City Beneath The City exposes a history of the valley before it was dubbed Silicon Valley. Linking cultural history and archaeology through visual design, the installation will showcase over 60 artifacts excavated from the site of the 19th century Market Street Chinatown in downtown San Jose.
City Beneath the City is designed by artist Rene Yung and presented in partnership with The Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, History San José and Stanford Archaeology Center. The installation will include a collection of artifacts including ceramic bowls, glassware and vessel fragments that will be presented to render a physical and tactile field. This visual experience seeks to elicit an emotional response, drawing on the viewers' memories and assumptions about what these domestic, fractured and historic objects may represent in the context of a contemporary art space. Through supporting materials including maps, photography, and wall labels, a surprising narrative of a once thriving Chinatown in downtown San Jose, where these object were once from, will unfold for the viewer. By presenting this installation in a contemporary art space, the project curators aim to inspire dialogue on issues ranging from immigration policies, labor, minority struggles, land and urban development.
"The installation mines the intersection between cultural history and the institutional histories surrounding these artifacts, to let nuanced meaning emerge from their interstices and speak of the layered intermingling of the personal, the political, the cultural and the historical," explains artist Rene Yung. "These artifacts are of great importance to the community. Through this installation I want to bring these buried objects to light, by making palpable the fragile thread through time that links the day-to-day lives of the early Chinese settlers in San Jose, and this moment in time in Silicon Valley," notes Yung.
At the height of its existence, the Market Street Chinatown, located at the intersections of Market and San Fernando Streets in downtown San José (a ten minute walk from the ICA), was the largest Chinese community anywhere in the U.S. outside of San Francisco. It flourished both economically and culturally from the 1860s until it was destroyed in an arson fire in 1887. Nearly a century later, the site of Market Street Chinatown was redeveloped to build the Fairmont Hotel and the Silicon Valley Financial Center. Archeologists unearthed what was left at the location only to discover one of the most important excavation sites of Overseas Chinese materials in the United States at the time.
As a western territory and wild frontier, the Bay Area has promised opportunity throughout its history, whether in gold, agriculture or technology. Along with these successes, however, are stories of class struggle and racial bias which are often excluded from the mainstream narrative. In presenting artifacts from the Market Street Chinatown, City Beneath the City will provide a space to reflect on the past – including the remarkable lives and struggles of those early settlers and laborers – in order to imagine the future possibilities for the region.
City Beneath the City is funded in part by Stanford University, including the Department of Anthropology, the Stanford Archaeology Center, the Program on Asian American Studies, the Program on Urban Studies, the Office of the Senior Associate Dean of the Social Sciences, and the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts.