Homoerotic paper cuttings and 3D-scanned Chinese restaurants tell stories of Asian migration
In Hong Kong, stories of Asian migration take over Blindspot Gallery in group show, ‘Soy Dreams of Milk’
Stretched across a screen of cardboard is a video of a woman washing the bone-white carcass of a young sperm whale. Standing thigh-deep in water, she passes a sponge over the whale, which has died alone in Newfoundland, with no trace of its family to be seen.
This video piece by Asian-American artist Patty Chang, titled Invocation for a Wandering Lake, is just one of the moving narratives in ‘Soy Dreams of Milk’, a group exhibition at Hong Kong’s Blindspot Gallery on the joys and sorrows of diasporic migration. Centering on Asian emigration, the show brings together six artists who work across video, digital renderings, traditional Chinese paper-cutting and more, in a thoughtful curation by Blindspot’s associate director Nick Yu.
‘Soy Dreams of Milk’ at Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong
Drawing parallels between Asian emigration and the American Dream, Yu tells Wallpaper*, ‘A lot of people migrate for a dream, for something that is driving them.’
Alongside Chang are artists Michael Ho, Lap-See Lam, Tan Jing, Zadie Xa and Xiyadie, each exploring unique yet strikingly universal stories of migration.
Some of the stories are delightful, such as Shaanxi artist Xiyadie’s vibrant homoerotic paper cuttings. Xiyadie, who was raised in rural China and learned his craft from the women in his family, moved to Beijing after coming out as gay. In Gate, his largest work in the exhibition, two men copulate in front of Tiananmen Square; a national symbol bound up in a turbulent history is reclaimed by Xiyadie’s jubilant scene. It’s a dialogue between traditional forms and symbols, and hopeful self-expression, shifting from the expected monochrome palettes of Chinese paper-cutting to rainbow pastels, from tradition towards joy.
‘There’s this joy and this aspect of migrating. Migrating for an idealised good life, for love, for chasing a better dream,’ explains Yu.
Emigration is a rich intergenerational story for the Asian community. For many of the second-generation artists featured, there’s a sense of yearning for something intangible and a delicate balancing act between identities. German-Chinese artist Michael Ho, for example, paints on both sides of his linen canvases, his paint bleeding through the back to create ghostly backdrops for his works such as A Cowboy Renaissance: depicting a pair of tall Western cowboy boots. The interaction between the piece’s two painted sides creates both pressure and meaning, speaking of the pressures of the artist’s dual identities as a queer second-generation immigrant.
Through Lap-See Lam and Wingyee Wu’s digital single-channel video Mother’s Tongue, a fictional relationship between a first-generation immigrant mother and her second-generation daughter is explained against a backdrop of uncanny renderings of Chinese restaurants in Sweden. Lam, whose family opened a Chinese restaurant after immigrating to Sweden, laser-scanned numerous such eateries in the country to create her spectral blurred visions narrated in a patchwork of Swedish and Cantonese. Set before a physical 3D sculpture of a melting, incomplete dining table created from Lam and Wu’s scans, the work expresses a longing to understand and belong – halted by the pressures of the digital and real worlds.
‘Soy Dreams of Milk’ ends with an ode to the motherland, told through the lens of a dog. Shenzhen-born artist Tan Jing’s grandparents emigrated from Thailand in the 1950s amidst a wave of Sinophobia, returning to a homeland they barely remembered.
Visitors walk through the sensory installation Trancing Lap Hung, a long hallway lined with cracking porcelain tiles and a bead curtain scented with herbs, towards a video – blurred by begonia-embellished windows. Throughout her life, Tan’s grandparents rarely shared stories of their migration back to China. After her grandfather passed away, she reimagined him as a dog wandering the unfamiliar streets of Lingnan and Nanyang through her video. Viewers are thrown into a state of traumatic displacement as they crane to see the video through a small opening in the glass window, and are forced to crouch as they watch the first-person footage of the dog scurrying around the streets in search of familiarity.
‘Soy Dreams of Milk’ is only partly a celebration of diasporic migration, as for any family who has chosen to migrate in search of a better life, joy is only a part of the experience. For many, it is also disorienting, lonely and full of nostalgia for a place you once knew, or want to know.
But above all, it is hopeful. The dog in Tan’s piece may eventually find its way home. The beached whale is honoured in death by Chang, a mother, in place of its own parents. These are not all success stories, but they are loving stories of perseverance. §