Having spent almost half of my life in the West now, I am always conscious of real or mythical boundaries between East and West. In The Beginning of the East, I am asking the questions “Where do we begin as Asians?” and “Where do we end?” The Western boundary between West and East appears to be Istanbul, but the Christians, Muslims and Jews are at least from similar cultures. I thought I might find a clue in the Gobi Desert of China, where suddenly, Asians appear to be Asians no more. Or is that where they started to become Asians?
The Beginning of the East
6 photo cibachromes 16” x 20” (40cm x 50 cm) 1990
Tutchone. Kaska. Tsetsaut. Sekani. Carrier. Haida. Tsimshian. Bella Bella. Bella Coola.
Central to any travel is the notion of a home, a point of reference or return. The work presented here is developed around questions of territory and exploration, cliche and fact. It addresses travel as the displacement of self and others. In part, this work describes a trip to China I made in 1987 with my family. This book is also a comment on the way expectations proscribe exploration/ discovery, and how we are moved by the attitudes we carry with us. As relentless tourists we choose not to meet ourselves on the road.
I Have Always Loved the Romance of Travel
24-page book with b/w photos and text on recycled paper
5 1/2"x7 1/2" (14cm x 19cm), edition of 1000, 1988-1990
This work was done at a time when I was thinking a lot about the idea of "mentorship". Two obvious references are made: My grandfather, always calm, resilient and full of humour, and Lee Ao (with whom I have never communicated in real life), one of the most formidable historians and men of letters in Taiwan, who spent ten years behind bars because of his anti-Nationalist views. I then thought about the difficulties of claiming someone as your mentor who is not from your own culture.
25-page accordion book with b/w photos and text 10" x 14" (25cm x 35cm) 1987
My work deals with the present Hong Kong situation and the lives of Hong Kong immigrants in Vancouver. It is not meant to be didactic in any way but is meant as an objective reflection of the current or everchanging situation. With the help of mass media, the myth of Hong Kong immigrants is being inflated to a cosmic proportion. Hopefully, my work can shed some light on the "Immigrant Phobia".
For many years, Vancouver East has been a favourite residential area for new immigrants. The crumbling power post, the unattended lawn, the bare arid rugged landscape lend an unmistakable character. Here, many new lives begin and many old dreams are buried. East End Afternoon is an attempt to contemplate a promise offered by the New World, a promise of a better tomorrow.
East End Afternoon cibachrome
20"x20" (50cm x 50cm) 1988
"the last 3 days with Hiro Mayumi and Rei together"
"a small harbour on nomi island one hot afternoon in may"
"her last trip up to the family grave on the top of mt. hitsudan"
its my conviction that a true amateur photographer is a wind and weather man in more ways than one. being a bit like basho and a host of other perennial 'on the roadsters' i use a camera instead of a sumi brush to brush in the details of an altogether salutory moment. "these snaps me thinks, have callit, their own forebearers." their seeking.
3 sets of colour prints 8"x10" (20cm x 25cm):
27 photos and text 9'x3' (270cm x 90cm)
18 " " " 6'x3' (180cm x 90cm)
27 " " " 9'x3' (270cm x 90cm)
had we known that she could withstand such massive changes
would we have respected her sooner?
now, she challenges every ideal you hold about yourself and
about her, and you realise she is strong
as she gently seduces you, you realise how you are losing
definition and you fight back
you invade her because she is strong and desirable
she will say that there is much work to do
she will say she does not want you
that she does not need you
you will realise how foreign you are
and in defense you will say "Your men are the women of our world"
she will say that there is much work to do
you adore her in her mystery, the mystery so constantly built
and encouraged by your adoration
i could tell you that you have never known her, never seen her,
never listened to her and that her name is not china, that
you are china
i could tell you she is beside you
The title of Ubiquitous China was inspired by a book written in 1890 titled The History of British Columbia. It contains a chapter titled The Ubiquitous Chinaman. I came to realize how ubiquitous we really were in the manned psyche of the west. In every other that threatens this psyche we can be found in different forms and disguises with various mythologies.
