Just months before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, my grand uncle Thomas Wang was arrested in Shanghai on charges of profiteering. My grandmother and her younger brother tried to plead his case. But with the government set on making an example of him, Thomas was executed on September 24, 1948. An exploration of his context, archival fragments and a musical séance will come together in an attempt to connect with this suppressed family story in order to invoke and preserve Thomas’ memory.
This project consists of a media installation made up of three inter-related works; a multi-channel audio visual component that explores the economic and political conditions of Shanghai at the time of Thomas’ arrest, a sound work that draws from the letter Thomas wrote just before his execution and an assemblage of family documents that attest to the ephemerality of fortune, linking the past with present day narratives.
This project also explores the creation and perpetuation of mythology and nostalgia in relation to Shanghai. A port city, Shanghai was nicknamed the “Paris of the East” while garnering a reputation in the West as a place of vice, danger and intrigue. This image has been captured and perpetuated in film noir classics such as Shanghai Express released in 1932, which was around Thomas’ heyday. The aesthetics of this genre combined with the city’s famous, jazz soundscape will inform the performative mode of the project transforming the installation space into a smoky nightclub that I imagine might have been one of Thomas’ regular haunts.