Exterior view of Omer Fast’s August, at James Cohan Gallery (all images courtesy Chinatown Art Brigade)

Exterior view of Omer Fast’s August, at James Cohan Gallery (all images courtesy Chinatown Art Brigade)

by Danielle Wu

If time travel were to exist in the future, what would happen if the owners of such powerful technology were white? Omer Fast’s new exhibition at the Chinatown branch of James Cohan Gallery, August, revels in the power of the Western imagination to utilize non-white cultures as a way to role play and “time travel” into playgrounds for voyeuristic pleasure-seeking that reinforce Western modernity’s sense of superiority.

The artist has transformed the gallery’s white-cube space into a caricature of a derelict Chinese business — a gesture that reads to me as colonialist aggression even if  the exhibition’s press release frames it as “an eclectic aesthetic” — in order to present video works from 2008 and 2017. The installation comes across as an amalgamation of stereotypes often associated with lower-income ethnic enclaves.

Fast’s vision of an authentic Chinese business begins with an entryway displaying makeshift debris, a damaged awning, and graffiti-defaced walls. The kind of racialized, classist mockery implicit in such a conflation of  Chineseness with destitution continues inside the gallery, which features defunct ATMs taped over with makeshift “Out of Order” signs, overflowing trash bins, and a broken patchwork of a floor. In place of a receptionist’s desk, a glass vitrine displays an unappealing array of cheap cell-phone cases. Exactly what Chinatown business inspired this dilapidated space? Certainly not the fish market that previously occupied the address, nor any of the other neighboring restaurants, bakeries, and shops, which all have legible awnings and clean storefronts. Not a single one of the bus stations dotting East Broadway, which consist of waiting rooms with working ATMs and continuous industrial flooring. The exhibition space does not reflect my own personal experiences living with generations of Chinese people or living in New York’s Chinatown.

The exhibition has angered other community members, including the Chinatown Art Brigade (CAB), a collective of artists and activists working with the Chinatown Tenants Union and CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. CAB has released a statement condemning the exhibition that reads in part:

“The conception and installation of this show reifies racist narratives of uncleanliness, otherness and blight that have historically been projected onto Chinatown. We cannot underscore enough how offensive this is to the people who live and work here. The artist’s choice to ignore the presence of a thriving community filled with families and businesses reduces their existence to poverty porn. This has a real and negative impact on how Chinatown is perceived by non- residents, politicians and developers who view low-income communities as wastelands ripe for investment and exploitation.”

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE herehttps://hyperallergic.com/405024/artist-omer-fasts-take-on-chinatown-angers-community-organizations/