essay 01: orientations
How have we arrived here? In direct terms, this present writing is concerned with a body of critical creative work produced as part this dissertation, most of which I had the opportunity to show during a “dissertation exhibition” at Human Resources Los Angeles (HRLA) in the summer of 2022. The works in the exhibition titled New seed. XXXXXX. New seed. XXXXXX., include three multimedia installation works that leveraged projection, sculpture, video, interactive elements, and sound, and included a zine with the same title as the exhibition. In addition to the pieces shown in the exhibition, this body of work also includes an eleven-minute experimental animation piece, titled INTERLINKED. In short, the body of creative work considered within this dissertation project is six distinct yet interconnected multimedia works and a prologue.
This work draws on and expands earlier research trajectories performed during the course of this doctoral degree — namely in to know a site (2020), // (2018), and blue willow shards (2020). To know a site is an experimental art game and lyric essay that uses the metonymic slippages of “site”, “cite”, and “sight” to probe how we come to know sites/spaces. The piece continuously recombines and reconstitutes the emergent digital geographies and views through a combination of the user’s in-game movement as well as algorithmic randomisation, questioning the stability of conceptions of bodies and environments in physical and virtual spaces. The work questions the technological and ideological systems that facilitate our navigation through (computational) spaces and brings these oft-assumed structures to the fore. How do the tools we use influence how we encounter, design, and understand spaces (virtual, physical, or otherwise)? How do computational tools shape and prioritize certain knowledges, practices, and aesthetics over others? What gets neglected? to know a site generates its visuals and multiple perspectives in real-time with algorithmic assistance, allowing for emergent alignments and recombinant computational processes to arise and shift the veilance of the work. The piece observes how the formation of sites (virtual sites, sites of inquiry, epistemological sites) relies on citational practices and frames of reference as primarily relational processes, while using algorithmic noise to facilitate a channel of openness and specificity (sitedness).
The game intentionally leverages basic digital geometries and aesthetics to not only draw attention to the constructed nature of the environment and the positional/situated nature of perception (i.e. via first-person camera perspective), but also to create a sense of alienation from the physical body itself, through the tension of its total absence and would-be unfamiliarity in the limited representational gamespace, the player’s body using basic mouse-WASD controls, and the disembodied voice delivering the essay. This tension of and in the body and its visibility, legibility, and vacuity is a throughline in my work, particularly as it relates to “race” and “gender”, namely as an Asian femme living on Turtle Island/North America.
An earlier work that more intimately tends to this thread is // (2018), a multimedia installation developed during a residency at TongLau Space, an artist-run space in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok Flower District in July 2018. The work features projection mapping onto my mother’s clothes from when she emigrated (alongwith my father and older sister) from Hong Kong to Canada in the early 1990’s, and attempts to linger with the liminal sites and the generational, geographic, cultural, linguistic gaps and contradictions that emerge from being part of the Hong Kong diaspora. The piece is driven by a sound composition using generative samples and audio recordings of urban sound walks from Vancouver and Hong Kong. The clothes hang on the wall as they are projection mapped onto with audio-reactive textures, which include the names of my extended family members in Chinese and English (many of whom still live in Hong Kong), generative (real-time code-based) visuals, and video footage from riding transit in Vancouver and Hong Kong (TransLink/Skytrain and MTR, respectively).
// raises a number of throughlines that permeate through to the present body of work; these might also be thought of as surface tensions that necessarily remain unresolved. As already mentioned, the work surfaces the tensions of the absent/present body, namely the “Asian” “femme” figure in me and my mom through the un/worn hanging clothes. It also attends to the materiality of media and surface in their textural, haptic, and compositional capacities, a point I will continue to elaborate. Furthermore, Hong Kong as a staging for this installation holds particular significance; it creates a sounding between the exhibition site and the work’s content, my personal and familial history of transpacific movement, and Hong Kong’s own complex and ongoing colonial history as a site of inter-imperial entanglement and contestation.
