Blog: MCA DNA Index

Art Apart: Citizenship Rights, At What Cost?

By Marguerite Wynter

Artwork documentation image

Performance view, Hương Ngô and Hồng-Ân Trương: And And And—Stammering: An Interview, 2010. From the exhibition Doing Things With Words, Parsons School of Design Aronson Gallery
Photo: Melanie Crean

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Art Apart is a series that displays how art can connect us, even at a distance. Whether by phone, internet, or other means, art can be more than what hangs on the wall.

Ahead of the culminating performance of AND AND AND — Stammering: An Interview in January 2021, former Curatorial Assistant Marguerite Wynter explores the artwork’s central ideas of value and belonging.

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What is at stake during this pivotal moment in our country? This is a question that most of us have been pondering for a while now, myself included. When I began writing this post it was less than 24 hours after the United States Presidential election, and we were still not close to knowing what the future would hold for our nation. The election process brought up questions of how value—and even how our own worth—is measured by others. I began to consider how these ideas of value are reflected in the art around us, especially during a moment when our inherent rights as citizens are being scrutinized.

The MCA’s current exhibition Alien vs. Citizen asks us to reevaluate ourselves. How do we determine value? What is at stake for our society and our vision of the future? And, more directly, who determines our value? I’m left asking how our assumptions and beliefs around fundamental lives and rights as United States citizens shift, when everything that our founding fathers fought for is changed and we are faced with a shift toward an Orwellian, totalitarian state?

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Installation view, Alien vs. Citizen, MCA Chicago July 17, 2020 - February 21, 2021
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

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One artwork in the exhibition, AND AND AND — Stammering: An Interview, is an ongoing performance and installation project. The work draws upon complex questions of immigration, exclusion, and the performance of belonging. Using the format of an interrogation, participants explore the process one would experience in attempting to become a US citizen. As part of an October 17 performance of the work, more than 70 people waited patiently in a Zoom meeting, anxious to find out whether it was their turn to apply for citizenship. Artists Hương Ngô and Hồng-Ȃn Trương began the performance by explaining that the chosen interviewee’s rights to reside in their state had been stripped due to an executive order. After the conclusion of the interview, they would determine whether citizenship would be granted. Their interrogation is drawn from historical questions asked of Chinese immigrants on Angel Island, current citizenship questions, and material from a 2017 executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries. At its core, the artwork examines how we determine whether someone can become a citizen in this nation—and how we place value.

In exploring ways to foster performance and dialogue during our current moment, the performance took a different shape from its in-gallery form to a new, virtual experience, which allowed for wider audience engagement and participation. In the physical, in-gallery iteration of AND AND AND — Stammering: An Interview, the installation uses a two-way glass mirror to create a separate interrogation room and viewing space. When transitioning to the virtual performance, the anonymity of those watching the interrogation no longer existed, as all viewers were placed in the same interrogation space. Though only one person was chosen to apply for citizenship, this online format continued to prompt all audience members to imagine their own responses as they followed along.

On the occasion of the new commission of AND AND AND — Stammering: An Interview as part of Alien vs.Citizen, Ngô and Trương, along with Ngô’s School of the Art Institute class, collaboratively created “Scores For Sanctuary.” This zine features workshops developed to explore how art making allows for experimentation in better understanding forms and concepts of citizenship. Having experienced being the interviewee during one of our dress rehearsals for the October performance, I opted to try out the family interviews to ask my father, an Antiguan immigrant, about his experience with obtaining his green card almost 30 years ago, a conversation we’ve never had before. When I asked why he never applied for citizenship, he simply said the complex process of obtaining his green card was enough to make him not want to pursue further.

I invite you to watch one of the recent performances as part of Alien v. Citizen by visiting the MCA's Facebook video page, and then explore “Scores For Sanctuary” with its 15 developed workshops and further reading list as you question the complexities of our nation and its values after this historic election.

Scores for Sanctuary PDF

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