Artists reveal the daily grind behind Chinatown's street life

Photo: Eric Scholdenfrei and Marisa Yiu

Most days, Chinatown’s Canal Street is a three-ring circus of vendors hawking dumplings, electronic chickadees and NYC ski hats. But in nearby tenement buildings, people are quietly working long hours for little money in businesses that most of us never see. Using video, computers and the shadows of pedestrians, artists Eric Schuldenfrei and Marisa Yiu are out to expose the drudgery behind the bustle with their interactive installation, Chinatown WORK.

The piece includes a platform outside of the HSBC Bank at Canal and Bowery. A video projection displays a typical Chinatown street scene on a wall above this stagelike structure, which is made with recycled plastic imbedded with circuitry. Through a combination of Wi-Fi, software and a camera across Canal Street, the shadows of passersby are instantly replicated within the aforementioned image—but with a twist: Their outlines now contain interior footage, taken by Yiu over several years, of Chinatown sweatshops, restaurants and laundries.

Individual shadows reveal only fragments of these scenes, but if enough people stand in front of the stage, an entire workplace is revealed. “You’re using your silhouette to uncover a hidden economy,” explains Schuldenfrei.

Guilt-tripping isn’t the aim: Yiu hopes to move the installation to Columbus Park this summer to stimulate discussion among community residents. Still, both artists are hoping to make everyone aware of labor’s concealed and often exploitive role in Chinatown’s surreal rush.—Alec Appelbaum

Chinatown WORK opens Tue 18. Go to for more information.