CFGNY exhibits a site-specific installation incorporating furniture from Henry Street Settlement, Abrons Arts Center’s parent institution founded by Lillian Wald in 1893. Antique wooden chairs from the historically preserved headquarters will form the scenography for an arrangement of plush animals handmade by the collective—each assigned a seat.
Although CFGNY commonly presents garments in their work, 25 creatures take the place of styled humans in this display, merging garment and figure in soft form. Evoking a classroom, conference, theater, or runway audience, the curved row of seats positions the motley crew somewhere between active spectators and objects of consumption. With beady eyes and floppy ears, the deformed animals exhibit a strange and babyish vulnerability, connecting to the collective’s ongoing interest in cuteness as an aesthetic quality associated with Asian cultural exports. Where cuteness is often deployed as a disarming tactic serving to soften host-parasite dynamics (consider cartoon “ambassadors” and brand mascots), CFGNY distorts this function, hinting at repressed powers.
Countering the repetition of mass-production (and assimilation), the collective uses salvaged fabric scraps in the construction of unique characters, suggesting affiliation through style or technique, rather than geographic origin. Similarly, the title for this installation—The Family—touches on mixed bonds of commonality, referring specifically to what Wald called her chosen community: a band of nurses, teachers, students, friends, and same-sex partners residing in the Lower East Side. Responding to cultural sea changes in her neighborhood, Wald fostered and invested in a model of kinship that transcended societal expectations of her time.
Images by Olympia Shannon