Wellcome to the idiot world: A Shanzhai Lyric

Bringing together for the first time the complete archive of shanzhai (i.e. counterfeit) garments, Wellcome to the idiot world imagines bootleg t-shirt text as an embodied poem to consider models of collective creation and shared authorship. Shanzhai garments, created largely by Chinese manufacturers, feature phrases that offer profound, nonsensical, and humorous reflections on contemporary life. The installation includes an experimental reading apparatus and meeting place, designed in collaboration with neighboring architecture studio common room, where visitors are invited to try on shanzhai shirts and look through related reading materials. Wellcome to the idiot world considers how nonsense and poetic estrangement make space for hybridity, liminality, and illegibility. Curated by Ming Lin and Alexandra Tatarsky. 

Follow the project on Instagram at @shanzhai_lyric


Shanzhai Lyric is a body of research under the helm of Display Distribute focusing on radical logistics and linguistics through the prism of technological aberration and nonofficial cultures. The project takes inspiration from the experimental English of shanzhai t-shirts made in China and proliferating across the globe to examine how the language of counterfeit uses mimicry, hybridity, and permutation to both revel in and reveal the artifice of global hierarchies. Through an ever-growing archive, Shanzhai Lyric explores the potential of mis-translation and nonsense as utopian world-making and has previously taken the form of poetry-lecture, essay, and installation.

Ming Lin sustains an interdisciplinary practice through writing, research and curation that seeks to address affective spaces fostered along the lines of mass production, tracing distributed networks as a means of surfacing new possibilities for cohabitation and collaborative practice. Documentary gestures and various curatorial and infrastructural experiments are pursued with the aim of exploring bottom-up organization amidst the hegemony of global trade, under the helm of Display Distribute, an itinerant artistic research platform, feral distribution service, now and again exhibition space, and sometimes shop initiated in Kowloon, Hong Kong. She holds an MA from the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths.

Alexandra Tatarsky makes work in the unfortunate in-between zone of comedy, poetry, dance-theater and deluded rant, sometimes with songs. Pieces often incorporate absurdist characters and improvised wordplay, seeking the logic of the clown as an antidote to despair and a model of one who keeps trying despite (repeated) failure. Venues include La Mama, MoMA PS1, The Kitchen, Judson Church and many community gardens and bars. Writings on spambot poetry and miming as an anti-capitalist gesture (lol) appear in publications including New Inquiry, Hypocrite Reader, ArtReview Asia, China Modern Weekly, Garlands, and Folder.  

common-room is an architectural practice with a publishing imprint, and an exhibition space. it is collaborative platform based in new york city and brussels. common room is comprised of architects lars fischer, maria ibañez and todd rouhe; rachel himmelfarb; architectural researcher kim förster; and graphic designer geoff han.


Wellcome to the idiot world: A Shanzhai Lyric is supported in part by a generous grant from the Avery Arts Foundation. This program is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

The 2019-2020 Season at Abrons Arts Center is supported, in part, by generous grants from the Howard Gilman Foundation, the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, the Harkness Foundation for Dance, the Jerome Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, and other generous Henry Street Settlement funders. This program is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and support from the New York State Council on the arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. 

Image: Ann Woo, Courtesy Display Distribute