Thunderclap at Artspace

2019

What: Solo exhibition 
Where: Artspace Ideas Platform, Sydney
When: 22 February - 10 March, 2019

Part-shop, part-sewing workshop and part-exhibition, Thunderclap premiered in Australia over the course of two weeks in Artspace’s Ideas Platform. Thunderclap employs steganography to publicly redistribute the erased work of Chinese anarcho-feminist He-Yin Zhen (1886–1920) through the medium of clothing accessories.

Steganography is the art and science of hiding in plain sight – a form of secret writing that disguises hidden information in public to evade surveillance, censorship and control. Thunderclap co-opts Shanzhai fashion, a Chinese phenomenon that features nonsense English together with QR code as a covert system to publish sensitive knowledge originally designed for a Chinese context. The ribbons and embroidered patches contain translated English quotes from He-Yin’s essays, nested around a QR code. When passersby scan this code they can download her original Chinese writing. The work takes advantage of the use of English as ornamentation in this context, staging the aestheticisation of a foreign language as a steganographic medium. In a similar way, the visual pervasiveness of the QR code inadvertently provides guileless cover for knowledge to spread.

Through the use of these ‘politically harmless’ accessories, knowledge of He-Yin – considered too radical in her lifetime – can circulate and her work can avoid further erasure from historical records. Embedding these contemporary textiles with quotes from largely forgotten feminist texts, Wu’s embodied publishing reinstates He-Yin’s writing back into the public arena.

Visitors could purchase Thunderclap accessories onsite where I offered free services to sew Thunderclap patches and ribbons onto items brought in from home, thereby inviting them to embody He-Yin’s texts.

Thunderclap was originally developed at I: project space, Beijing. Its Australian presentation was supported by I: project space, the Feminist South project (Kelly Doley, Antonie Angerer and Anna Eschbach), Jenny's Alterations & Dry Cleaning and the Creative Industries Fund NL.

Related press: ABC's The Mix interview by Abubakr Mahmoud and Recap: Amy Suo Wu’s “Thunderclap” on Art Asia Pacific, by Chloé Wolifson