By Tom Collins
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 26, 1997

A monument to the self CCP exhibit shows inside and outside


Photo courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography
Arizona Daily Wildcat

"Cape Canaveral, Florida," a photograph by Tseng Kwong Chi. Tseng's work is on display at the Center for Creative Photography. c

Sometimes language can be a barrier.

And it's not just the words; it's the language of the body and the language of cultural identity.

We live in world of walls.

Enter Tseng Kwong Chi's photography and the Citizen of the World exhibit that opened at the Center for Creative Photography this past weekend.

The exhibit is made up of 40 3-foot by 3-foot prints from the artist's East Meets West series. The works that make up the exhibit were shot over 10 years, up until the artist's death from AIDS in 1990. The C.C.P. aquired the entire series in 1994 and the World show is roughly half the series.

It a series of self portraits taken around the world. In each one, Tseng posed in the same Mao suit wearing the same mirrored sunglasses, occasionally with a "visitor" identification card pinned on his chest.

And he went everywhere, starting with a tour of America in 1979. Each pose at a worldwide monument, natural and architectural, icons all.

Each piece is a persona poem without words, each piece leads to questions of character.

In film made before his death, Tseng remarks that there is a power to monuments and indeed there is.

There were 25-odd fourth or fifth graders in the Center gallery while I was and they remarked on having been to Mount Rushmore or Disneyland and even if they hadn't been to the Eiffel Tower, I'm sure they knew what it was.

But they and I don't know who Tseng is.

A Hong Kong Native, Tseng moved around the world to New York City and settled into the art scene of that city. Settled in with the same persona.

According to curator Trudy Wilner Stack's statement on the exhibit, he would wear the Mao suit when he was out on the town.

It was in New York, Tseng explains in the film, that he felt he could be "spontaneous."

Tseng is an alien in landscapes and in city scenes. Not an accidental outer space arrival, but a tourist who carries the heft of his entire life with him, carries it on his face.

The life of an outsider, Chinese, but not from Hong Kong. A citizen of the world but not of a country.

He stands small on the mesa-dominated landscape of the Grand Canyon or uncomfortably next to a Disney character like a stranger in a strange land.

Like the protagonist of that novel, there is a barrier between Tseng and the viewer. A liquid indefinite absorbing wall.

There are moments of absurdity in the exhibition, particularly in another Disneyland photo. Tseng holds his camera remote in one hand and a huge bouquet of balloons in another. He looks as if he might fly away at any moment and the look in his face is bizarrely serious. The very opposite of every image the icon of the Magic Kingdom conjures in the minds of people the world over.

At the Kennedy Space Center in "Cape Canaveral, Florida," Tseng shakes hand with an astronaut like a diplomat. Like the very visitor the astronaut might encounter on a far flung mission, the space suit itself a barrier for the safety of the All-American man or woman inside.

And have you ever been to the space center and looked at the people around you, people from any country and your country and wondered for a moment who you were. Questioned for a moment your individuality and then questioned for a moment how you fit into that world. Into the puzzle of the planet.

In "Cottonfield, Tennessee" Tseng picks a boll like a flower.

Cotton picking strikes a certain chord in the mind of an American. It is not a beautiful thing, but an image tainted by violence and horror. In the view of an outsider, Tseng's photo says, there is beauty.

As Tseng himself says, he is an "ambiguous ambassador," a "witness to (his) time."

Witnessed outside Notre Dame Cathedral in a piece from Paris.

A woman caught in focus in the frame looking at the strange. The suit, the camera.

The pose is all serious.

In "Provincetown, Massachusetts" alone outside a clapboard house, Tseng strikes a pose, subtly, and, you imagine, just for a second.

Tseng looks at monuments.


At the Lincoln Memorial and a statue of Buddha in Japan and in Monument Valley, Tseng stakes a different stance arms behind his back, face obscured, assessing. Assessing the breathtaking, assessing the religious, assessing the natural and the political.

Where is the difference?

Citizen of the World will show in the Center for Creative Photography's main gallery through Nov. 16.



(LAST_SECTION)  - (Wildcat Chat) - (NEXT_SECTION)