essay 03: relations (a proposal in world-making)
Where do these aporia leave us then? Let’s do this one more time. This time as a proposal. An invitation.
How do we arrive at this body of work?
This dissertation body of work presents a grappling with manifestations of racial and aesthetic violence within institutional life. Each piece in this body of work enacts a sounding that reveal and responds to colonial/modern histories and forms of discourse, a series of provocations as tending to and inhabiting racialized affective sites. Together they trace transpacific paths of relation across multiple spatio-temporal streams. From the exhibition space, to the space of the frame and of the page, they are imperfect, each their own attempt at making this all a bit clearer, available, accessible, felt. I arrive at this work multisensorially and relationally oriented — texturally, materially, rhythmically, in terms of haptics and duration — perceptual terms that do not necessarily prioritize the visual. I hope the writing thus far has provided some conceptual context and information around the conditions of this body of work’s production, as well as some insight into questions and concerns I continue to contend with. I want to emphasize that the making of the work has been a highly intuitive process, informed by a set of praxes that engages sound, vibration, duration, movement, code, and light as material and spatial enactments. While the works might appear serious or somber from one vantage point, they are playful and pleasurable from others.
I was raised speaking Cantonese, the dominant language in Hong Kong that is slowly disappearing, and that I am slowly losing. In Indelible City, Louisa Lim writes “unlike standardized Mandarin, Cantonese is gloriously irregular, its rules of pronunciation so casual that some words can be pronounced with either an initial n or l sound, used interchangeably…To this day, there’s still no consensus about which of two romanization systems should be used or even how many tones Cantonese has; the range is five to eleven, depending on whom you ask.” Growing up, my family and I would pick a syllable — let's say for example "ma" — and move our way through all the possible tones and meanings, giggling at the repetition and subtle differences in intonation that require nuanced physiological shifts. Ma, ma, ma, ma, ma, ma, ma. (ma, ma, ma). Cantonese doesn't stay still, it slips and slides, and tonal mispronunciation can drastically shift meanings, opening routes to playful misinterpretations and meanings. Because of its imperial influences, Hong Kong dialect bounces between Cantonese, English, and Mandarin, and like many other multilingual places, one sentence might rapidly jump between all three. The play of tonal slippages and promiscuous translation and substitution are embedded within this project, not only within linguistic terms, but affective dimensions as well.
Before I learned how to write with words, I learned how to compose and attune to space through sound, vibration, and movement in daily practice. I learned that from the space of the page, to the piano key, to the body of the piano, to the space of the room or hall, and as sound and image come into intimate contact with the inner spaces of body/mind — composition is a multiplicitous and reflexive process, an ongoing process of forming being. This perspective has developed and continued through my parkour practice, a movement discipline that involves running, jumping, vaulting, and climbing through the urban landscape, and I have previously written about how parkour invites queer attention and inhabitance of urban space. This way of tending to the world has also been informed in the messy and digestive processes of working with code and other digital tools to create multimedia assemblages that linger in and at various sites and scales. Writing has always been about shaping a space as a practice of inhabitance, its particular modes and affects determined by the materials used. While my practice (and this body of work that comprises the dissertation) is deeply informed by theoretical discourse, the modes of writing that hold most significance for me are primarily through multimodal aesthetic practice and the crafting and composition of an event through sound, code, light (projection, video, animation), interaction, and space. At present, there are limits to what I can express in words. Theory is another tool within the compositional process. In bringing various aesthetic modes and concerns together, I tend to the embodied and relationally multimodal sensorial ways we attune to the world and make it "make sense". The work arrives in its form for a reason. I want us to stay close to it.
While I find affinities and alliances with the thinkers mentioned here (and many who are not), at present I am wary of inscribing explicit meanings and connections; rather this serves as initial probing of a shared question space, a momentary stabilization of our ground necessary in order to continue doing this work. Perhaps it is already evident by the somewhat elliptical trajectory we have traced, but at present I am less interested in working/walking through each piece as though it is its own contained entity, abstracted away from its messy and uncertain origins. I am dubious of how pointing to its processes and explicating the various theoretical, political, social, cultural contexts from which they emerge might shift or shape the work, or rather (to be blunt) what value it adds. I'm wary of the overdetermination of language as it orients, directs, and shifts perception. I feel as though I can only speak to my own hopes/desires of what this body of work suggests, opens up. I remain reticent to make claims of what it does or the effectiveness/“success” of how it communicates, speaks to. I do this in hopes of maintaining the work’s openness. Directly explaining the work and connecting its threads would close it off to further liveliness, something I would like to resist. This is not an outright refusal of ever writing “about” this work, but rather stems from a desire to move slowly in relation to this work. I am in the process of finding language, in a process of languaging. The project in this form arrives at this landing site, a place of rest before we continue on this trajectory.
This body of work in part asks what determines worlds we make, make visible, shape, surface, bring forward in this ongoing project of world-making, as a set of praxes that we engage in relationally, together. While there is the possibility of reading the work representationally (particularly given the form and limits of this mode of sharing that structures this dissertation and modern communication writ large), I hope the work can be encountered in its relational and lively capacities, that it might offer an encounter that you (and everything that makes you, "you") might be affected by. I invite you to immerse yourself and to soak into these spaces of the page, the window, the frame, the scroll, of Relation. Within and between pieces. The work is not finished; it has only just begun.
This dissertation has presented some unruly threads and attempted to weave them together, and now I pass them onto you.
 Louisa Lim, Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong (New York: Riverhead Books, 2022), 156.