Mel Chin Sculpture in Downtown Asheville Dons a Mask

Community Foundation of Western North Carolina

Wake, Mel Chin’s giant animatronic sculpture, installed in New York City’s Times Square last summer, features opera singer Jenny Lind.

Now, thanks to textile artist Erika Diamond and UNC Asheville Steam Studio Director Sara Sanders and Special Projects Technician Chas Llewellen, Jenny is wearing a mask in accordance with state guidelines to stop community spread of COVID-19. Wake is on view in Asheville through Monday, Sept. 7 at 44 Collier Avenue. Chin, a WNC based conceptual artist, was named a MacArthur Fellow in September 2019.

Wake was commissioned as part of Mel Chin: All Over the Place, a multi-site survey of his works from across many decades that took place in several New York City locations. A collaborative group, led by UNC Asheville’s Steam Studio and The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, formed to plan and raise funds for the sculpture to be seen locally. Wake — 60 feet long, 34 feet wide and 24 feet high, conceived and designed by the artist — was engineered, sculpted and fabricated by an interdisciplinary team of UNC Asheville students, faculty, staff and community artists led by Chin. Wake is interactive and features decks and places to sit and contemplate. Wake asks the questions: When will we wake? and How will we rise?.

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Wake evokes the hull of a shipwreck crossed with the skeletal remains of a marine mammal. The structure is linked with a carved, 21-foot-tall animatronic sculpture, accurately derived from a figurehead of the opera star Jenny Lind that was once mounted on the 19th century clipper ship, USS Nightingale. Jenny Lind moves subtly as she breathes and scans the sky.

“She may be looking at what cannot be seen as she moves away from the wreckage of her past,” explained Chin. “It’s about relationships we have to history. It’s almost an obligation to understand our relationships with our environment now and an opportunity to project what things could be like far into the future if we’re not engaged.”

Since the late 90’s Chin has lived and worked in Egypt Township, outside of Burnsville in Yancey County, North Carolina. His work has been exhibited by major art centers nationally and globally. He is described in his MacArthur entry as “a category-defying artist whose practice calls attention to complex social and environmental issues. In an expansive body of work ranging from collages, sculptural objects, animated films and video games to large-scale, collaboratively produced public installations, Chin demonstrates a unique ability to engage people from diverse backgrounds and to utilize unexpected materials and places.”

Visitors can experience Wake daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 44 Collier Avenue. For more details about the piece and public programming, visit ashevillearts.com.