At a distance, CarryOn Homes is a simple structure: two parallel panels, each a schematic image of the classic American house, an ideal of home. But as you approach the installation across The Commons, the urban gathering place adjoining U.S. Bank Stadium (home of the Vikings) in Minneapolis, you see that intriguing things have been added. A performance stage. A wildly colorful mural painted on a vertical assemblage of suitcases. A row of green plants, mirrored to infinity by reflective panels. A gallery of immigrant portraits with their stories. This is a very open “house,” and one that is making statements—about immigration, cultural richness, displacement, and the idea of home.

“A WOMAN BROUGHT A PAIR OF CANDLE HOLDERS ALLOWING HER TO PRAY TO HER 10,000 GODS. A MAN BROUGHT A BEER OPENER HE STOLE FROM A SMALL HARDWARE STORE IN SWEDEN 30 YEARS AGO. A GIRL BROUGHT A PAIR OF SHOES HANDMADE FOR THE LOCAL MARKET IN SYRIA, WHICH HAVE BEEN WORN OUT WITH HOLES SOON ON THE ICY COLD STREETS IN MINNESOTA.

THEY ARE PIECES OF THE HOMES THAT SUSTAIN US WITH STRENGTH SO WE CAN CARRY ON AND BUILD NEW HOMES HERE. THIS PROJECT HAS [BECOME] A SMALL COMMUNITY THAT IS BUILT ON THIS STRENGTH.”

–From the CarryOn Homes website

THE EVOLUTION OF A PROJECT

As new people were added to the project, CarryOn Homes evolved from portrait photography to a gallery, mural, performance, and storytelling and advice space.

AN ARTIST ADDS A CONCEPT TO ANOTHER’S PHOTOGRAPHS

The CarryOn Homes project began with Shun Jie Yong’s photographs of Twin Cities friends who, like him, had come from other countries. When he asked to shoot Peng Wu, Wu added a concept. “I brought a small object from China that I had kept for many years,” he says. “A little ruby paperweight. Shun photographed me holding it.” The artists realized that if they asked other portrait subjects to come to the shoot with a single object that connected them with their earlier lives, they would have subtle images of home.

“WE WANTED TO TELL THE STORIES OF IMMIGRANTS, STORIES THAT ARE VERY DIFFERENT FROM THE BIG, PRIVILEGED CIVIC STORY TOLD BY THE STADIUM NEARBY. WE WANTED SOMETHING A LITTLE CHAOTIC, BUT BEAUTIFUL.”

–Peng Wu

A PUBLIC INSTALLATION REQUIRES A TEAM

Yong and Wu showed their photo series in several Twin Cities gallery venues, and then, says Wu, “we decided that we wanted more people to see it, so that we could increase awareness of the immigrant community, and grow the community of people willing to be photographed.” That meant a public installation, and creating a public installation meant getting more people involved in the making. Zoe Cinel had been a photo subject; Preston Drum, like Cinel, was a Minneapolis College of Art and Design classmate of Wu’s; Wu met Aki Shibata at a book-arts workshop. The team brainstormed, and Wu created a series of prototype designs for group critique.

Then the team shopped their idea around unsuccessfully until the Creative City Challenge program made CarryOn Homes one of five finalists, then the winner. The Challenge is an annual competition administered by the city’s Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy Program, in collaboration with Northern Lights, the nonprofit that runs the Northern Spark festival, and The Commons. It’s open to Minnesota-based artists, architects, landscape architects, urban designers, and other creatives. The winner creates a temporary public artwork that acts as, in the program’s words, “a sociable and participatory platform for two months of onsite programming and encourages a sense of connectedness to the city and its rich cultural and natural offerings.”

A MURAL MAKES PERFORMERS FEEL MORE AT HOME

“When musicians, other performers, and other people in the community learned that the piece would be installed in The Commons, near the stadium, they weren’t feeling comfortable to perform there,” says Peng Wu. “It’s a fancy downtown area—not somewhere they go very often. So we did a lot of research on fabric patterns of the main immigrant communities here—patterns from Central America, Africa, and Asia. We took those colors and patterns and abstracted them, to give performers a colorful background that would make them feel more at home.”

A PUBLIC AUDIENCE SEES A SERIES OF PERFORMANCES

The installation debuted at the Twin Cities’ late-night arts festival, Northern Spark, in June 2018. Performers on the stage included Indian-American dancer and choreographer Chitra Vairavan, Afropop group Douala Soul Collective, Aztec-dance group Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli, and Minneapolis club DJ SciPreme.

“WE DIDN’T ANTICIPATE THAT THIS WALL WOULD TURN INTO A KINETIC SCULPTURE, BUT WE’RE REALLY HAPPY THAT IT DID.”

—Peng Wu

VISITORS WRITE ON THE QUESTIONNAIRE WALL

On the rear wall of the installation, there’s a suitcase collage that replicates the colorful one backing the performance stage. But all these cases are painted white. Covering them, and rustling in the breeze like leaves, are questionnaires answered and posted by visitors. The questions invite immigrants to tell a significant story from their lives and give some advice to newcomers.

Jon Spayde is the senior editor of Public Art Review.

From Public Art Review #58, where this article originally appeared in Powerful Spaces as “A ‘Home’ Open to the World.”
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