Upon entering the space which holds poet, essayist, and professor Jane Wong’s first solo exhibition, After Preparing the Altar, the Ghosts Feast Feverishly, one is greeted with a large altar and a screen that features three of Wong’s essays. Below the screen, two rows of various accoutrements — a lucky cat with a swinging hand, a Sky Flakes cracker box, and more fill the space. Photographs fill the space on either side of the altar, of childhood memories and family members — images that illustrate the life of an immigrant family living out the idea of the American dream.
Inspired by her childhood growing up in her family’s Chinese take-out restaurant in New Jersey, and family’s rural life of poverty during China’s Great Leap Forward (the Maoist campaign that sought to transform the country through industrialization and caused a great famine that starved more than 20 million people), Wong’s stunning installation features iconic plastic “Thank You” bags, with some filled with flowers, hang from the ceiling like a chandelier, and a table full of empty bowls inscribed with various lines of poetry sits below. Complemented with sculptural poems, photographs, and other personal artifacts, the work is heavy with the sense of struggle that immigrant families face, the straddling of two worlds and being stuck in between. The large installation centerpiece engages viewers to gather around the gold gilded table, family-style as one would in a Chinese restaurant, and partake in the bowls of poetry – having participants read various lines as they will, and filling in the blanks along the way.
Navigating between gluttony and hunger; prosperity and poverty; American culture vs. Chinese culture, the juxtaposition of these opposing themes feel relatable for any child of immigrants. Alongside these topics, the theme of food, both of its abundance and scarcity, and its role in both bringing families together and tearing families apart is an ever-present theme in Wong’s work. The function of food as a love language is also present, both as an act of love towards loved ones and as a way of elevating cultural cuisine.
Wong’s installation and the space itself gives off a haunting ambiance. A lone neon sign, brightly illuminated on the wall, casts a bright red glow behind the sculptural chandelier that descends from the ceiling; a metaphoric temple honoring ancestors and ghosts from a life heard through stories. Through visual storytelling, Wong evocatively resurrects ancestral ghosts and feeds them to those who wish to consume.
You can view Jane Wong’s first solo exhibition, After Preparing the Altar, the Ghosts Feast Feverishly at the Frye Museum until September 1st.