As he opened his new Industry City-based art installation, “Elevator Etiquette,” artist Chella Man briefly touched on the motivation behind his work.
“All my works invite you to think outside of the containers that we are asked to think within,” he said on April 20. “I was never given the privilege to think within these containers because of who I am as a human being. My very existence is proof that these containers don’t work.”
The young artist was invited to paint a mural in one of the elevators at Industry City as part of his residency at the creative center and commercial complex in Brooklyn. In true Chella Man fashion, he went beyond the limitations of painting and created an immersive elevator experience.
“The piece is basically about breaking elevator etiquette,” Chella Man said, referring to universally accepted but unspoken rules in elevators — such as not speaking or looking at people.
He had the ambition of creating this elevator experience so that “people could stay for a little bit. Instead of it being a space in between, the elevator becomes a final destination,” which is comfortable and fun.
Living within the intersection of several marginalized identities, Chella Man’s artwork is fueled by passion — especially within the current political climate. On his website, Chella Man describes his own identity as “Deaf, trans, Jewish, and Chinese as well as determined, curious, and hopeful.”
“It feels like the only thing I can do is art,” he said. “Art has always been a way of survival for me. I just can’t imagine myself doing anything besides this.”
Chella Man’s artwork comes to life in the elevator itself, which has fully mirrored walls, ceiling, and flooring so that riders have to acknowledge each other.
“You can’t avoid looking at them, and not only that, you have to look at yourself too,” Chella Man said.
Inside the elevator, a transparent block with holographic questions invites people to talk and engage.
“You don’t need to have a verbal discussion,” he clarified. “As a deaf person, I know that that’s not necessarily the most accessible communication. So, there is also a pen and paper provided.”
Written discussions can be put into a box next to the writing utensils to collect past exchanges. Further setting a comfortable mood, the elevator is engulfed in blue light to facilitate trust and connection — a product of Chella Man’s research into chromotherapy. Some written discussions are being scattered throughout Industry City’s complex with QR codes pointing people towards the location of the elevator experience.
“A lot of my work deals with discarding binaries,” Chella Man explained. “I enjoy leaning into these spaces between two points – because that’s where I live!”
His interest in fluidity and in-between-ness also becomes apparent when looking at Chella Man’s interdisciplinary approach to art.
“I never considered myself as only one thing — within every facet of life,” he said. “I never approach art by thinking that if I have an idea, it has to fit into the constraints of paper or the constraints of photography. I am just curious what medium will best convey the message I am trying to express.”
Over the past years, Chella Man has gained the resources to fully dive into his creativity. He said he grew up using pen and paper to demonstrate his artistic side, but nowadays he says he is “leaning into” making art installations and films. On March 24, Chella Man released his newest short film, “The Device That Turned Me Into A Cyborg,” which deals with his personal experience with cochlear implants. These implants can provide a sense of hearing to deaf or hard-of-hearing people.
While fluidity of identity is apparent within all his works, Chella Man is aware how he might be perceived by a mainstream art audience. He acknowledges that “I have been pigeonholed – but I mean, it’s just a matter of how people see you, it doesn’t say anything about the work that you do. When you want to stand by who you are and your identities, you will be pigeonholed.”
Nevertheless, he stresses that his art goes beyond his own political identities.
“The right people will understand that too,” he said.
“Elevator Etiquette” is on display for undetermined time at Industry City in Brooklyn.