Exhibition “Momentum 5: Paul Chan” at Boston’s ICA 9/21 through 1/16/06

By Adam Smith, English Editor, Sampan

Boston – Aug. 19, 2005 – The art of Paul Chan has been compared to that of Keith Haring and is said to reflect Chan’s life as a grassroots political activist.

However, Chan, whose work will be on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston next month, is cautious about indiscriminately applying labels, such as “activist,” to himself or his work.

“Is it an accurate description?” he said after he was asked about the “activist” label. “I think it’s the most accurate description to describe a certain field of doing things that tries to expand what it means to be political. But it’s not necessarily a good one, it’s simply the best one that we have.”

The exchange reflects Chan’s view that our language doesn’t always adequately describe our ideas. It might also reflect his sensitivity as an artist.

“I think that for artists… their job and their responsibility and their challenge and their desire are to remain sensitive to all (things) without reducing any other them,” he said.

Chan mostly makes art from projected light, and that is the type of art he will exhibit at the ICA. But his works also include drawings and prints.

“I (also) did a map a year ago. I don’t know if you were down (in New York) for the Republican National Convention but we did a fold-out color map for the protesters called the ‘People’s Guide to the Republican National Convention.’”

A native of Hong Kong, Chan moved to the United States with his family at the age of eight. He earned a bachelor degree in fine art from the Art Institute of Chicago and a masters in fine art from Bard College. His works have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the 54th Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, and at Greene Naftali Gallery, New York.

When asked if his immigrant experience influences his works, Chan said he didn’t know, but did offer some of his influences: light artist James Turrell, writer Alexander Cockburn of Counter Punch and The Nation, and “simply living in the U.S. for the past four years.”

When asked if he was referring to politics, he replied: “I think that’s only correct in a very small way. I think politics as a language simply can’t describe the whole of what we go through as living human beings everyday. Politics has very little to say about what happens when we fall in love, or that fever that you feel when you flirt with someone, or the taste of jam.”

Chan’s exhibition for the ICA, “Momentum 5: Paul Chan,” opens September 21 and runs through January 16, 2006.


Adam Smith is English Editor of the Boston-based Sampan, New England’s only Chinese-English newspaper, published since 1972 by the Asian American Civic Association of Boston.

This article was originally published in Sampan, and appears here with permission.  Please do not reproduce without seeking permission of the copyright holder.

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