. I moved, as I say, not inspired, but
compelled by conditions that I feel I can contribute something to transform
the situation. I’m a conceptual artist, which means everything rises from an
idea or a concept. But the way I do it I don’t leave it there, I kind of adjust. If the
idea, the concept, needs to be a film, it’ll be a film. If it needs to be a
sculpture, it will be a sculpture. If it needs to be a painting, it will be a painting. If it
needs to be a piece of clay, it’ll be a piece of clay. So it’s a very diverse way
of operating in this realm of art. “Fundred” was invented to give a voice to
children that were threatened with lead poisoning. At first it was about the process
of getting their drawings of these hundred dollar bills to convey their
value, way before they had even a chance to vote. The way that project works it’s not just about my art. Perhaps the project can be tailored to educate policymakers
and encourage even an act of Congress to come about to relieve the problem.
Because maybe an art project is not enough. When I went to Flint, the people
questioned me there, like, “what kind of project do you have in mind? Because how are you going to use us now?” And I’m glad they asked that. They challenged me. I
said well you know, I’ll pay you to fill this tractor trailer full of plastic
bottles. And then I’m gonna take them down to a company that transforms it into cloth.
And I’ll take it to the fashion designer, and she will design rainwear and
swimwear patterns out of that. And now they’re sewing Tracy Reese designs
in Flint. I think the understanding of climate change is not shared amongst all
Americans or everybody universally, and I felt like creating a piece about climate
change in Times Square was important. I wanted to add an augmented reality project that would bring from the 19th century to the 21st century this meditation on climate change and
its arc over human history. If you hold your phone up to the sky, the whole
streetscape above you at 26 feet, which is the projected sea level rise over
Manhattan someday, the whole air above you would be filled with about a hundred
and forty-one boats in a nautical traffic jam. There’s been many unexpected
shifts in my career, because I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I think I take
leaps and then fall, and the projects that come about
are the things that catch me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *