Where: Project realised during artist-in-resident programme at I:projectspace, Beijing, China
When: March - May 2017
Besides developing Thunderclap during my I:projectspace residency in Bejing, I also designed a blanket cover with pages of He-Yin Zhen’s essays along with QR codes to download her full essays printed on them. In the traditional courtyard residences called hutongs, Beijingers hang up their blankets to air on makeshift clothing lines tied to whatever structure lends support. Lamp posts, trees, electricity posts and the neighbours’ air conditioning unit all become extensions of their homes, blurring the boundaries between the public and private space. Seeing the blankets every day reminded me of the Underground Railroad quilt codes used by the enslaved in the US to gain freedom and of ban niang wu, the SOS symbols used by women in Hunan province, China. This made me think that blankets could be used as a covert publishing platform within the streets of the hutong neighbourhoods.
In many cultures, quilts are traditionally the result of women’s labour, and a symbol of domesticity and female community born of the often collective making-process. By repurposing the quilt medium for a publishing action, the Thunderclap Blanket attempts to reclaim that space. Within the hutongs, blankets are a mundane household item that moves inside and outside the house without raising any alarm bells. They can be read as a transgressive object, migrating between public and private spheres. The blanket is a perfect cover, literally speaking, but also figuratively as an unsuspecting agent that can smuggle and ‘air out’ private information into the public space. Metaphorically, laundry carries a similar connotation. The term ‘launder’ is used to refer to the act of legitimising illegally obtained money – to wash away its questionable traces. In contrast, to ‘air out dirty laundry’ is analogous to disclosing secrets publicly. The former speaks about erasure, removal, suppression and censorship, and the latter refers to revelation, communication, going public, leaking and publishing. Because they are mundane, blankets can be used to embed hidden messages in plain sight.