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37 Red Hats

Performance | Single-Channel Video | Print Series

37 Red Hats was completed after a 2008 residency in Beijing during which I tracked down and photographed every Pizza Hut restaurant in the massive metropolis.

Increased global mobility allows us to experience a wider set of cultural experiences in a lifetime than was ever before possible, but travel embarked upon to immerse oneself in a new culture may become unnecessary. When the same icons found cluttering the streets of your hometown are also littering the landscape of a faraway city, global culture moves toward homogenized culture.

Pizza Hut creates an illusion of a cultural experience… but whose cultural experience are you having at a Pizza Hut in China? As an American, maybe you believe you are having an American experience. But when you visit a Pizza Hut in America, are you having an Italian dining experience? And where did the Italians get the idea for pizza…? Marco Polo may have brought it from China.

"This century has seen a drastic expansion of mobility, including tourism, migrant labor, immigration, urban sprawl. More and more people 'dwell' with the help of mass transit, automobiles, aeroplanes… One no longer leaves home confident of finding something radically new, another time or space. Difference is encountered in the adjoining neighborhood, the familiar turns up at the end of the earth." James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture

My strategy for locating all 37 huts began with an English map of Beijing that I found in a tourist magazine. A card of the locations was given to me at the first restaurant I visited. This card was a solution which posed a problem— It was written in Chinese characters that I could not read. Yang Yang, gallery assistant at Imagine Gallery helped me to translate the destinations and we circled them on my map. These circles gave me geographic approximations where I would propel myself, then scan the streets, searching for the Pizza Hut icon. I traveled to each of the locations by foot, by bike, or by bus. These transportation methods rely heavily on the ability to communicate in the local language. I had arrived in Beijing with little to no Mandarin language ability, but my task forced me to learn quickly.

The Pizza Hut red roof logos transcend language and are intended to be friendly and familiar. They are immediate product-recognition. Integral to my search, the logo became a quick friend as it was a great triumph whenever I located one on the street. It was through seeking and finding these red roof icons that I negotiated and categorized the overload of information I was processing as I made my way through Beijing. There were times when after a great deal of searching, I would begin to realize that I was in the wrong place entirely. This realization was derived from the confusion on the faces of the people from whom I was attempting to seek direction by showing them an address on my card. I was often turned around and exhausted by the time I arrived at a location.

An early impetus for my score was the difference in the class of patron and style of decor inside Chinese and American Pizza Huts. Chinese Pizza Huts are more upscale thir American counterpart. This is apparent immediately upon passing one the street. A Chinese Pizza Hut is a place for special occasion dinners, dates, or meetings.

I experienced the residue of the historic meeting place of the pavilion when I was searching for one of my most difficult to find Pizza Hut locations in the southwest of Beijing. One day, after encountering several wrong turns, I walked down an unmarked street. What at first appeared to be a dead-end back alley opened up into XuanWu Park, a public oasis.

From my Blog, July 15, 2008:

Yesterday, the weather was gorgeous in Beijing. The heavy rains on Monday cleared the air and humidity, leaving the sky blue. It was a great day to do a lot of walking. I took 2 busses and a train to get to the Xuanwu area of Beijing. On my hike to the first of 3 Pizza Huts of the day, I stumbled upon the most beautiful little park I have ever seen— Xuanwu Park in the Southwestern part of the city.

I found my way through the project with my feet directly on pavement, waiting for a bus, underground in the Subway, or among the throngs riding bicycles. At some moment in the process, the icon of the red roof morphed into the shape of a hat. As a traveler and a foreign visitor, I was wearing this disguise, trying to be invisible as I made my way through Beijing. Each hat became a home that I collected along the way.