Chinatown Reconstruction: “Perilous Playground”

Soon, major changes are coming to San Francisco’s Chinatown as work gets underway to renovate Portsmouth Square, the always busy park at the heart of the neighborhood that serves as the de facto living room of the densely populated, low income community. One of Chinatown’s very few public spaces, the Square will be closed to undergo extensive reconstruction over several years, including the removal of the pedestrian bridge that connects it to the Chinese Culture Center.

In consideration of this dramatic transformation of its immediate surroundings and the impact, both intended and unintended, on the community, Chinese Culture Center (CCC) invites eleven artists and art collectives to address urban histories and spaces in a new, multidisciplinary exhibition entitled Present Tense 2023: Perilous Playground. Guest curated by C & G Artpartment, formerly of Hong Kong, the exhibition presents innovative work in film, video, new media, sculpture, and mixed media by both local and international artists including Weston Teruya (US), Lucky Rabbit Pictures (US), Ting Ying Han (US), Bijun Liang (US), Felix Quintana (US), South Ho (Hong Kong), ‘Wang Chau Tin Yuen’ art collective (Hong Kong), Anson Mak (Hong Kong), ‘Walking Grass Agriculture’ art collective (Taiwan), Kuang-Yu Tsui (Taiwan), and Post-Museum (Singapore).

Present Tense 2023: Perilous Playground is the sixth iteration of CCC’s Present Tense exhibition series, an initiative to promote robust artistic dialogue around issues relevant to the community.

Exemplifying these curatorial themes is the work of Singapore art collective Post-Museum who has for many years collected community stories about Singapore’s Bukit Brown cemetery ever since officials there began to exhume some of the 100,000 graves to make way for an eight-lane highway. Post-Museum turned their documentation into a performance on the occasion of the annual Hungry Ghost Festival, a time when Chinese residents honor the departed. The performance, presented at the 2019 Singapore Biennale, is the basis for a virtual reality artwork that visitors to Perilous Playground can experience through VR goggles. In conjunction with the exhibition, CCC is organizing a special Hungry Ghost Festival for the public that will take place August 26, 2023.

Hong Kong-based moving image and sound artist Dr. Anson Hoi-shan Mak presents a web-based work developed from her research over more than a decade of the gentrification and now aggressive government redevelopment of what had been one of Hong Kong’s most vibrant artist communities, Kwung Tong. The work’s title, From the Factories, derives from the area’s former industrial use.

Many of the exhibition’s participating West Coast artists are creating new work in response to the changes coming to Portsmouth Square and Chinatown. Bay Area-based Weston Teruya, whose work often examines the social dynamics and histories of specific sites and communities, contributes Home in Moving Parts (carried with us), a bench cast entirely from paper scraps collected in Chinatown that replicates those found on the soon-to-be-demolished pedestrian bridge. San Francisco-based collective Lucky Rabbit Pictures examines the often overlooked inhabitants of the bridge, including its vibrant skateboarding community, in a new documentary work entitled Bridge to Everywhere. And San Francisco-based Bijun Liang wonders “Where will the pigeons go?” in an interactive installation of inflatable birds that visitors will be encouraged to take out into the community and return to CCC.

Gallery hours are Tuesdays – Saturdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Chinese Culture Center, 750 Kearny St., 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA. Admission to the gallery is free. For more information, the public should visit or call 415-986-1822.