Video Art Installation To Be Unveiled In Chinatown Alley Tonight

Tonight, with the backing of the Chinese Culture Center, a new art installation will be unveiled at 41 Ross Alley. The piece comes from Bay Area artist Summer Lee, and finds its inspiration in the immigrant experiences of Chinatown residents. 

Minimalist by design, the piece is a video projection onto the street that mimics the movement of the ocean. It's meant as a metaphor for migration, as well as a reminder of the start of many immigrants' journeys across the ocean.

The impetus for the project was a year-long study that Lee conducted by interviewing Chinatown residents, many living in single room occupancy hotels, and recalling stories from her grandmother who lived in the neighborhood after emigrating. 

"Over the past few years, I have used art to listen to the residents of Chinatown and their stories of immigration to San Francisco," Lee said in a statement. "The crossing that they have undertaken is epic in its sacrifice, risks, and uncertainty. I began to understand how the expanse of horizon over the ocean is like the imagined opening of hope."

The art piece also has a practical element to it. CCC artistic director Abby Chen said that "the installation is intentionally responding to a collective request of pedestrian safety with lighting need, while being the least intrusive upon the activity in the highly trafficked Ross Alley." 

Mable Tang, executive director of CCC, also told reporters on Tuesday that the organization has received a multi-agency grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, with "Liminal Space/Crossings" being the first installation to benefit from the funding. 

Kate Patterson, director of communications for the San Francisco Arts Commission, added, "Great public art has the power to create magic in under-appreciated urban spaces, and this project does just that. The National Endowment for the Arts’ 'Our Town' grant program supports creative place-making projects that help to enhance the quality of life and opportunities for existing residents to engage with creative activities."

This is Lee's first public art installation, and one that's personal to her. She said the project "was an opportunity to provide a gift to the community and the people who live with it everyday. My grandmother spent 30 days on a voyage to come to San Francisco."

The installation will be running from sundown to midnight daily. But if you come to the unveiling tonight between 5-7pm, you can catch a reception and one-time interactive performance piece by Lee and artist Laura Boles Faw. Entitled "Correspondence," participants will be encouraged to hand off "secret" letters from artist to artist, which can only be read after being passed under the flame of a candle.


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Video art unveiled in chinatown alley tonight