All of us at No Longer Empty are delighted and proud to congratulate Mel Chin on receiving the prestigious MacArthur Genius Award!
Working with Mel from the very early days of No Longer Empty and culminating in showing decades of his work through the citywide exhibition All Over the Place (2018), we know how well deserved and timely this important recognition of his practice truly is.
Mel’s playful reaction, “I don’t want to use the word responsibility, but this felt like an acknowledgement that after a life’s work, you just need to do more” on being notified of the award is typical of his wit and insight. His commitment to using the power of his vision to make a difference – not through didactic or pontificating work, but rather through a relatable alchemy of forms; expert craftsmanship; a commitment to complex, yet accessible, ideas along with great humor – reveals truths we would rather not see. Mel engages us in a dialogue around how the structures of power, violence and greed have wrought havoc on our planet and on our most vulnerable populations.
Mel also works in a deeply collaborative way with eclectic, far-reaching partners, from scientists to historians and philosophers to Inuit chiefs, with whom he shares authorship of the work. Flint Fit (2018) is an example of such a complex collaborative process. In 2016, a federal state of emergency was declared in Michigan due to lead contamination in the water. Flint residents were instructed to use only bottled or filtered water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing.
At Mel’s instigation, over 90,000 used water bottles were collected by the people of Flint, and sent to a textile manufacturer in Greensboro, North Carolina where they were shredded and made into fabric. Michigan-born, New York-based fashion designer Tracy Reese, designed a capsule collection of clothing to be made from this fabric, with a focus on rain gear and swimwear. The workforce training and development program at the St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center back in Flint then created the garments. Mel’s prototype project, a triangulation as complex as it is unlikely, offered the potential for rebuilding and opportunities for the future, not just for the community of Flint but also in other quarters equally effected.
At the other end of Mel’s spectrum of forms is the virtual reality-based Unmoored along with the large-scale sculptural installation, Wake (2018). Both were commissioned for one of the most iconic public spaces in the world, Times Square. In collaboration with Microsoft, Mel produced a provocative, site-specific, mixed-reality experience that explored a potential future where global warming has gone unchecked and Times Square is completely submerged under water. A surreal spectacle that blended the physical world with the digital, viewers experienced a nautical traffic jam of boats and marine life floating 26 feet overhead through their cellphones.
So yes – we are proud. As generous in his personal dealings as he is with the insight he provides through his art, Mel Chin teaches us how to be human in the fullest sense of the word.
– Manon Slome, Curator at Large, No Longer Empty
Photo: Shannel Resto, courtesy No Longer Empty.