Temporal Text

Personal Description
Nativity, Mother Tongue, Citizenship, and Naturalization
Occupation, Military Service, and Health
Artist Bio

Furen Dai charts shifts in language within US census forms across several decades, which speak to larger social transformations.

Part of The Stakes of Naming, a series that asks an array of writers and artists what they need to say to live.



In response to the prompt for this series on naming, I was thinking about a passage from Trinh Minh-ha’s elsewhere, within here: “From one category, one label to another, the only way to survive is to refuse. Refuse to become an Integra table element. Refuse to allow names arrived at transitionally to become stabilized..."

This project gathers information from the US National Archives and the US Census Bureau, consulting original census forms, enumerator manuals, and census data. The initial Federal Population Census was conducted in 1790, and subsequent censuses, with updated language, have been conducted every ten years. Every decade of social contextual evolution has been compressed and incorporated, resulting in subtle changes in the language within the forms—including alterations in punctuation, pronouns, and the introduction of additional choices, among other aspects.

This project employs a comparative study framework, which allows us to identify significant societal and ideological transformations, with a focus on themes such as slavery, racial classification, industries, health, migration patterns, linguistic variations, domestic environments, family relationships, the impact of wars, etc. The shifts in language within the forms also shed light on the process of vocabulary attrition and renewal, where certain terms gradually fade from functional use while new terms come to life.


[Click the images to view PDFs in fullscreen.]















Furen Dai is an artist whose recent projects explore the origins of languages, categories, and systems that speak to larger socio-political structures. Her work manifests these concepts physically through the exploration of material, display, lighting, architecture, and text. Dai's art practice is crossdisclipinary spanning across video, 16mm film, publishing, sculpture, drawing, and photography. She is also the co-founder of current press, an experimental platform that focuses on books and zine projects published by women. Selected exhibitions include: New England Triennial 2022; The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation (2021), National Art Center, Tokyo (2018); amongst others. She has participated in residencies, including International Studio and Curatorial Programs (ISCP), Art OMI, and MacDowell. She is also the recipient of The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation Fellowship (2017), ZK/U Berlin Fellowship (2021), and SMFA traveling Fellowship (2022). Dai holds a BA in Russian language and literature from Beijing Foreign Studies University and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University.

Banner illustration: Jocelin Kee.



Furen DAI, 戴馥任

Fri, 13 Oct 2023

Relevant content

The Stakes of Naming
Part of series

The Stakes of Naming

A series that asks an array of writers and artists what they need to say to live