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Waking up in NYC: Mel Chin + UNC Asheville in Times Square

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After months in the making, local artist Mel Chin’s sculpture, Wake, which he worked on with a team of students, faculty and community artists in UNC Asheville’s STEAM Studio, was revealed to the public last week in Times Square. The piece is a 24-foot high wooden replica of a ship, the USS Nightingale (or is it a whale skeleton?), with an animatronic figurehead of 19th-century Swedish opera diva Jenny Lind, who was a sensation when she first arrived in NYC in 1850, at its bow.

With its companion piece Unmoored, an augmented-reality work Chin created with Microsoft, Wake is a statement on human interaction with the environment and the history of migration. Some background: The USS Nightingale transported goods including weapons, tea, coal, and cotton, and it was used as a slaving vessel before it was taken by the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. If you visit Times Square, use an app on your cell phone or tablet to experience Wake’s companion installation, Unmoored and you’ll see Times Square flooding, with ships passing by above you and the (now shipwrecked) Wake in front of you. Jenny, who was programmed based on the movements of a theatre student from UNC Asheville, will sigh and move her head as the floodwaters rise. Viewers can also walk through the sculpture.

Although Chin lives near Asheville (in Egypt Township, just outside of Burnsville), he doesn’t often show work locally. His large-scale projects have been on display in cities including NYC, Houston, New Orleans, and St. Paul + more. But last year, UNC Asheville named him the Black Mountain College Legacy Fellow for the fall 2017 semester, and Chin continued work on the piece through the summer with a team of UNC Asheville arts + engineering students, who travelled to NYC to install it round-the-clock shifts over three days in Times Square. The UNCA community had a sneak peek of the almost-finished piece earlier this month before it was transferred up to New York City.

Wake is one part of All Over the Place, a city-wide exhibition + retrospective of Chin’s work that was commissioned by Times Square Arts, the Queens Museum and non-profit No Longer Empty. The installation will be up until September 5. Can’t make it to NYC, or want to get a taste of what you can expect? Watch the stream of Mel’s press conference here, and get a bird’s eye view of the pieces on the Times Square cams.

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