Artist Statement

Wake is a large-scale installation modeled on the structural ribs of the nineteenth-century clipper ship U.S.S. Nightingale that rise up from the ground and frame a 21-foot-tall figurative sculpture.

The carved sculpture, derived from a figurehead on the prow of the Nightingale, represents the opera singer Jenny Lind. Lind, the first international “superstar” to tour America from 1850-1852, was a spectacle orchestrated by P.T. Barnum and is considered one of the first examples of mass marketing.

Subtle animatronic motions allow her to slowly breathe and scan the sky, adding a contemporary upgrade.

The Nightingale clipper ship was captured by the Union Army in 186o, ending an attempt to transport enslaved Africans.

Specifically for its Atlanta presentation, the figurehead casts her gaze toward 501 Auburn Avenue, the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wake forms a quiet space for the public to consider the past and future.

This work was originally installed in Times Square in New York in 2018.


Artist Bio

Mel Chin, born in Houston, Texas, in 1951, is known for the broad range of approaches in his art, including works that require multi-disciplinary, collaborative teamwork and works that can enlist science, history, and politics as components or layers to developing complex ideas. Miranda Lash, curator of Chin’s 2014 traveling retrospective exhibition, Rematch, described his work as having a mutative strategy, depending on concepts to derive the materials of its realization, from actions to films to objects, as necessary.

He created Revival Field (1991), pioneering the field of “green remediation,” the use of plants to remove toxic, heavy metals from the soil. From 1995-1998 he formed the collective the GALA Committee that produced In the Name of the Place, a public art project conducted on American prime-time television. His Fundred Project (2008-2021) (see invests in actions to end childhood lead-poisoning through mass public engagement via the creation of art currency as a means for policy-maker education.

He continues to produce original films such as 9-11/9-11 (2007), a film to decenter preoccupations that engender nationalism, winning the Pedro Sienna Award for Best Animation, National Council for the Arts and Cultures, Chile (2007); and L’Arctique est Paris (2015), to deliver the poignant warnings of a Greenlandic subsistence hunter to an international audience for COP21. In the summer of 2018, he filled New York’s Times Square with a massive sculpture, Wake, on the ground, and an AR (Augmented Reality) project, Unmoored, in the air, creating an experiential portal into a past maritime industry and a future of rising waters. All Over the Place, a 40-year survey exhibition at the Queens Museum was named by Hyperallergic as the best NYC exhibition of 2018.

Mel is the recipient of many awards, grants, and honorary degrees including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2019 and his election into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2021.

Get directions to this art piece

The embankment above the activity field at the Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark