Centre A is Canada’s only public art gallery dedicated to contemporary Asian visual art. This gallery was really fascinating and has done a variety of work with Asian identified artists and collaborators including: Yoko Ono, Ho Tam, Vanessa Kwan, Young Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Hong Kong Exile, Khan Lee and Subodh Gupta. The exhibit we saw, ‘Transgression/ Cantosphere’ dealt with language and those whose voices are valued and heard, which applied well to what we’ve been learning. Below is the brochure. The cantonese on the front was a deliberate act by the artist to disrupt the common eurocentrism and catering to english speaker in chinatown, and the arts. Since we have read things like the yell-oh girls poetry the importance of storytelling through personal art was something we really wanted to investigate.
The curator of this exhibit and executive director of Centre A, Tyler Russell was very generous with his time, not just explaining some of the intentions of the exhibit but also discussing it and the centre with us. This allowed us to get some idea of the artists’ intentions and really engage with the exhibit. One of the main points he made was the power that collaboration between people/artists has in strengthening the voice of resistance, by unifying and projecting deeper cultural understandings. The focus on collaboration was, as he agreed, a feminist notion, and one central to their philosophy. Furthermore, he explored ideas of diaspora, and notions of cultural exchanges—being equal and transmissive—or imposing and unaware. He discussed many personal stories about the gallery and how he, as a white male (he pointed out how strange it was that he was the director) worked to make the gallery represent the community, and be a mechanism for Asian resistance and representation within Chinatown. He also talked about collaboration, and it’s connections to feminism. The idea that with respectful exchanges and collaboration peoples voices can be more clearly heard. In the case of this exhibition we saw how a linguist, artist, and performance group could create an exhibit talking about space, cultural exchange vs. insertion (forced entry into a space such as Matchstick into chinatown), representation (of voices, culture, perspective), suppression (even mainland China was involved in the suppression of Cantonese within Vancouver’s chinatown!) and the shaping of how culture is regulated, formed, and policed.
Language/culture/government control in Hong Kong
Cantonese versus Mandarin – main language used in Chinatown is Cantonese, but there is pressure from Chinese government, for example,The “Ni Hao” sign (advertisement for Condo) – completely ignored the major population who use Cantonese in Chinatown. Conflict arises in Hong Kong as well. The exhibition on Cantosphere at Centre A. The artists made a conscious decision to use traditional Chinese on the front page of the brochure. Part of the exhibition linked to the umbrella movement that happened recently: Hong Kong people protesting for universal suffrage. Cantonese is a complicated language that composed of nine tones, and the culture within it. For different tones, there are different meanings. Even with the same words, there are meanings when combined together. The push to use Mandarin in Chinatown also reflects the relationship of Hong Kong and China. China constantly trying to assimilate Hong Kong into another generic city. The culture of Chinese and Hongkongese people are so different.
This shelf was a demonstration of the way Vancouver’s Chinatown is being co-opted by hipsters and lumbersexuals. The shelf includes trendy things like beard oil and all natural soaps; the beard oil in particular felt out of place since growing facial hair, never mind cultivating it, is not always possible for Chinese men. Just like the matchstick coffee that had recently opened the shelf was an example of the way trendy young white people are taking over Chinatown. The artists were particularly interested in placing the beard oil on the shelf because it represented an exclusionary item—that also pointed out the fact that Asian males could not become a hypermasuline lumbersexual, becuae they do not grow beards. This focus on drawing a parallel to how the eurocentric perspective was being inserted to chinatown was a really interesting way to tie together much of what we had been reading in class. This shelf represented migration, history, cultural appropriation and erasures all at the same time. This shelf felt like the visual representation of insertion of Canadian Nationalistic Patriarchy, Muscular Christianity (the image of the strong, bearded, lumberjack), once again colonizing space—without any sense of dialogue or respect for history, culture, and diversity. Tyler was really excited about learning the term “lumbersexual” and we talked at lenght about the image and traits of the “Muscular Christian” (the dominant eurocentric, hyper masculine aggressive man) that the new hipsters are modeling themselves after. A lumberjack, a settler, a dominating person with the right to “take” (space, land, resources). With this understanding the ways in which this colonization is not often recognized, how it is still alive and well, and how Chinatown is a “new” space to conquer became quite apparent .
This is what the line said. We noticed a lot of racism, assumptions, paternalism, and ethnocentrism in the language, so did the artists….that is why they used this exact excerpt: This excerpt was taken by the artists directly from a government plan on how to revitalize Chinatown–they even included a spelling error. It was a really clear example of how cultures and people are commodified. The marketable parts of Chinatown that make it appealing and different for the young urban professional crowd, but the history and individuals that have created this culture need to be boxed up and simplified.
The exhibit we saw was by interdisciplinary group, Hong Kong Exile. Formed in 2011 by three students from SFU, Hong Kong Exile has been producing art steadily since its conception. It is made up of Milton Lim whose background is theatre, Remy Siu whose focus is music, and Natalie Tin Yin Gan who has a background in dance. http://www.hongkongexile.com/ Description of the exhibit we saw by the artists: http://www.hongkongexile.com/-transgressioncantosphere
Opening Night of Trangression/ Cantosphere exhibit
Old woman and sign – who can speak?
Russell told us a great story was about a little 98 year old Chinese lady walking in wondering what the space was. She pointed out it had no sign in Cantonese that said “public art gallery, please come in.” When he brought this up to the board they replied “well than we’d have to have it in Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, French, Punjabi, Japanese etc….” He tried to point out the necessity to reflect the location and community they were in and to respect the voice of a community member. He had no luck convincing the board, so he finally use his “curatorial autonomy” to hire the lady as an artist in the next show, to install her “window art piece: Cantonese lettering that read: “welcome public art gallery sign” in the window. It was still there. Tyler Russell shared that the board at that time was made up of a lot of white people, who were more looking for boards to be members of than passionately engaged in the project. Since that time, however, the board has accumulated more artists and Asian identified people, who really care about the gallery.