A brief recounting: Hong Kong in its colonial/modern formation was ceded by the Qing Empire to the British as an outcome of the First Opium War in 1842, a concession enabled by and for Britain’s colonial capitalist expansion of tea and narcotics. Its political ontology has been uncertain since its formation; as a region it has always been positioned and leveraged as a “pawn of empires” that has seen it develop from “mercantilist entrepôt, then industrial export center, and finally a financialized services hub”. Hong Kong’s history has seen it through a transformation from a colonial city to a global city, and with it, carries the mutations and permutations of imperialism/capitalism. Following multiple renewals of Hong Kong’s “lease” to the British, the 1984 signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration promised Hong Kong’s “return” to China (by now the People’s Republic of China run by the Chinese Communist Party) on July 1, 1997. Despite the Chinese government’s promise to uphold the negotiated “one country, two systems” self-governance policy for 50 years until 2047, the already limited democratic rights of Hong Kong people have been rapidly eroded further, engendering mass uprisings like the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the 2019-2020 protests, in which Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO) for the first time in 50 years. The British colonial era law is functionally equivalent to martial law, which grants the Chief Executive unlimited power to contain ‘serious public danger,’ and empowers the government to act and impose measures at will such as censorship, arrest, detention and deportation, as well as the authorization to enter, search, and take possession of property. Simultaneously, Hong Kong’s enduring geographic role as a globalized site of capital and trade has also facilitated the U.S. power and a stake in this transpacific site of contestation, a type of “elided imperialism”.
Hong Kong has been a key site for the production, implementation, and circulation of colonial/modern discourse and disciplinary practices, namely in the surveilling, controlling, and creation of racialized subjects and/as commodity, particularly non-European bodies that could provide “free labor” and generate transpacific forms of capital. It occupies a particular site within modernity’s globalized cultural imaginary: its “unbridled success” and position as an enduring postmodern city has contributed to techno-orientalist discourse and inspired cyberpunk cultural productions, emblematized by its iconic neon skyline. Transpacific scholar Christopher Chien observes the “use of Hong Kong as a pawn of empires requires it be hidden in plain sight; its inter-imperial entanglement requires we see a ‘freedom’ that’s not there.” Cultural theorist Rey Chow notes Hong Kong is unique precisely in its “in-betweeness and awareness of impure origins, of origins as impure.” Writing prior to Hong Kong’s 1997 handover, Chow states
Hong Kong’s postcoloniality is marked by a double impossibility — it will be impossible to submit to Chinese nationalist/nativist reposession as it has been impossibile to submit to British colonialism. As such, Hong Kong’s ‘postcolonial’ reality expunges all illusions of the possibility of reclaiming a ‘native’ culture, illusions that have remained the strongest grounds for anticolonial resistance among previously colonized countries around the world. Instead, Hong Kong confronts us with a question that is yet unheard of in colonial history: how do we talk about a postcoloniality that is a forced return (without the consent of the colony’s residents) to a ‘mother country,’ itself as imperialistic as the previous colonizer?
Since its colonial inception, Hong Kong has existed in anticipation of its own effacement, contributing to what cultural studies theorist Ackbar Abbas writing in the 1990’s termed a “culture of disappearance,” spurred on at the time by the signing of the 1984 Joint Declaration and the anticipation of its 1997 handover. A “culture of disappearance” challenges the aspirational and assimilatory processes of identification, visibility, and representation which stem from the values of the colonial imaginary. “Disappearance” signals not nonappearance or lack of presence, but rather is a question of misrecognition, replacement, and substitution, a process of surface mutability that has been leveraged by those in power to maintain control whilst offering opportunities to destabilize and problematize representation and self-representation. This culture of disappearance creates a very strong (if false) sense of the temporary — Hong Kong is a “space of transit…located…at the intersections of different times or speeds.” To attune to Hong Kong is to exist within continuous spatio-temporal dis/location. In Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong (2022), journalist Louisa Lim notes “just as Hong Kong itself had once been an amorphous idea waiting to be pinned down on a map, Hong Konger’s identity had always been plural, more like a constellation of evolving and overlapping self-images rather than one fixed point of light.” Hong Kong holds a paradoxical relation to representation, a site of interlocking and contested representations that challenges singular and essentialist notions of identity. In attending to Hong Kong, I signal a relation to and acknowledgement of the interconnecting and contradictory histories of globalized encounter (with a focus on the transpacific) that is simultaneously a history of imperialistic/capitalistic violence and dispossession in the process of being written and unwritten.
