Tom Finkelpearl, the executive director of the Queens Museum of Art, remembered having a discussion a few years ago about outreach to the Korean community in Flushing.
“Someone said, ‘You should be really reaching out to the generation 1.5,’” he recalled. “And I was like, ‘Okay, tell me what 1.5 is.’ This was the first time we heard it.”
Finkelpearl learned that generation 1.5 is a term describing adolescents between ages 12 and 18 who have moved from one country to another. This group, according to the museum’s web site, is neither first generation, nor second generation. Rather, they “are old enough to be fluent in their home language and culture, but have less difficulty adjusting to change than their first-generation counterparts.”
So, Finkelpearl and Chief Curator Valerie Smith gathered several artists to showcase works expressing their views as members of this particular generation. The exhibit, fittingly titled “Generation 1.5,” is currently on display at the Queens Museum of Art through Dec. 2.
Smith said that the idea for the show was brewing for some time. “Tom and I know all these artists. We wanted to work with them. This concept — this new sociological area of study came out, and Tom heard about it. And we put the two together.”
“Generation 1.5” was approximately two years in the making. It features the works of artists Emily Jacir, Ellen Harvey, Lee Mingwei, Seher Shah, Pablo Helguera, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Nari Ward and Shirin Neshat. Each of them bring their own experiences and unique perspectives on cultural identity, ranging from Neshat's powerful black and white film short, “The Last Word,” to Tiravanija’s “Passport.”
Lee Mingwei, originally from Taiwan, came to New York when he was 15. Originally trained as a classical violinist, he was influenced by Anton’n Dvorák, (1841-1904), the Bohemian composer whose experiences in Iowa at the turn of the century shaped his music. It is the music of Dvorák’s “American String Quartet in F, Op. 96,” which fills the darkened gallery housing Mingwei’s installation,“Quartet Project.”
“For me, when I was growing up, classical music is really much about home,” Mingwei said. “So when I look at my work, I feel by living in America, like Dvorák did … his work and my work are almost influenced by American culture. It’s hard to say where it came in, but it’s very much a part of my creativity and also my environment.”
In the room, flickers of light emanate from four tall enclosures, each of them occupying a corner inside the room. Hidden behind each enclosure is a video monitor showing a musician from the Forest Hills Chamber Players performing Dvorák’s “American String Quartet.” Triggered by motion sensors, the music from each enclosure plays intermittently
Artist and writer Helguera, who was born in Mexico City and later emigrated to Chicago at 18, contributed the multimedia installation “Everything in Between” to the show. It features the artist’s written journals and artwork spanning his younger years from 1987 to 1992. A recording of Helguera reading from his journals plays through speakers in the room.
“My cultural assimilation process was particularly complex,” he said in an e-mail, “because it happened right in the middle of the crucial period of my transition between adolescence and young adulthood, and also in the period of my transition between being an art student and becoming an emerging artist. This is precisely the process that the project “Everything in Between” tries to address.”
By working on this project, Helguera said he learned something about himself. Similar to what other young artists have gone through — the periods of creative angst — and frequently questioning things and people around him.
“It is through that long process or questioning and making art when we find, or think we find, the answers to some of our questions,” Helguera added.
Finkelpearl said the exhibit as well as the categorical definition of generation 1.5 tie in with the current discussion of immigration in America. “This is where we are,” he said. “We're in Queens in a place where 60 percent of households are run by people not born in the U.S. So this issue of hybridity and transition is just all around us all the time. I think it shows the incredible creative energy that can be created by some of those kinds of transitions.”
“Generation 1.5” is currently being shown at the Queens Musuem of Art in Flushing Meadows Park, through Dec. 2. Summer hours through Sept. 3 are from noon-6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The museum is open from noon-8 p.m. on Friday and closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Suggested admission is $5 for adults, seniors, and children over 5, and $2.50 for members. For more information, call (718) 592-9700 or visit www.queensmuseum.org.