Zhi Lin’s exhibit at the Kimball Art Center rides the rails with Chinese laborers
“A Chinaman’s Chance on Promontory Summit” opening
6 p.m. on Friday, April 19
Kimball Art Center, 1401 Kearns Blvd.
The Kimball Art Center is one of the organizations in Summit County riding the rails of Spike 150, the statewide sesquicentennial celebration of the driving of the Golden Spike, which signified the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
The art nonprofit will do this by opening artist Zhi Lin’s “Chinaman’s Chance on Promontory Summit” exhibit on Friday, said Kimball Art Center curator Nancy Stoaks.
The exhibit also looks not only at the construction of the railroad, but also the Chinese emigrant communities that had been established in the American West, she said.
“It’s exciting for the Kimball to be part of the statewide moment to celebrate this history,” she said. “I think the Kimball Art Center’s exhibition adds an important part of that story.
The multimedia exhibit will feature a large scale video installation that shows the trains on the Central Pacific line and the Union Pacific railroads meeting at Promontory in 1869, Stoaks said.
It will also feature thousands of rocks that will display the names of Chinese laborers who helped build the Central Pacific segment of the track that ran from Sacramento to Utah, she said.
“The rocks will be laid out on the floor in front of the video, and that will give the illusion that our visitors are at Promontory,” Stoaks said.
Other exhibit installations include small-scale, ink paintings on watercolor paper, Zhi Lin said.
“There is concept behind this,” Zhi Lin said. “Watercolor paper is Western and the Chinese ink is from the East. The paintings’ mediums represent the Chinese contributions to the West.”
The black ink of these images has also been diluted.
“I wanted to give the impression that someone is remembering a scene that seems to be emerging from a mist or forgotten memory,” he said.
There are six paintings that look at Park City’s own Chinese community, including the settlement that was located under China Bridge, where the town’s parking garage now stands, according to Stoaks.
“All of the paintings will have some descriptive texts,” she said. “They are a combination of image and text. The images are of contemporary landscapes of today. And the text draws viewers back into the history of the area.”
While the video installation and rocks and ink paintings are a big part of Zhi Lin’s exhibit, another highlight of the exhibit is a hand scroll of names of Chinese who were removed from Tacoma, Washington’s Pacific Avenue during the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The act was a law signed by President Chester A. Arthur in 1882 that prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers.
The feelings behind the law hit Tacoma, 33 miles south of Seattle, in 1885 when a group of local residents chased nearly 200 Chinese laborers and families out of town before burning their properties, according to the artist.
“I did a lot of research of the streets, entities, shops and offices that were along Pacific Avenue at that time,” Zhi Lin said. “Of the 197 people who were removed, I only found the names of 127.”
Zhi Lin, who received his undergraduate and graduate education at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, China, said he found the names in court documents, governor’s papers and letters from Washington state.
“I also found more names in other documents from the Department of the Interior,” he said. “I also located telegrams that the Chinese had sent to the consulate general in San Francisco during that expulsion.”
The scroll, which features names of these expelled Chinese immigrants written in calligraphy in ink on rice paper, remains unfinished for two additional reasons, other than the loss of records, Zhi Lin said.
“The first reason is because I’m too busy with other projects to finish it,” he said.
The second reason is because Zhi Lin wants to make sure it’s done correctly.
“It’s not like oil paint where you can scrape off a mistake,” he said. “The scroll is made from Chinese ink on rice paper, and there is no way you can fix a mistake after you put it on the paper. It won’t wash off.”
Stoaks knew of Chinese-born Zhi Lin, a professor of art at the University of Washington, while she was living in Seattle, working as curator for the Swedish Medical Center’s art collection. The two reconnected when Zhi Lin came to Utah as a juror for the Utah Division of Arts and Museum’s statewide biennial exhibition in 2017.
“We realized that his work that he has been working on for the past 10 years is critical for being a part of this moment in Utah,” she said.
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