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Documentation of Dong, 2021

蕩 (Dong)
Single-channel video installation
4:30 min loop
2021

“蕩 (dong)” is a video in which Cantonese text is accompanied by images taken in Toronto, New York, and Tokyo Chinatowns that morph into one another. I worked collaboratively on this project with a Hong Kongnese-Canadian translator, writer, and my partner, Sheung-King Tang, who worked on the translation of the Chinese character that appears on the screen.

As a Japanese person who grew up in England and Canada away from family, with no access to Japan-towns or Little Tokyo, Chinatowns have acted as surrogates for me from a young age. In this work, I explore how the Western gaze has shaped not only Japan but other diasporic spaces around the world, focusing specifically on Chinatowns which are the largest Asian neighborhoods in North America. Chinese migrants, to protect themselves from “feared” local residents, have developed parallel civic societies; for example, in San Francisco, Chinese merchants, in 1906, hired American architects to dream up an oriental city of “veritable fairy palaces…a conscious, east-meets-west attempt to change the community’s image…and ensure its continuing survival.” [1] Chinatowns have been shaped according to similar principles ever since.

 

In this work, a chain of images taken in Chinatown morphs into one another. Defying the essentialized Orientalist gaze, the possible meanings of the character, “蕩” glide across the screen. In Western philosophy, deconstruction is understood as a reaction to structuralism, but shanzhai (deconstruction in Chinese) is a starting point, not a reaction. This is seen through the character, “蕩” which can mean anything from “swing,” to “lack of control,” to “slut,” to “travel around,” to “make one’s way to home.” The meaning of “蕩” is contingent, its definition is continuously deferred. “蕩” can also mean “wonder” and “remove”: there is no “original” meaning; the meaning of the word expands—it contextualizes the texts around it and vice versa.

 

[1] Bonnie Tsui, In American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods, (New York: Free Press, 2009), 2.

Documentation of Dong, 2021