Ringing in Lunar New Year at PS1
On a cold New York night, my Burmese-born Chinese roommate and I gathered a group of friends and headed for Queens. Instead of going to my grandmother's house in Seoul to hand-make dumplings as the rest of my family did, I celebrated in what felt like quintessential New York fashion: with an art show, flair and 'grammable surroundings.
MoMA PS1 is made up of a brick building of several stories, each room filled with art of various mediums, from traditional walls of photographs to plays on light to inflated toys and indecipherable films. Just outside of this building, in the courtyard, is a massive dome. I'd been here once before, briefly, for the Printed Matter book fair, but this time, the few tables serving drinks were confined to the outer edge to make way for the people coming for the fireworks.
We found a spot near the front of the dome, not realizing how close we would be to the screen and speakers, and sat chatting until the lights fell and the entire wall next to us lit up. I can't help but laugh to think of what a sight it must have been—the few hundred of us lying on the floor of a geodesic dome, on a windy February evening in Queens, staring solemnly at projections of videos of fireworks on a wall.
But in a more serious mode, it is fascinating the way that people gather in such large cities, the way traditions are reinvented, the very use of 'us' in that last sentence. One of the friends I was joined by, Madeline, I've known for around eight years. We met as classmates in Shanghai and last fall, struck up a friendship as adults that our seventh-grade selves would have wondered at. Reminiscing with her, my mind did start to wander back to that house in Pudong, the neighborhood boys who rode on skateboards, our ayi who cooked her hometown Sichuan cuisine, plus the lasagna my dad demonstrated, and of course that sound, that pop! pop! pop! of backyard fireworks to call in the New Year. Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang's multimedia fireworks were nothing I had seen before, in real life or in art; they were much more beautiful, more performed, more colorful, some sinister sense to the scenes of yellow powdery clouds rising over a charcoal city.
But that sound, that pop! pop! pop!...if I could just close my eyes, ignore the hard carpet under my elbows and the stranger's shoes inches from my head, maybe I could sense that fireworks-feeling. You know the one? It's the same kind of feeling I get looking out from the window seat of a plane mid-air, or sitting in a movie theater when the credits roll and the lights come up. It's jarring, a sense of an almost-ending, or a change that jolts an awareness and expectation that you might change, or be changing, too.