These transpacific histories of racialized and gendered labor, commodity, representational bindings, and surface affects are central to blue willow shards (2020), the final “preceding” work to this dissertation body of making. Blue willow shards is a multimedia lyric essay that includes speculative writing alongside images and animations that reflect on the materiality of the Asian female body as it is evoked and encoded through aesthetic and technological apparatuses within the space of the frame. This work enacts a process of layering multiple forms of media on top of each other, including projection, bodies, video, and other digital elements to consider how modes of being are encrusted and made legible (or otherwise) by interactions between representational and technological boundaries and limits, including elements often overlooked and taken for granted such as resolution, frame rate, and color settings. The work features an imitation Chinese “blue willow” porcelain pattern popularized by Dutch trader Thomas Minton in the 1790’s that has historically been used to conjure and invoke an Asiatic imaginary.
Blue willow shards originated as a response to and grappling with Anne Anlin Cheng’s theory of ornamentalism. Her critical theoreticization of Asiatic femininity describes the precarious state of the “yellow woman”, a “figure so suffused with representation that she is invisible, so encrusted by aesthetic expectations that she need not be present to generate affect, and so well known that she has vanished from the zone of contact”. Ornamentalism names the “peculiar processes (legally, materially, imaginatively) whereby personhood is named or conceived through ornamental gestures, which speak through the minute, the sartorial, the prosthetic, and the decorative.” It names the slippage between personhood and objecthood that figures Asiatic femininity, a slippage that asks how racial person-objecthood is assembled not through notions of organic flesh but rather synthetic invention, not through corporeal embodiment but rather metonymic attachments that are superficial, transitory, and imaginary. Ornamentalism is one of the key texts that has guided the inquiries in this present body of work.
//, BWS, and to know a site each bring forth speculative sites of inquiry that highlight the entanglements of the personal, cultural, technological, and epistemological through and within critical creative praxis to reveal traces of colonialism/modernity. They demonstrate how I use an autotheoretical diasporic lens in my research and creative practice to move across geographic and conceptual sites, understanding the body and our relations as archives of situated knowledge that are intimately shaped and influenced by ongoing legacies of empire and colonialism. These works linger at and expand the surface as textured sites of reciprocal contact and intimacy.
In Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media, Giuliana Bruno theorizes the surface as an architecture, materially reconfiguring surface as one that is inhabited and uncovers the relational and material nature of surface, canvas, screen, and wall. Her theoretical weavings attend to the surface as a haptic site, a multitextural connective tissue that fashions space and signals a state of becoming for the subjects enframed and those encountering it. Core to her project is a consideration of the art of projection and its activation of the relations of light as “permeable architecture…a sensing of place, which touches our inner senses while returning us to the environment.” Light attunes us to the unfolding of space durationally; via projection, it opens up possibilities to fashion and craft emergent architectures and facilitate unexpected modes of public intimacy and shared inhabitance. It holds the capacity to destabilize perceived boundaries and reorder modes of knowing and sensing. In this sense, this refashioning of architectures and subjectivities through light and surface offers an understanding of the world not in terms of discrete objects with easily identifiable boundaries, but rather as ongoing, enacted “dynamic topological reconfigurings/entanglements/relationalities/(re)articulations” that come to form through relationally constitutive processes of meaning-making that disrupt stabilized conceptions of matter and materiality. Within this context, light “can be seen as an implicated force to be worked with akin to the way that a potter might throw clay or a basket weaver might ply reed.” These works leverage multiple spatio-temporal media to craft inhabitable sites that activate embodied and material memory and surfaces histories and affects of diasporic movement that may otherwise go unspoken or unacknowledged. Together the works surface questions of aesthetics, embodiment, materiality, and affect to probe and destabilize normative modes of representation and relation within aesthetic and epistemological inquiry which continue in the present dissertation work.
