Join us for a special screening of Silent Spikes, a work in which artist Kenneth Tam uses movement, theatrical staging, and historical narrative to question existing ideas about the performance of masculinity, and the way those normative performances become mythologized in figures like the cowboy. If the cowboy can be understood as shorthand for a set of ideas that says as much about the violent foundations of maleness in the American imagination as it does about how we celebrate the values exemplified by this figure, then where do men of Asian descent find themselves within this representational landscape? And how can sensuousness complicate these performances, and allow for an erotics of both resistance and care?
Silent Spikes explores the intersections of gender, race, and labor in the context of the intertwined histories of Westward expansion and Chinese immigration in the United States, as embodied in the building of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad. This context has special resonance on the Stanford campus, given that Leland Stanford, as president of Central Pacific Railroad Company, employed Chinese migrants to do the more hazardous, backbreaking work of building the transcontinental railroad. Between 1863 and 1869, fifteen to twenty thousand Chinese laborers helped execute one of the most ruthless engineering ventures in American history, a colonial project that displaced countless Indigenous people and allowed the Stanfords to amass significant wealth. Interspersed throughout Silent Spikes are narrative and visual references to an 1867 strike undertaken by thousands of Chinese Transcontinental Railroad workers—the largest organized labor action in U.S. history to that point.
The screening will be introduced by Veronica Roberts, John and Jill Freidenrich Director, Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, and will be followed by a conversation with Tam and Ballroom Marfa executive director and curator Daisy Nam, and Cantor Curator of Photography and New Media Maggie Dethloff. This program is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Kenneth Tam: All of M, on view at the Cantor Arts Center from May 31, 2023–November 12, 2023.