Student Artist in Residence Grace Li (BC ‘24) revealed their installation everything left unsaid this week, an immersive peek into their childhood as a first-generation Chinese American in New Hampshire. The installation centers themes of nostalgia, memory, and growing up. Staff Writer Catherine Sherman reviews.

As soon as I walked into the Movement Lab, I felt like I had entered someone else’s childhood. Such was the effect of Grace Li’s (BC ‘24) installation everything left unsaid, a work that uses family film and photography to provide a window into the artist’s experience as a first-generation Chinese American growing up in Nashua, New Hampshire. 

The installation, running this week from 2:30 to 7 pm in Barnard’s Movement Lab, explores themes of growing up, family history, and the unreliability of memory. This work is part of Li’s residency with the Movement Lab, during which they have focused on generational storytelling using photographs and archival research. Primarily informed by themes of memory, nostalgia, and family, Li’s guiding question for their work is, “what does it mean to forget?”. 

Everything left unsaid is structured in a way that immerses the viewer in Li’s family history and childhood experiences, with three large projection screens and a constant soundtrack surrounding the viewer from all sides. Two of the projections are arranged side-by-side and both display a slideshow of film photographs from Li’s family history with accompanying captions. The other projection stands alone and plays home videos of Li and their family in different points of life, also providing immersive background noise when viewing the other projections. 

One of the slideshows seems to document the life of Li’s family prior to their birth, starting with images of their parents at the airport in China and following them throughout higher education and the birth of Li’s older brother in the United States. Li’s captions not only provide a narration of their parents’ experiences as new parents and new residents of the United States, but also reveal an underlying sense of nostalgia, gratitude, and melancholia accompanying the passage of time. 

The other slideshow is filled with pictures of Li and their brother throughout their young childhood, captioned with their profound thoughts and questions. Two siblings happily playing and dancing is contrasted with the nostalgic mood of captions that yearn for the simplicity of childhood and the ability to feel the emotions captured in the photographs. Particularly poignant to me, under a photograph of Li and their brother playing on the campus of a boarding school as children, they express their desire to return to the time when a residential school was their playground instead of the important and stress-inducing entity it has become for them now. 

Everything left unsaid provides a moving insight into Li’s life and raises important questions about memories and the forgetfulness that comes with the passage of time. Li taps into nearly universal feelings of nostalgia for aspects of one’s youth, and does so in a powerful way that communicates their unique childhood experiences. After being immersed in everything left unsaid, one will undoubtedly emerge with an appreciation for Li’s experiences, but will also acquire a new lens through which their own past can be considered. 

As for me, I’m left wondering: can we ever truly forget our childhood experiences? 

Everything left unsaid runs from 2:30 to 4 pm until April 7 in Barnard’s Movement Lab.

Header via Barnard College