Culture and Arts Museum of Migrant Workers at Ludlow38 New York City

The installation of the Culture and Arts Museum of Migrant Workers is travelling to New York and will be shown at 38 Ludlow Street, New York 10002, as part of the MINI / Goethe Institute Curatorial Residencies Ludlow 38

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Read ARTFORUM International note on the exhibition belowpublished on

“The Making of the Chinese New Working Class”

38 Ludlow Street
July 14–September 4

View of “The Making of the Chinese New Working Class,” 2011.

Passing informational posters and display cases of abraded tools and identification papers, one enters the heart of this exhibition on contemporary Chinese labor migration: a room-size diorama reproducing a migrant worker’s domicile, composed of blanketed cot, dusty PC, stuffed washtub, children’s copybooks, coal briquettes, and other typical provisions of China’s “floating population.” Cramped and lusterless, yet arrayed with a ready-to-hand tidiness, the room is a forthright, intimate representation of the efforts of some 230 million Chinese to assemble lives far from home. “All we have are our hands and travel bags,” sings a harmonica-backed voice on a small TV, while migrant children’s drawings depict waves good-bye or roadside work. What may initially feel parafictional or archaeological here bares but the plainer disjunction of uneven development.

This exhibition—like E. P. Thompson’s landmark 1963 study The Making of the English Working Class, alluded to in its title—declines dolor in favor of detailed recognition. First shown at last year’s mazy, macrohistorical “Potosí Principle” at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid alongside other meditations on labor’s transmutation into capital—including the work of Zhao Liang, whose video installation Heavy Sleepers, 2006, might have made the perfect companion piece here—its contents were compiled by the Beijing nonprofit Culture and Arts Museum of Migrant Workers but largely donated by migrants, some of whom the posters introduce. An argument emerges throughout that workers’ crescendoing demands nationwide are begetting coalitions and material victories, such as wage increases won by autoworker strikes.

When “Potosí Principle” traveled to Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt, CAMMW installed its contribution partly at the German metalworkers’ union’s headquarters, in an act of solidarity steering museumgoers back to the city and labor history. Slotted amid Chinatown’s own tenements, resonating with projects like Jason Bailer Losh’s recent Chinese Take Out at Art in General and art-aesthetician nexus Hanns Eisler Nail Salon (opening soon), this exhibition makes a capable case for wresting ever greater reach and resonance from site-specificity.

Chinnie Ding

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