Millie Chen: Tour

Millie Chen: Tour

September 11 – October 15, 2015

Opening Reception: Friday, September 18 2015, 6-8pm

Artist Talk: Friday, September 18 2015, 6:30 pm

It is a great pleasure to open our programming season with a new work by Canadian visual artist Millie Chen whose work has often explored the difficult territories of violence and its representation. With Tour, Chen embarks on an extensive journey to explore what she terms lament geography as her camera “tours” four former genocide sites around the globe. Tour engages intimately with each place via the land itself. As the camera moves restlessly through the landscape, acting as both witness and mourner, the haunting a cappella vocals trouble these mute surfaces with the possibility that peace and reconciliation are still elusive.

Chen has written eloquently about her intentions and thoughts as she undertook this project over a six year period:

“Tour is an audio-video installation that engages with former genocide sites around the globe, provoking the question, how we can sustain the memory of that which has become invisible? I use the audio component to simultaneously challenge/collaborate with the visual to both lull and jar the listener/viewer.

The audio-video project Tour embarks on a global journey, exploring what I term lament geography, contemplating the arguably “healed” sites of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century genocidal massacres. Events that occurred over the last century retain heat, as some victims and perpetrators are still alive, and justice, truth, and reconciliation processes are still underway.[1] Yet, with the passage of this amount of time, these events are already archived as history—we have gained some distance from them, and have even begun to forget.

In Tour, four instances of genocide are “toured” and memorialized. The work moves back and forth through time between the most recent and prominent in short-term public memory and media-coverage frenzy, and the most obscured, poorly memorialized, and largely unrecognized.

Murambi, Rwanda (April 16–22, 1994)
Choeung Ek, Cambodia (April 17, 1975–January 7, 1979)
Treblinka, Poland (July 23, 1942–October 19, 1943)
Wounded Knee, United States (December 29, 1890)

The audio consists of a series of four lullabies (or one morphing lullaby, if it is considered to be a continuous uninterrupted flow of tender lament) that are specific to each cultural location. Based on traditional lullabies, the audio is composed by Juliet Palmer in collaboration with producer Jean Martin and the four female vocalists. There is no lyrical content, only hummed and chanted melodies that pay close attention to the nuances of each cultural context, while trespassing geo-political boundaries: Kinyarwanda, Khmer, Yiddish, Lakota.

At one point during each “tour,” quiet text emerges identifying the location and date of the genocide. These are highly recognizable place names that are still linked in our collective psyche with genocide. While visually unidentifiable as the specific locations where genocide occurred, each land is ultimately stamped with the horror of its particular history.[2] Conveying the sense of physical presence at each location is crucially linked to the ongoing battle over land: who has a right to live on it, occupy it, and what can be bled from it. As Nicholas Mirzoeff has commented, “The pretense of grief is a failure to engage with the questions of colonization, decolonization, and globalization.”[3]

Millie Chen, 2014


[1] Vann Nath, one of the few survivors of the Tuol Sleng prison run by the Khmer Rouge, stated in 2009, “If we demand too much justice then it becomes revenge.”

[2] Although not readily visible, evidently sites do eventually give up their dark pasts: at Choeung Ek, tourists may still come across bone fragments after a rainstorm; at Treblinka, a forensic archaeologist recently located, using ground-penetrating radar, a number of buried pits containing the burnt remains of thousands of people.

[3] Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality (Durham, N.C.: Duke University, 2011).



Composer, Juliet Palmer
Producer, Jean Martin

Traditional Music Sources
Cyusa (Rwandan)
Lakota Lullaby
Bom Pe (Khmer)
Zolst Azoy Lebn (Yiddish)

Maryem Tollar
Jani Lauzon
Christine Duncan
Andrea Kuzmich


Millie Chen’s installations, videos, and interventions are intended as sensorial experiences that prod the perceptual and ideological assumptions of the audience. She has shown her work across Canada, the U.S., and China, and in Mexico, Brazil, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, and Japan. She has exhibited at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, the Centre culturel canadien in Paris, Centro Nacional des las Artes in Mexico City, and the Power Plant in Toronto, with current exhibitions at The Contemporary Austin and Vtape, Toronto. Chen’s work is in several public collections including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Art Bank of Canada Council for the Arts, Canadian Pacific Railway, and Toronto Transit Commission, and she has produced a number of major permanent public art commissions. Her writing has appeared in publications in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and China. She is a Professor in the Department of Art and Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, University at Buffalo, SUNY. Millie Chen is represented by BT&C Gallery.