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Rubber Factory
Imagined Communities, Nationalism & Violence


Terrarium, 2017
red sand, imagined lotus feet of the artist's great-grandmother carved out of alabaster, soapstone and wonderstone


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Terrarium imagines the white-walled space of Rubber Factory as an extended terrarium, following the model of Victorian-era "Wardian cases" and conservatories. These early greenhouses were created in order to keep living things alive as they were plundered by men called "plant hunters" (often working under conditions of espionage) from their native lands and shipped to far-off imperial powers, following the contemporaneous trend of spectacle-driven museological exhibits and ethnographic displays. This terrarium is transmuted into a scarlet desertscape in which the imagined lotus feet of my great-grandmother either bloom, or die. My mother's grandmother was of the last generation of women in China to have their feet bound. She was supposed to help raise my mother while my grandparents worked, but because of her feet, she fell down the stairs one day while carrying my mother. After that, she was relieved of her duty and my grandfather left the house hours early every day to push my mother on his bicycle to a daycare, where she was raised away from her family; this left generational implications in how my family to this day navigates nurture and intimacy. Foot binding itself, as a thousand-year-long practice, has an ambivalent legacy in Chinese history; it was about feeding a patriarchal erotic frenzy, it was about denying the physicality of women, mutilating (sometimes killing) them, stunting their mobility, it was about demonstrating high civility and subservience to the state. Yet it was also a sacred practice shared between mother and daughter, passed down with thick blood and tough love; later, under European invasion, it became an emblem of a dying culture fighting to resist imperial takeover. I do not know what my great-grandmother's feet looked like. Their likeness is sourced from various Google image searches, as I reach through digital proxy to try to know my great-grandmother. Any one, or none, of the five stone feet could represent hers. I think of the sculptures as 3D prints of my photographic research, carved slowly by hand with hammer and chisel. Carving stone to me is a performative process that references and reembodies the Western canonical form of the marble sculpture; here, that fundamental material has been overtaken by traditionally decorative stones, their form shifted to desiccated flesh. These objects, as vestiges of familial memory as well as a fraught national history, have in a way been plundered--by way of my own diasporic migration and attendant internalized colonization--to come to rest, ultimately, at Rubber Factory, in Manhattan's fast-gentrifying Chinatown.