Ka-Man Tse
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small boats

how to build small boats

Food and labour have always been integral to my life. The sounds of a restaurant, the heat, the rush, the swing of the doors, the rising smells of meals cooking, the sheer movement of woks and pans, food and mouths, all of it is not a din to me. Rather, it is part of my skeleton, built into me and what I stand on. These photographs were made in mom-and-pop-owned Chinese restaurants in New York State. Chinese restaurants are a true global and sociological force, a social interface created by economics, but its import goes beyond service and labor, and beyond hand-to-mouth.

John Berger wrote, "To emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments." Like many other families, emigrating to the United States has been the most significant decision of our lives. Both of my parents, never having had any previous experience in the restaurant food service industry in Hong Kong, nevertheless found work in Chinese restaurants in upstate New York.

Originally I wanted to debunk conceptions of essentialism and a manufactured "chineseness." This approach, although not altogether wrong, lead me nowhere as a visual artist. I am more interested in family and personal histories. I hope that these photographs show the true human agency, resourcefulness, beauty, care, and balletic labor - a life in the spaces and objects of cheap-and-fast Chinese-American cuisine, a 7 day a week, 14 hour operation. These are spaces of work, of time, and of a kind of building, of a kind of home.

all images © Ka-Man Tse
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