The body of work emerges from a grappling with the interconnected violences of aesthetics, rhetoric, and institutions on the onto-epistemological formation of Asian femmes, within the understanding that we continue to live in a world of realities intimately and violently structured by empire, colonialism, and modernity. Though modernity’s epistemologies would have me maintain (or perhaps more accurately create the illusion of) critical distance from the objects of study, as a queer woman of color that is a luxury I cannot afford. While it seems obvious, I remain reticent to admit how entwined I am within this body of work, and I am still in the process of figuring out how exactly I want to talk about the work, a process that will continue after this “dissertation” has concluded. The work reflects my multi-sited positioning as Hong Kong diaspora, being “Asian” in North America/Turtle Island, and having inhabited Western institutional and disciplinary contexts for most of my life, namely religion (Christianity), the conservatory, new media art/computational media, and the academy. While the work is autotheoretical, it is not necessarily intended to be autobiographical.
There are many ways through this body of work. It might be read in terms of its aesthetic practices and relation to queer Hong Kong diaspora or in its inscrutibility as a queer Asian/American cultural production. It might be read in terms of its engagements and evocations of racialized affects, or its relation to recursivity and reproduction, or in its materialities of page, plastic, text, light, and sound. Or all of the above. However, while these readings certainly exist, it does not feel up to me nor the time nor place to engage such a reading within this body of work. Yet at the same time, I would still like to try and facilitate a conversation around this body of work and thus aim to provide some context around the conceptualization and production of this body of work and to suggest some reasons as to why I have engaged a rather elliptical relation to it in this writing. In the words of political theorist and filmmaker Elizabeth Povinelli, "The idea is to provide just enough to know, but no more, since it’s not really yours to know—remembering that how you know the world, the moods of the world, and your relationship to it may or may not be part and parcel of the forces of late liberal geontopower.”
WALTER D MIGNOLO and CATHERINE E WALSH. On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. Duke University Press, 2018. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv11g9616.
 Chien, Christopher. “‘A Ubiquity Made Visible’: Non-Sovereign Visuality, Plastic Flowers, and Labor in Cold War Hong Kong.” Amerasia Journal 47, no. 2 (2021): 188–207. https://doi.org/10.1080/00447471.2021.2009419. 192.
 Ibid, 190.
Lowe, Lisa. The Intimacies of Four Continents. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822375647.
David S Roh, Betsy Huang, and Greta A Niu. Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015.
Chien, “A Ubiquity Made Visible”, 190.
Chow, Rey. Ethics after Idealism: Theory, Culture, Ethnicity, Reading. 1st edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998. 157.
Abbas, Ackbar. Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance. First edition edition. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1997. 4.
 Lim, Louisa. Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong. New York: Riverhead Books, 2022, 154.
 In “Across currents: Connects between Atlantic and (Trans)Pacific studies”, Nicole Poppenhagen and Jens Temmen note that the work of Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy on the “Black Atlantic” and “oceanic discourse” has provided “necessary points of departure for understanding the conditions of diaspora and the routes of imperialism in the Pacific”1 as a contact zone that is marked by racial logics. While the contextual specificities of transpacific and transatlantic studies should remain distinct, this conceptual shift towards the “inclusion of oceanic, water, and island spaces” moves us away from land-based “continental fixation” and towards an understanding of the Pacific as a contested space of race and empire. Nicole Poppenhagen and Jens Temmen, “Across Currents: Connections between Atlantic and (Trans)Pacific Studies,” Atlantic Studies (Abingdon, England) 15, no. 2 (2018): 149–59, https://doi.org/10.1080/14788810.2017.1394131. Similarly, in Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field, editors Janet Hoskins and Viet Thanh Nguyen note that attention to the Pacific requires triangulating between “Asia”, “America”, and the “Pacific” simultaneously as a contact zone which connects intersecting and contradictory imperial narratives of the Pacific as a space of conquest, circulation, and commerce.3 Attention to the Pacific and its flows also destabilizes and challenges notions of identity formation bounded by national territories and geographies. Janet Hoskins and Trường Thanh Nguyẽ̂n, Transpacific Studies: Framing an Emerging Field, Intersections (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016).
 Cheng, Anne Anlin. Ornamentalism. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.
Bruno, Giuliana. Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media. Reprint edition. Chicago London: University of Chicago Press, 2016, 8.
Karen Michelle Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), https://doi.org/10.1515/9780822388128.
 Nevill, Alexander. Towards a Philosophy of Cinematography. 1st ed. 2021 edition. Palgrave Macmillan, 2022, 28.
