Shanzhai Lyric: Canal Street Research Association at Canal Projects
September 29, 2022 – April 23, 2023
351 Canal St
New York, NY
Canal Projects is proud to feature a rotating series of local residencies by artists, writers, and organizations in the lower-level library to reflect on New York City’s diverse cultural fabric. For its inaugural program, Canal Projects will host poetic research unit Shanzhai Lyric, with their fictional office Canal Street Research Association.
Established in 2015, Shanzhai Lyric, led by the artists Ming Lin and Alexandra Tatarsky, investigates global trade networks, informal markets, and the poetics of counterfeit goods. 山寨, or “shanzhai,” means “counterfeit” in contemporary Chinese usage, but translates literally to “mountain hamlet.” This makes reference to an enclave on the outskirts of empire where bandits abscond with goods to redistribute among those on the margins. In 2020, Shanzhai Lyric founded Canal Street Research Association in an empty storefront on Canal Street, New York City’s counterfeit epicenter, using this site as a base from which to delve into the cultural and material ecologies of the street and its long history as a place that probes the limits of authorship and ownership.
Responding to waves of gentrification and displacement, Canal Street Research Association occupies various disused spaces, accumulating stories and artifacts gifted and gleaned from Canal Street’s community of artisans, retailers, vendors, and inhabitants to create a portrait of the block. Now, Canal Street Research Association has gone underground, using Canal Projects’ subterranean library as an opportunity for further investigations into hidden histories. Taking cues from Canal Projects’ restored “illuminated walkways” overhead—the glass and cast-iron sidewalks designed in the early twentieth century to provide light to basement workers—Canal Street Research Association will explore the literal and metaphoric undercurrents of Canal Street, from basement factories, to counterfeit warehousing and escape routes, to the massage parlors and covert nightlife enabled by the semi-licit activities of the street.
Throughout their six-month residency (September 2022 through April 2023), Canal Street Research Association will play host to a series of after-hours screenings and conversations. The library is open for viewing and consultation by visitors during Canal Projects’ regular hours of operation (Tuesday through Saturday, 12 – 6 pm), with office hours by appointment. Public-facing programs organized by Canal Street Research Association will address the currents of water, waste, and labor that underpin the long history and rich cultures of Canal Street and the surrounding marshy ecology.
“Before Canal Street was a street, it was a canal,” says Canal Street Research Association, “The natural creek was dug out to channel the contaminated waters of nearby Collect Pond into the rivers that surround Manhattan. But the stench of sewage and industrial run-off was too strong, and the canal was covered up to form Canal Street. Nonetheless, water still flows beneath these sidewalks. We trace buried flows to see where they lead and what they reveal.”
Honoring the natural strata and cultural legacy that make Canal Street, Canal Projects is proud to host and support the work of Canal Street Research Association, and to build on their work to strengthen the diverse communities of one of Manhattan’s oldest and busiest commercial districts.