Vancouver

Ron Tran: The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store at 221A

Collapsing the geographic distance between Vancouver and China, performance and installation artist Ron Tran prowled Vancouver’s Chinatown—the largest in Canada—and selected intriguing objects to display in his latest solo exhibition at 221A. He assembled a number of seemingly banal products, modifying and combining them to create a space that considers local and global exchange. Tran’s practice is defined by the use of artifacts found in passed-over places and in this exhibition he inventively recombines common utilitarian objects to make them decorative and strange.

Ron Tran. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, 2015; installation view, 221A, Vancouver. Courtesy of the artist and 221A. Photo: Dennis Ha.

Ron Tran. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, 2015; installation view, 221A, Vancouver. Courtesy of the artist and 221A. Photo: Dennis Ha.

In The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, the viewer is transported to a landscape filled with objects made unfamiliar. A parasol protrudes from a wall, spinning with a hypnotic rhythm; a single blonde hair extension is attached to a tensor bandage held by a white mannequin hand; a room divider has been outfitted with pungent dried fish that hang from the screen’s top rung; a basket is retrofitted as a lamp. Adding to this dynamic effect, reams of colorful wrapping paper are pasted from floor to ceiling on the gallery’s east wall, and the west wall is covered in garish tablecloths. Throughout the gallery, sagging cardboard boxes that read “Product of China” act as supports for many bizarre and beautiful things.

221A is primarily concerned with the impact of design on lived experience. This exhibition highlights the high cost of low prices by showcasing products that make the trip from China to Chinatowns all over the world. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store addresses the way in which low-cost production strategies are enjoyed by the West and endured by the East, and the impact on laborers that is often obscured by the abundance of cheap items available in trinket shops in the city’s east end.[1]

Ron Tran. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, 2015; installation view, 221A, Vancouver. Courtesy of the artist and 221A. Photo: Dennis Ha.

Ron Tran. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, 2015; installation view, 221A, Vancouver. Courtesy of the artist and 221A. Photo: Dennis Ha.

The objects in the exhibition are tagged with prices, inflated only slightly from the price point we’ve come to expect—though they are low by fine art standards. The prices include the value of the original materials and the artist’s labor. Tran has transformed the gallery into a domain for both economic and social exchange, creating a snapshot of modern life influenced by mass production and mass culture.

The gallery is located in Vancouver’s Chinatown, and by sourcing products exclusively from this part of the city the exhibition also comments on the changing face of the neighborhood. This historical community, once almost exclusively inhabited by immigrant families, has witnessed an expected but swift wave of gentrification. An uneasiness haunts the changing blocks as galleries, condos, and trendy minimalist restaurants move in.[2] Vancouver’s Chinatown is also flanked by a site populated by drug-users and drifters. The area is considered Canada’s poorest postal code, yet so far the communities are working together to revitalize abandoned spaces and empty storefronts.

Ron Tran. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, 2015; installation view, 221A, Vancouver. Courtesy of the artist and 221A. Photo: Dennis Ha.

Ron Tran. The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store, 2015; installation view, 221A, Vancouver. Courtesy of the artist and 221A. Photo: Dennis Ha.

At 221A, The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store is the inventory of a shopkeeper gone mad, driven to insanity by the senselessness of consumption. Artificial flowers beautify the ugly reality that defines the gallery’s location. Baby harnesses are filled not with babies but with fake plants. A periwinkle fan spins slowly, acting as the lower half of an armless mannequin’s abdomen, whose eye peeks through a sun visor. It is perhaps not important what is for sale, as long as the impulse to buy is intensified and subverted, displacing the use value of the object and replacing it instead with pure aesthetics. A fruit-print tablecloth is wrapped tightly around stretcher bars to make a canvas, elevated to high art yet rendered unusable.

Ron Tran: The Kitchen Garden at Home/Store is on view at 221A in Vancouver through May 23, 2015.

[1] For more information about workers’ rights violations in China, visit chinalaborwatch.org, a New York-based organization that documents unfair treatment by international companies in Chinese factories. Also, for an example of factory violations in exchange for cheaper production read: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/05/workers-rights-flouted-apple-iphone-plant.

[2]For varying responses to the changing face of Vancouver’s Chinatown see, http://www.vancouversun.com/touch/news/metro/Battle+Chinatown/10384991/story.html?rel=10403843 and http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/behind-the-changing-face-of-vancouvers-chinatown/article7282156/

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