 Gopinath, Gayatri. Unruly Visions: The Aesthetic Practices of Queer Diaspora. Illustrated edition. Durham ; London: Duke University Press Books, 2018.
Huang, Vivian L. Surface Relations: Queer Forms of Asian American Inscrutability. Duke University Press Books, 2022.
 See for example, "animatedness" in Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007); Anne Anlin Cheng, The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief, Revised edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). Cathy Park Hong, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning (New York: One World, 2020)., "Oriental inscrutability" in Xine Yao, Disaffected: The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth-Century America (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2021). Wen Liu, “Narrating Against Assimilation and the Empire: Diasporic Mourning and Queer Asian Melancholia,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 47, no. 1 & 2 (2019): 176–92, https://doi.org/10.1353/wsq.2019.0020.
 Yuk Hui, Recursivity and Contingency (London ; New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2019).
 Michelle N. Huang, “Ecologies of Entanglement in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” Journal of Asian American Studies 20, no. 1 (2017): 95–117, https://doi.org/10.1353/jaas.2017.0006.
Huang draws on feminist new materialist/STS concepts such as Karen Barad's "agential realism" and Jane Bennett's "vitality of matter" to articulate a framework of "ecologies of entanglement", which are "networks of circulation that diffuse the boundaries of the human by foregrounding the relationships between us and the world with which we interact, including the environment. This framework focuses on the emergence of subjects and objects as effects of epistemological cuts, which shifts the “object of study” from objects in themselves onto the phenomena that create and bind them. Ecologies of entanglement also formulate more clearly the relationship between the discursive and the material, where “discursive practices are not human-based activities but specific material (re)configurings of the world through which boundaries, properties, and meanings are differentially enacted.” Thus, while entanglement’s definition suggests coordination between two particles, thinking about entanglement ecologically allows for the synthesis of more than two agents, but not in an undifferentiated, free-floating manner. Ecologies of entanglement describe how material existence is constituted across geographical, temporal, and conceptual distances." (98)
The Pacific Ocean is also home to the North Pacific Gyre, the largest of the five main systems of rotating ocean currents, which crosses the Pacific Rim and connects Hong Kong, British Columbia, and California. It is also the site of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a concentrated aglomeration of debris and trash from multiple continents composed of 90 percent plastic and is commonly described as twice the size of Texas. As what Michelle N. Huang terms an "ecology of entanglement", attending to the racialization of plastic as a "devalued and undertheorized substance" in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch's ecological plasticity opens lines of inquiry that challenge fundamental assumptions regarding identity and authenticity. Speaking of Hong Kong's transpacific plastic flower trade, Christopher Chien... Within processes of Asian American racialization, plastic and plasticity represents the assimilatory myth of the Asian American model minority, which also acts as a "strategy of containment" that positions Asian Americans as a "wedge within the field of black/white race relations in the United States." Huang writes, "plastic is the model minority substance: its superficial pliability and lack of resistance serves as both characteristic and function." Yet this myth, while synthetic and imaginary, is all too real (material) in its uses and effects: "as a plastic fiction, once the concept of Asian American as race is produced, it exists and circulates in the world. Plastic is not fake — it is all too real, and the troubled boundary between authentic and fake is neither essential nor chance but sociopolitically determined. Once created, plastic's fictions bind others in its ecologies of entanglement." Plastic does not follow its own "logic of containment; its disintegration is what allows for its molecular interpenetration and accumulation within bodies."
This quality is what opens a queer reading of plastic, what Heather Davis; intimacy-affect ;; Heather Davis, Plastic Matter (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2022).
 Povinelli, Elizabeth A. “The Ancestral Present of Oceanic Illusions: Connected and Differentiated in Late Toxic Liberalism - Journal #112 October 2020 - e-Flux.” Accessed November 25, 2022. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/112/352823/the-ancestral-present-of-oceanic-illusions-connected-and-differentiated-in-late-toxic-liberalism/.
 Geontopower is Povinelli’s reconfiguration of Foucault’s biopower, not as a mode of governance but rather a “set of discourse, affects, and tactics used in late liberalism to maintain or shape the coming relationship of the distinction between Life and Nonlife.” Povinelli, Elizabeth A. Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2016, 4.