Transcript of an audio recording of Ming Lin introducing Shanzhai Lyric and their publication at a hybrid workshop with DAAP at the Women's Art Library, 21 July 2023:
Along with my collaborator, Alex Tatarsky, we run a poetic archival project called Shanzhai Lyric. In 2019, we were in residence [at WAL] with our archive of t-shirts that are mostly made in China, but are worn all over the globe, that have nonstandard English text emblazoned on them. We've been collecting and archiving as this very beautiful experimental body of poetry since 2015, and at that time had amassed, I don't know, maybe 100, of what we call ‘poetry garments’.
Now this has become about 300 or so garments—currently at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. But anyways, we were invited by Althea and the Women's Art Library to bring the archive to be present in the library. It was really exciting for us to put those to collections in contact and dialogue with one another.
And then, following I think a year of the shirts living in the library and being accessible to visitors, we ourselves came to Goldsmiths and situated ourselves—I don't know how long it was for, maybe just a week, but it felt like very substantial. We were coming to the library every day and looking through the materials and being really excited by the multitudes contained by the many boxes and offerings of the Women’s Art Library. These also spoke to us in terms of thinking about how to archive a very unconventional body of work.
We also invited several respondents to come spend time with both the Women's Art Library and Shanzhai Lyric archive. Aurelia Guo, a poet and legal scholar, Joni Zhu, an art historian, and Silvia Bombardini, a scholar thinking about theft and shoplifting.
And so this publication is called Freedom (and on and on). “Freedon,” one of the shirts that we have in the archive, is of course a kind of broken freedom. We invited each respondent to come spend as much time as they wanted with the archive and produce something (or not) and published the resulting conversations.
What else can I tell you? A material aspect of the publication that I'm thinking about in terms of how to log it in the digital archive is that the front is actually made from tattoo paper. We were thinking about how to respond to this question that people often have where they often make the analogy of like, “Oh, these T- shirts that have this kind of nonsense on them and that are made in China are sort of similar to the phenomenon in the 80s and 90s in the West of people getting Chinese or Japanese tattoos without having any sense of what they actually said.
To us this is not quite the same thing due to global power dynamics, but we wanted to somehow respond to it, and so we made some of the t-shirt designs/poems into temporary tattoos, and used that as the material for the cover, which then readers were invited to cut up if they felt inclined to use them or not.
I do have documentation of the culminating event where we had people putting the tattoos on, cutting up the covers and stuff. So maybe that would be something to include.
Amy: That sounds like a new work.
Jessa: And I love that you also invited everyone to assemble the publications, because there’s always this moment of like, oh no, when am I going to put them all together? And you invited the audience to do that themselves.
Ming: Yeah, in having this prompt I found a lot of documentation. It's very nostalgic for me to see everyone sitting in The Women’s Art Library!
Althea: Your show was the most difficult show to take down because I just was photographing every single little juxtaposition. It was like hung up on clothes rails, you know, the same acetate that you were drawn to, Bella. This was an absolute reenactment of the care, so many actions in the archive, actually. But it was really hard to take that show down. I just photographed it. I didn't want to let go of it, but I had to disassemble it. And I have remnants of it, I have to admit. Which is a bit naughty because, you know, you're dealing with artists materials and you've taken it all apart and then you're keeping traces that you even know that exists. So it's only for the very privileged researchers that I would actually share that kind of stuff. My private little archive.
Ming: Oh, yeah, I forgot. That was one other aspect of the publication, actually, as Althea just mentioned. We had really gone through the archive and then assembled in these sewn acetate sleeves, all of these different materials that we couldn’t have sewed, in such a way that they would be held, but not, of course, damaged.
In the back of this publication we made an index of every single item that we had borrowed from the archive that was collaged into each sleeve. So a kind of trace of the event exists in that form.