English, with its history of imperialism and colonization of minds, is a syntactical problem. Its writing reinforces its history because it was the only language accepted in its colonies. At this point, I know how to speak Cantonese at the simple level of a child. I get my writing translated into Chinese to decolonize the english and to throw in a spanner to make it work. I am dependent on english to deflate that which itself has created. I am dependent because it has become the native tongue that most of the reading world knows or wants to know. It is the audacious syntax that generates its own meanings and expectations within contexts it knows nothing about.
colour cibachrome prints with text
2 panels 2.5'x5' each (75cm x 150cm)
4 laminated text panels 11"x17" each (28cm x 18cm) 1990
As a young Vietnamese Canadian I am often frustrated with the mass media portrayals of immigrants. In my case, I feel typecast because of the war. There is an underlying assumption that I am somehow responsible for the American intervention. As an artist, I find it difficult not to confront this stereotyping. The Yellow Poem Project will give viewers, through the use of photo-based montages and the photocopier, my perspective as a New Canadian. Hopefully this might help promote a better understanding of the dilemmas and difficulties of being a visible minority.
The Yellow Poem Project
24-page colour photocopier book
8 1 /2"x11 "( 21 cm x 28cm), edition of 30
Colour photocopier print 22"x17" (55cm x 43cm) 1990
Language rights ring with irony here on the west coast, as it should all over Canada. The historicity of the Anglo-Franco struggle is steeped within a regionalism that purports a nationalism negating all other (sub-) cultures. A voice to be heard would become a bilingual voice-yet how would this differ from a unilingual context if one is positioned, or more accurately, left out of the dialogue? A voice need only be heard by what would be considered a legitimized majority comprising of that bilingual reality. All other realities remain undeciphered, even if validated. And such experiences remain hidden from view, even if they occur in front of you.
colour photos with sand blasted glass text
20"x30" (50cm x 75cm) 24"x24" (60cm x 60cm) 1989
His world is filtered from magazines, music records, television, videos, books and cinematic fantasies. Collected icons enshroud him like a steambath for the senses.
He lives with his parents. He has become as fascinating as the things that fascinate him.
He is a hybrid of polarized cultures and he moves with sinewy elegance between them.
Tommy seen through my own cycles of portraiture is Tommy as evidenced through his cycles of influence.
b/w photographs, 5 prints 16” x 20” (40cm x 50cm) 1988
The British Columbia coast - my birthplace and spiritual home, my 'furusato'.
I was born in the Fraser Valley, the fifth addition to a burgeoning immigrant clan who, after years of backbreaking labour, had managed to turn a few acres of stubborn forest into a prosperous berry farm.
Less than a year later, all that was taken from us as I was carried in my mother's arms into the cattle stalls of Hastings Park and then to the tar-paper shacks of Tashme. The year was 1942 and the Canadian Government had just declared some 22,000 Nikkei (Japanese Canadians) 'Enemy Aliens' in their own land. Thriving coastal communities, like the fishing village of Steveston and Vancouver's boisterous Little Tokyo, disappeared overnight as the Nikkei were herded into isolated concentration camps in the interior of BC
After the war, my family managed to escape deportation to Japan and instead, we suffered a lesser banishment to rural Ontario, some 3000 miles away. After five years in a remote mountain camp we were suddenly thrust into the terrifyingly white world of Chatham, where on weekdays I would fight my way to school and on weekends I would go to the local theatre to watch John Wayne machine-gun yet another battalion of the yellow hordes. With a longing born of desperation, I wanted to be white, as pure and heroic as John Wayne.
I almost succeeded, except that I turned on the TV one day in the early 60's and saw some black youths, with raw eggs and Coca-Cola streaming down their faces, calmly sitting at a forbidden lunch counter in Mississippi. They just sat there, an imminent presence, and in some deep but yet unnamed part of me I understood their struggle.
I went South and, for the next two years, grew and flourished in one of the brightest moments of American life. From the terror and beauty of the Black Belt South I began to forge a new identity. I rode the tumultuous wave of the 60's as it rolled through the communities of the dispossessed within my own country. The waves finally broke, not on the shores of a bright new millennium, but on the banalities of flower power and the self-indulgences of the drug culture. I went to Japan.
