(Born 1951, based in Egypt, North Carolina)
Two Me (2017)
Granite, steel, bronze, glass, commercial-grade aluminum ramp system, marine plywood, pigment, non-slip coatings, and people
Mel Chin’s Two Me invited members of the public to pose as living monuments in City Hall courtyard. Whether by foot, wheelchair, stroller, or other means, participants could use one of two fully accessible ramps—built to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act—to ascend to one of two seven-foot-tall granite pedestals inscribed with the word “Me.” Each visitor attained monumental status upon reaching the summit, where they also could greet participants on the opposite pedestal and onlookers below. Over 50,000 people took their place atop the pedestals during the open hours of the exhibition, striking poses, offering monologues, performing poetry or song, challenging onlookers in debate, or embracing loved ones.
Chin’s artwork balanced the longing for individualism with the foundational spirit of coexistence embedded within American culture, as authored in Philadelphia. According to Chin:
Concepts framed in early Philadelphia loom monumentally in the public mind and express our American identity. The individual with ‘inalienable rights’ (reinforced by the promotion of rugged individualism) …combined with the ‘We’ of ‘We the People.’ These ideas, from two historic documents [the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, respectively] define our values as Americans, are brought together as components of a two-part installation, revealing contradictions and activating a curious dialectic.
Chin sparked the living tension around monumental histories that balance individual and collective struggles. His work was sited within the hallowed public space at the heart of City Hall, a building with over two hundred works of art dedicated on its apron, carved into its façade, and, in the case of the sculpture of city founder William Penn, crowning its clock tower. Chin modeled his pedestals on the Citizen statue on the east side of City Hall, dedicated in 1927 to local businessman John Wanamaker with the inscription “Citizen.” Chin used granite similarly patterned to the Citizen statue, sourced from a South Philadelphia vendor to present an uncanny site of memory.
Concepts framed in early Philadelphia loom monumentally in the public mind and express our American identity.
The individual with “inalienable rights” (reinforced by the promotion of rugged individualism in the late 1920s that continues today) is combined with the “We” of “We the People.” These ideas, from two historic documents that define our values as Americans, are brought together as components of a two-part installation, revealing contradictions and activating a curious dialectic.
The current egomaniacal cult of celebrity, the rise of obsessive selfiedom, and the instagrammable evidence of “Me” is doubled and shares time, space, and focus to become “Two Me,” presenting a divided We. So, the idealized form of collective cooperation is circumvented by this dysfunctional “equal representation.”
Two identical plinths are fabricated to the exact height, scale, and shape as the pedestal for the John Wanamaker Citizen statue in Philadelphia that sits on the eastern, outward-facing skirt of City Hall. They sit side by side, but not touching. Instead of “Citizen,” both plinths bear “Me” cast in bronze letters. On the backside of each pedestal is an extensive network of ramps to allow full access to members of the public to ascend and pose as living versions of the bronze citizen. Individuals who step up will complete this monument.
Mel Chin, from Houston, Texas, is known for the broad range of approaches in his art, including works that require multi-disciplinary, collaborative teamwork and works that conjoin cross-cultural aesthetics with complex ideas. In 1989, he developed Revival Field, a project that was a pioneer in the field of “green remediation,” the use of plants to remove toxic, heavy metals from the soil.
From 1995 to 1998 Chin formed a collective that produced In the Name of the Place, a conceptual public art project conducted on the popular prime-time TV series, Melrose Place. In KNOWMAD, Chin worked with software engineers to create a video game based on rug patterns of nomadic people facing cultural disappearance, and his hand-drawn, 24-minute film, 9-11/9-11, won the prestigious Pedro Sienna Award—the “Oscar” of Chile—for best animation in 2007.
A current project, Fundred, focuses on national awareness and prevention of childhood lead-poisoning through art-making. Mel is also well known for his iconic sculptures and installations, works that often address the importance of memory and collective identity, and for inserting art into unlikely places, including destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and most recently working with advanced augmented reality (AR) technology, investigating how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility.