But this assemblage of 2,400 empty cans attached to two walls with a grid system and connected with fishing wire—at once simple and enigmatic—gives the viewer no instructions on how to use it. “That never even occurred to me,” Cheng said. “Because communication is a very personal experience, allowing people to figure out what to do with it is in and of itself a form of communication.”
Each can is attached to the one directly across from it on the opposite wall by the fishing wire, creating a familiar communication mechanism: a telephone device like the ones children make. “Before technology, communication is play,” Cheng said. “It’s childlike innocence.
Cheng also enjoys watching the juxtaposition of people using mobile phones near his installation, dealing with the distractions of city life, while others are trying to figure out the intricacies of the sculpture. “I see people play with it but also get frustrated with it.”
But there is another way to look at Miss Communication, which came out of a proposal Cheng, who is from Mainland China, submitted to the FIT Diversity Council. It can be viewed as a means to examine the experience of being an outsider in an ever-changing subculture, which can be arduous when trying to identify both with peers and strangers. Through the various experiences that people have with the installation, the aim is to challenge them to explore different mindsets of a multicultural society.
“It was born out of the experience of people not being able to align with each other in a common experience,” said Cheng. “Age, sex, background, and every experience can change the way you look at things. The project is a very simple idea, but every idea that’s simple is never really that simple when you elaborate on it. I was looking for something everyone could relate to. I read a lot of philosophy, but I don’t have big ideas for my art. I only have personal ideas that people can connect with.”
The Diversity Council chose the project, in part, because it speaks to the issues of difference in culture and because it serves as a platform for communication.
The installation, which took nearly five months to install, will be on view through February.