While touring the exhibit "Hot Pot: A Taste of Contemporary Chinese Art" at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center in Vermont, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Chinese artist Cai Xi, who was showing her installation, "The Pink Slip Project / Our Meal Table," to some friends. Using text, paper, fabric, slippers, garments, wind sculpture, and audio-video collage, Xi has turned the difficult experience of job loss, specifically of receiving a dreaded pink slip, into an art installation and community-based project.
Xi told me that when she first moved to the U.S., any mention of "pink slips" sounded like "pink slippers" to her. "How cute," she thought. "It's like a fairy tale." Only later did she discover the true meaning, but by then, the association was lodged in her mind. This account from her website articulates what she told me in person that Sunday at the museum:
"Pink slippers...also relate to two aspects of Chinese customs: ‘Being given small shoes to wear’ refers, in Chinese, to being treated badly by the boss. On the other hand, ‘Hanging up shoes on the wall’ auspiciously protects the dwelling [bi xie 壁鞋 ‘wall-shoe’ refers to bi xie 避邪 ‘warding off evil’]. Slippers are offered to guests as a sign of Chinese hospitality. To take care of the feet in traditional Chinese custom is to take care of the health of the entire body. Furthermore, the traditional foot-binding of Chinese women was a contradictory emblem of social status, not only a symbol of affluence but also, implicitly, the oppression of women."
An important component to the Pink Slip Project is Our Meal Table, "an ongoing confidential gathering over a meal for participants to share personal troubles about their workplace."
"As an immigrant coming to settle in a foreign country, there was the feeling being a social outsider," says Xi. "This feeling was ongoing until the experience of being rejected through the ‘pink slip’ communications. Paradoxically, the rejection was the catalyst for at last becoming recognized as a part of the society. There was never so much attention during previous work years as this past year of ‘pink slip’ experiences. It was as if being invisible for years, and now, becoming visible through the rejection process."
My favorite part of Xi's installation was the outdoor "wind sculpture," which the artist created out of delicate slips sewed from bright pink fabric. The simplicity of the pink slips blowing in the wind were the most effective visually and also beautiful to watch. This video is a glimpse of the outdoor component of the "Pink Slip Project," on view at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center through June 23, 2013.
You can see photos of Xi's entire installation and read my full review of "Hot Pot: A Taste of Contemporary Chinese Art" at the arts & culture website Gwarlingo: gwarlingo.com/?p=14999.
To learn more about Cai Xi's "Pink Slip Project" and "Our Meal Table," visit her tumblr page: pinkslipproject.tumblr.com/.
For additional information about the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, please check out the museum's website: brattleboromuseum.org/.