My parents sailed from these shores over half a century earlier to fulfill their dream of riches in the new land and now their mutant son was back in the fold, basking in the sea of physical anonymity. Japan, this nation of such power and cultural depth, was part of my heritage, but as time wore on it became apparent that I would be a 'gaijin', a stranger in a strange land. A life, created and tempered in the crucible of the North American melting pot, could never fully hope to bridge the gaps of language and culture in this monolithic land. And in the longing for the immensity of the Canadian landscape, I came to realize that the resolutions in life must be tilled from my native soil.
Japan was the bridge to home, the final crossing in my return to 'Furusato'.
Since my return I have joined in the re-creation of community. We, who have made our lives in the tattered remains of Little Tokyo, have delved into our mutual past and discovered that the mark of 'enemy alien' is not an indelible genetic trait, but was, in those war years, simply a result of political evil and opportunism. With that knowledge we have striven for political maturity by demanding a full accounting from the Canadian nation state.
But more than that is our spiritual awakening which can best be discerned in the thunderous drumbeats of Katari Taiko as it rolls across Oppenheimer Park where once the mighty Asahi baseball team thrilled a past generation of Asian Canadians. And every year on a summer's weekend amidst the gaiety of the Powell Street Festival one can hear the echoes of the indomitable presence of the Nikkei.
b/w photo panels 6 panels:
11"x26" (28cm x 65cm),
14"x26" (35cm x 65cm),
14"x29" (35cm x 73cm),
24"x24" (60cm x 60cm),
14"x26" (35cm x 65cm),
24"x24" (60cm x 60cm) 1988
I am primarily concerned with questions of self and other in relation to the constructed nature of feminine and ethnic identity. Psychoanalytic theory has been utilized by feminists to investigate the mechanisms of sexual difference, that is, issues of sexuality and representation. Currently, I am fascinated by the provisional possibilities of employing psychoanalytic concepts, as one tool among many, in order to examine analogous social and psychic processes with regard to notions of cultural difference. I derive immense pleasure from incorporating rather than isolating what is termed as the theoretical, the autobiographical, the poetical, etc. This refusal to replicate the univocity of dominant hegemonic discourses arises from a desire to participate in a heterogenous engagement with difference(s), within difference, without indifference.
(Inter)reference Part I, (Im)permanent (Re)collection
Photo-based installation elements: 3-drawer display case 25"x25"x35" (64cm x 64cm x 87cm), books, text on wall, colour transparencies, photographs, clothing, 1990
As a Chinese Canadian in the Chinese population, I am considered a 'jook sing' (bamboo sling with two water weights) or 'jook kaak' (bamboo knot, caught in the middle, dual cultures). It was with these concerns that I travelled to China for the first time.
The two main objectives were to meet my mother's family and see the life in my ancestral homeland. I gained a number of insights that answered some questions - as well as raising new ones. I share with the viewer the search for Namcheng (the village), the environment, the emotions, and the reality of the event.
b/w photo-emulsion on handmade paper 8 panels 2'x3' (60cm x 90cm) each
it isn't the scene for the most appropriate ghost
although the thought of recent dying thoughts swirls
amid the ritual unravelling christmas morning
the darkest regions of chinatown awaken
homeless thoughts shed their scabs
the martyrs have burned the heroes returned
and the witches and soothsayers rule
lord kwan shares his table with the christmas pagan god
repartee on mercy and love turns
to ice skating on the sun yat sen garden pond
and whether number ninety-nine has chinese blood
the ice surface is but an infinite lake
in celestial canada
we bring together our loved ones
collect the bones of dead birds
simmer slowly with fresh rice and lotus water
into a gruel of turkey jook
to sate the hunger of our laundryman past
I wish to straddle the eastern dragon
and cruise vancouver harbour
count the buoys and leave markers
along the shoreline
visit the camp of long dead railway workers
and enquire from the buddha priest hui shen
who sailed this early coast and rode its roller coaster
down to fusang to live among the aztec
I want to ask him if it's true
if it has to be the way it is
and I am where I am
and the surface of the sun yat sen pond
is truly an infinite lake
in celestial canada
jimmy the waiter
memories of the old kubla khan night club
b/w photocopier poems on scrolls 52"x21" (132cm x 54cm), 54.5"x21" (139cm x 54cm) 36"x21" (92cm x 54cm), 59"x21" (150cm x 54cm) 1987-1990
b/w photo triptych 14"x33 1/2" (35cm x 84cm) 1987