"The Crane and The Snake"
by Kenneth Tam

The Crane and The Snanke

Photo Credit: Ronald Amstutz. Courtesy The Shed.

Kenneth Tam, "The Crane and the Snake" (detail), 2021. HD video, color, 9 min., 5 sec., audio track of Asian American fraternity chants and Taoist music, two looped digital animations on screens with metal stands, tackling dummies, vinyl-coated fabric, metal grommets, shoelace. Commissioned by The Shed.

Kenneth Huynh
Ray K. Soeun

Director of Photography:
Christian Carroll

Tai-chi Choreography:
Tina Zhang


Costume Design:
Curie Choi

Mores McWreath

Corinne Baptiste

Francis Louvis

Kenneth Tam addresses the contradictory nature of Asian American fraternities and hazing rituals in relation to the Asian cultural heritage and values these groups claim to uphold. The Crane and the Snake, his multichannel video and sculptural installation, includes found audio from these fraternity rites juxtaposed with a slow-moving video of two Asian American men carefully shifting their weight back and forth while moving in sync with each other. Tam’s video simultaneously captures intimacy and sensuality as they engage in “Push Hands,” a form of two-person principle in Tai Chi wherein two partners transfer energy in search of a sense of balance and practice “softness overcoming hardness”. On the two vertical monitors, the men’s faces are overlaid with arrows reminiscent of Traditional Chinese Medicine diagrams showing the circulation of qi, or energy pathways found within the body. Scattered around the space are three semi-exposed tackling dummies that were initially deconstructed to create the performers’ vinyl garments then abstractly restitched together. By engaging with these private ritualistic practices, the artist transforms the destructive energy of fraternal hazing into alternative expressions of self-identity and vulnerability.