Suitcase of memories

Opened suitcases. Static conveyor belts. X-ray machines with no luggage to pass through. Such images, created by artist Yin Xiuzhen, underscore the paralytic effect Covid-19 continues to have on the aviation industry.

Beijing-born Yin is the first artist from the mainland to have a solo show commissioned by the Centre for Heritage, Art and Textiles. Her exhibition, Sky Patch, which is running until April 11, presents collective memories through collected textile materials in the hopes that the audience will reflect on the changes between generations in the fast-changing political, social and natural environment.

Because she was unable to come to Hong Kong due to travel restrictions, Yin’s project was partly completed by fans of community art projects.

Of the 15 open-lid fabric-made suitcase shapes hung from the CHAT’s glass-topped atrium – the centerpiece of her exhibition – seven were completed by Hongkongers who responded to an open call to join a sewing workshop where layers of recycled clothing were added to the basic frame.

“The artist’s thoughts about the changes in our world and society from the perspective of her personal life and a more abstract angle are clues spread throughout the exhibition,” said curator Wang Weiwei.

Yin redesigned the CHAT’s gallery space so that visitors are forced to walk into the D H Chen Foundation Gallery, which originally housed sample products and machines from Nan Feng Textile Mills as an introduction to the local textile industry.

She pays homage to her mother, a cotton mill worker, by hanging a row of red rectangle banners and triangle pennants to create an atmosphere reminiscent of Chinese factories, especially during the Cultural Revolution. But the hangings are left blank, whereas in the Maoist era, they would have contained political slogans.

“Yin wants viewers to feel the factory atmosphere of the era before entering the next space, which belongs to her mother,” said Wang.

In the next space, blank pennants and piles of worn garments represent mass production. These are set up next to vintage sewing machines, representing the mother’s side. The space is symmetrical with Yin’s on the other side, which comprises a plain white wall with a hole in the middle. “This impenetrable space symbolizes the parent-child relationship,” said Wang. “Although they are close and even similar, there is still an insurmountable gap between them.”

The exhibition can seem like a cornucopia of recycled clothing.

A prime example can be seen in the next space. My Clothes, a series that is being exhibited for the first time, contains 32 still images displayed uniformly on the wall. These photos are meant to be read alongside the descriptions written by Yin.

From tiny A-line frocks Yin wore as a child to a lace blouse she wore to her wedding to functional checked shirts – each item is neatly folded and stitched shut like an ice block, creating a sense that the wearer’s presence has been frozen in time.

Wang said the series presents a contrast to people’s current attitude toward fast fashion.

Yin has created ragdoll versions of architectural landmarks in the world’s premier cities, such as Westminster and the Grand Kremlin Palace, hung upside down from suspended suitcases.

In the same space where slices of recognizable urban landscapes spill out of open suitcases laid out on the floor, Black Hole No 4, a black circular installation with mirrored reflections hanging on the wall, reflects everything – including the audience taking a closer look.

The overall effect is one of the installation sucking everything in.

“Globalization is like a black hole. Yin benefits from globalization and has started a lot of travel and contact with different cultures since 2000, but she’s also anxious about the crisis brought by globalization – the constant expansion and consumption of a lot of resources,” Wang said.

Videos of conversations with Yin’s mother, as well as photos of her screen-generation daughter growing up, reveals a clear gap between the three generations.

What looks like a cozy family documentary, Wang explained, contains hidden tensions.

“Fracture and suture, opposition and integration are at the center of Yin’s works,” Wang said. “From her mother’s generation, who experienced the Cultural Revolution, to Yin herself, who witnessed China’s rapid development in the past six decades, to her daughter growing up in the digital age with smartphones.

“Through all of this, the three must coexist, love each other, struggle and live their individual lives.”

(This article was published at The Standard on January 15, 2021: Weekend Glitz: Suitcase of memories )

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