Rest is our foundation for a liberated world. Care is how we will shift culture. Rest today, make space for others to rest today. And we will rest.—Tricia Hersey (aka “Nap Bishop”), 1-833-LUV-NAPS, automated voice message, November 11, 2020
The year 2020 will long be remembered as one of myriad trials and tribulations suffered worldwide, whether those challenges resulted from the global pandemic, economic recession, social justice reckoning, or, more likely, some combination of all three. Alisa Yang’s Artpace project Wish You Were Here is conceived and created as a direct response to these ongoing crises.
Yang suffers from chronic illness, which has required the artist to forge a complex relationship with her body and be more attuned to the issues of self-care. Her illness presents no visible symptoms or manifestations and therefore is often difficult for others to empathize with. The physical and mental demands of chronic illness are not only alienating and isolating but also severely impact Yang’s ability to make art. The challenges of coping with an invisible illness while existing in the world as a woman of color have only been compounded in the age of COVID-19 in which prejudice, social-distancing protocols, and a new pandemic of loneliness abounds. All of these factors have compelled Yang to slow down—to rest—while attempting to do so within a culture that regards busyness as tantamount to productivity and success, concepts that further commodify our notions of work and the laboring body. Yang’s efforts to slow down and assess universal human needs permeate her Artpace project and take the form of radical care and gifting. Her care package, offered to visitors to the exhibition, invites the audience to rest and honor their own bodies, and it contains specific objects that have helped the artist do just that.
The accompanying multichannel video documents the assembly of the care package—a repetitive but meditative action. Yang’s video documents the process while also demonstrating the generous gifts of time, intention, and care the artist has invested into the 300 boxes created for the exhibition. Each one is a deeply personal gift from the artist to the recipient.
Additionally, Yang designed a full-sized billboard as part of her Artpace project, a mock-up of which is on view in the gallery. The actual billboard will be installed for the holiday season during the month of December in Dilley, TX, about 75 miles southwest of San Antonio and just minutes from the largest family detention center in the United States. The billboard reads, “Jesus was a brown child seeking asylum.” Here, Yang calls attention to the immigration and family separation crises, a government sanctioned lack of care experienced by those individuals detained by ICE merely for seeking refuge and a better life.
Wish You Were Here is a simple and deliberate invitation to visitors, and all of us, to rest and honor our bodies. The exhibition is rooted not only in Yang’s personal experience but, even more profoundly, the human experience.
Photo Credit: Beth Devillier
3D Tour Capture: Chris Mills