Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cabinet on the Move

Another long hiatus here on the blog as the Cabinet of Curiosities made the Big Move from Saint Louis, Missouri to Bakersville, North Carolina...along with all the stuff we've had in storage for the past 10 years (!!)


All this time that I have been posting about it, the Cabinet has been quietly minding its own business in the beautiful downtown StL loft of my friend, architect and professor, Peter MacKeith.


Former Associate Dean at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Art at Washington University in  St Louis and now in Fayetteville as Dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas,  Peter wrote a wonderful thoughtful essay, This Phenomenal City: Christina Shmigel's Shanghai, in St Louis 2011, for the catalogue of my show at Bruno David Gallery.

The journey of the Cabinet from Shanghai to StL was quite the travail. First stuck in customs in NYC, then caught in blizzards, it finally arrived two weeks late for the actual opening of my show.  On the night of the second opening, it nearly got snowed out again. So I'm very grateful to Peter for offering post-show to give it safe harbor & for all the years it has had in the good company of John Watson's sculpture (far right of photo above) and Peter's collection of blue shirts...


Now the Cabinet is in my new studio, buried under boxes of all the other work from that St Louis show - plus body bags & golf clubs & dozens of other things for which we can't believe we paid storage fees...like having the Goodwill truck deliver donations... 


The Cabinet of Curiosities goes on the road again (oh the weight) in the spring for my show in Washington, D.C.at the Hillyer Art Space. Opening 4/1/16: come open drawers live and in person!


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Row 8: Insulated Pipeline



The back compartment of each drawer of the 8th row, starting with 8.3 and heading across 8.4, 8.5, 8.6 , 8.7 & 8.8...
Somewhere, sometime, in the grand scheme of the Cabinet, I had the idea that a theme should run secretly across several drawers, for the amusement of the discerning observer. In the end, only two such patterns emerged,  one in Row 4 (which I actually think was accidental. See 4.5. 4.6 & 4.7 )  & this one across the back reaches of the drawers in Row 8. There's one other planned path & that is the meridian that runs in a somewhat interrupted square around the peripheral edges of the Cabinet...but that's another story... 8.1...

The wrapped pipe that runs thru these drawers, though it hardly does justice to the real thing, is meant as an ode to the artfully insulated plumbing of the old lanes...During the "High Communist" period, housing in Shanghai was scarce & entire families were forcibly moved, by the government, into single rooms in houses built as single family homes; a lane house likes ours might have been occupied by as many as 5 or 6 multi-generational families, some twenty or thirty people. 

When we first moved into the house, I had the same conversation over & over again with curious neighbors: How many floors? Three. How many people? Two. How many children? None. Followed by much head shaking & muttering on the part of my cross-examiner.

The kitchen under the old style was communal, sometimes housing several burners, each with its own gas meter;  food prep was done outside at the sink in the lane. Our immediate neighbors still live this way, three or four unrelated couples prepping their food & washing their laundry outside (and, in their kitchen, playing mahjong deep into the wee hours of the morning...)



For full drawers in this row, check out Drawers 8.1 & 8.2 & 8.6...with others still to come...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Drawer #1.3: Predatory Goldfish, on Wheels

…which, actually, with a little research, turns out to be a Predatory Carp.  






Which, according to my Chinese Motifs book, is distinguished by 1. its scales 2. “its wide mouth & two pairs of barbels attached to its upper lip” 3. its long dorsal fin. Homophone Alert: carp is (li 鲤) which, depending on its tone, can mean profit (li 利) or it can mean power (li力)…but a “carp among lotuses (lian lian you yu 莲莲有鱼)"  plays the lian 莲 of lotus against the lian 连 of again (”again and again,”  lian lian 连连 ) and the yu of fishes against the yu 余 of surplus to wish you again & again may you have an excess of wealth... or carp. 

But calling this drawer CARP wouldn’t really make you want to open it, would it…and open it you should because it’s really about Again & Again, Abundance of Delight. 

Like the pondful of fake lotuses you discover behind the Jade Buddha Temple … 


 and the troves of tassels at the Notions Market…


and the Mid-Lake Teahouse mid-Yu Garden, familiar to you on arriving in Shanghai  from the novel you are reading by Qiu Xiaolong in which policeman/poet Chief Inspector Chen has a clandestine meeting in the 1990's with his informer, Old Hunter. To reach the Teahouse, they, like you, have traversed a demon-defying ”nine-turn” (a.k.a. zigzag) bridge (see drawer 5.3) “full of tourists at every turn: People pointing at the lotus flowers swaying in the breeze, throwing bread crumbs to the golden carp swimming among the blossoms.”  And photographing each other & themselves like mad.

Not to mention the rare delight inside the cabinet of being released from the tyranny of the grid (only 4 other drawers are missing a divider: 1.5, 2.3, 3.2 & 3.5…) so that the goldfish toy, sold by the tiniest, most ancient, slip of a woman from her shop that is merely a cupboard attached to the outside wall of her lane house, can skitter about as the drawer slides open… 


A Swedish friend, just six months into her Shanghai life, asks, “Have you found that your aesthetic changed after you came to China?” How else to explain the hot fuchsia Crocs in my closet, linens on my bed the color of orange marshmallow peanut candies, window curtains covered in sequin daisies...



For other related drawers, see Drawer 5.3 & Drawer 8.3 & Drawer 8.2 to hear the  monks chanting at the Temple...
Drawer 1.3: From top: 1. Chinese Knot Tassels whose color combinations never fail to send me; 2. Carp pull toy with small carp swallowed inside; chinese brocade in water or seaweed pattern; 3. Sample of tea from the Huixinting Tea House, Yu Garden, Shanghai. Photo credits: Full drawer: Bruno David; all others: Christina Shmigel