Coproduced by the public art-focused nonprofit No Longer Empty, the exhibition will feature 70-plus examples of his work — drawings, paintings, sculpture, installations and videos. Running through Aug. 7, the multilocation show will include sites in Times Square and the Broadway-Lafayette subway station. Adept at revealing environmental and socioeconomic systems and injustices, Chin recruited the Detroit-born Reese for “Flint Fit,” a fashion project designed to magnify the water crisis in Flint, Mich.
At Chin’s suggestion, 90,000 used water bottles were collected by Flint residents, who continue to use bottled water for everyday purposes more than three years after lead-contaminated water became a citywide problem. Once shipped to Unifi in Greensboro, N.C., the bottles were shredded and converted into fabric. Reese then designed a water-inspired collection that included rainwear and swimwear. About 14 women at the St. Luke N.E.W. Center produced the nine looks, which will be unveiled in a fashion event Sunday in the museum’s Watershed Gallery.
Chin and Reese had never met before last summer, when he approached her about the prospect. “We talked about Flint in general, the challenges and the reality that this crisis is no longer front-page news. But it’s ongoing. Everybody there is still using bottled water for their daily needs,” Reese said. “It’s insane, but the country has moved on. We were thinking, ‘How can that be? It’s been years since this first came to light.’”
The outerwear is intentionally raw-edged as a reminder that “this is a very imperfect world and a very imperfect situation,” Reese said. The collection’s industrial feel shows the garments are made by real people in Flint and not a couture atelier in Paris, she said. The collection will not be sold, but it may lead to other production in Flint. “The idea is to open the door to the possibility,” said Reese, noting how the 14-person factory has select apparel contracts, including one with Stormy Kromer for vests.
Before visiting the center several times, Reese researched Flint’s history in search of its heyday, which spanned the early 1900s when the automotive industry fueled municipal growth. Chin did his own exploration. “He’s an amazing man to know. Obviously, incredibly talented but so caring. You know he’s not a surface kind of guy. He gets in deep,” Reese said. “It’s all very real. He made several trips to Flint, engaged with people there to talk about the problem to try to find some kind of solution, and also to create a positive project that could give them some hope.”
Like Detroit native Jeffry Aronsson, Reese is confident about its future. Having been there over Easter, she said, “There is so much going on, a lot of excitement and new industry being created. There is just so much opportunity there now or there can be. People are really working toward that. It’s exciting to see and something that I definitely want to be a part of.
“People see it as the Brooklyn of tomorrow in so many ways. You can go to Detroit. It’s an affordable cost of living. There is a spirit in the air that you can do important work and make something happen. You can go there and be an artist and be able to support yourself. You can find a space and an audience for what you do. There is a lot of optimism and a lot of work right now that needs to be done. There is still a ton of poverty and blight and you name it. But there is also a lot of hope,” she added.