A(n Underground) Tale of Two Cities (2015)

in collaboration with Yibo Yu and Shiqi Lin

facilitated by Vassar CAAD - Creative Arts Across Disciplines

Subway connects people from all passages of life. Everyday in the tiny subway cabins where all passengers share the sounds, images, motions, temperatures and smells, we interact with countless people of diverse identities and backgrounds but we hardly notice. By recreating a sensory experience of the subway with a primary focus on sound, this project invites you to catch a glimpse of this underground urban everydayness. Through a comparative lens of the metros in Beijing and New York City, we offer you a playful riding experience of dwelling in/between two urban and (multi)cultural ecosystems. You will have the options to turn on/off multiple soundtracks and immerse in an unique underground world as you please.

Listen to the urban heartbeat from the underground and welcome aboard!
— Statement of Collaboratory Project, A(n Underground) Tale of Two Cities

The Collaboratory trailer. Image courtesy to CAAD website. 

The Collaboratory trailer. Image courtesy to CAAD website. 


The Collaboratory is a retrofitted trailer measuring 24Lx8Wx7H. Facilitated by Creative Arts Across Disciplines initiative, an art-based laboratory for interdisciplinarity, The Collaboratory serves as a space to unleash students' creativity. In 2015-2016 academic year, The Collaboratory displays projects revolving theme "Sound." 

As students hailing from Beijing and now living in the vicinity of New York city, Yibo, Shiqi and I hope to use our multi-sensory installation in The Collaboratory, A(n Underground) Tale of Two Cities, to create the experience of subway rides in the two major yet culturally different metropolises. The trailer, which resembles the space of a subway cabin, becomes an amplifier of numerous kinds of sound that filled the tiny cabin space, and our ears. The buzzing of the train echoes with the notification sounds of your smart phone; people's casual talks accompany those songs coming from headphones. The slight sounds of newspaper flipping and coffee sipping secretly reveal themselves during a peculiar interval of silence, and are quickly drowned out. The trailer becomes the subway, and the subway becomes a miniature of two cities, through which we peek into urban lives as concealed as an underground train, as loud as the sounds that penetrate its cabins. 

Video courtesy to Yibo Yu


The trailer is divided evenly along its long axis, as more than ten speakers and earphones are installed on each side, representing an unique sound that one may encounter in the subway in New York or in Beijing. Viewers are invited to switch on or off the speakers, while visual elements, no matter a Facebook icon or an iPad, are hung from the ceiling, providing cues to the audio. Each viewer's dissimilar choice to interact with sounds and space create an experience of his or her own, just as one would experience in a normal subway cabin. Yet unlike a casual ride on a drowsy morning or on an idle afternoon, a 'ride' in The Collaboratory brings the viewer to witness a cityscape flocked with elements that are too typical to be remembered, an urban experience composed by sounds.


For more information on this project, please see:Sounds recreate subway cabin, capture urban experiences covered by the Miscellany News, Vassar College's Student Newspaper.