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Mo Kong, Swift Island Chain, 2024.

February 10–April 14

Mo Kong: Swift Island Chain

at Smack Mellon

Smack Mellon presents a solo exhibition by Mo Kong exploring racial melancholia and the information gaps experienced by Asian immigrants through disjunctures in contextual communication. Swift Island Chain unfolds between Smack Mellon’s center columns through a series of modular post-pandemic office environments and work aesthetics that are presented in various states of completion. Corian® interior architectural panels, TômTex® lab-grown leather, AI feedback mechanisms, and an alienating melody composed by sound artist Lemon Guo give texture to the installation, creating a foreboding and anxious atmosphere.

Central to this project is the multivalent reference to swifts, which the artist draws upon as symbols for new immigrants. Although they are migratory birds, swifts often build nests in fixed places, allowing them to move between two geographic points. In Chinese literature, swifts are often compared to wanderers who have difficulty finding a sense of cultural identity in a new environment. For this project the artist worked with engineer Menyu Chen to develop and train artificial intelligence to translate verses from classical Chinese poetry into English, which appear as cut-outs in the panels. Encapsulating the AI’s three learning stages–a direct translation, a contextual version, and one preserving the original rhyme scheme–this translation process highlights the elements that disappear while transitioning between cultures. Kong has incorporated a feedback mechanism to test the sentimental value and to determine the accuracy of the translations, raising the question of whether cultural malaise can be inherited by the machines that humans create.

The foldable workstations, or “islands,” mirror the empty nests of swifts, which have historically been used in Chinese cooking to make bird’s nest soup. Three groups of freestanding sculptures function as apocalyptic compasses through magnetic fluid and astrological maps charting the past, present, and future, revealing the secret of swifts’ return home. Heavy-duty springs and glass domes on top of the sculptures ensure the sensitivity and precision of the equipment. Each base is made of a self-healing biotech cement that contains guano and bacteria, developed with biologist Ross McBee to convert potential erosion into architectures’ healing fertilizer. Throughout the gallery, the swifts’ cry intensifies as viewers approach the “islands,” blending with the soundtrack created by Guo. The inter-island tension between alienation and belonging reflects the impact of this epidemic on our daily lives and refracts the erratic Asian American ennui.

Smack Mellon

92 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201 United States

Open: Wed–Sun, 12–6 PM

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Nearby

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1. Open Studios, Special Event

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2. Screening, Special Event

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5. Exhibitions

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Mo Kong: Swift Island Chain

February 10–April 14

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Ann Schaumburger: New Work

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