Since 2012 you have been investigating notions of place, origin and identity between Southeast Asia and Europe. For this new work, you have been invited to respond to the programme’s reflections on the Diaspora Pavilion and its context in Venice. How as this notion of diaspora been further explored in your Path series?
Path. series uses diasporic concerns as a departure point to make art, and is expressed through live art and exhibitions. Beginning in 2012, the series was first conceived as a personal/communal response towards my changed citizenship, amidst a vibrant national discussion about foreign talents in Singapore. Since then, Path. has grown more complex, with the works along the series engaging broader contexts such as global migrations and movements across borders. Artistic strategies also evolved, which at times involved the presence of an apparatus that functioned like an artificial body part to connect me deeper into my environment. Path. has been useful in helping me make meaningful intersections between personal memories and public history, culture and politics. Live art in particular, has enabled me to explore deep emotions that viscerally resonate with my personal migration experience.
Why have you decided to fabricate and use the ‘sail carriage’, which references both the trolley, one of the most used means of transport for goods of the city, and the maritime past of Venice, for the Venice installment of your series, Path. 8, Invisible Cities 。云海游?
A ‘sail carriage’ is oxymoronic—maritime without being on water—and I was immediately drawn to its inherent contradiction. I made the ‘sail carriage’ to connect my embodied interiorities—memories, culture and politics of a Southeast Asian Chinese artist—to the multicultural context of the Diaspora Pavilion that is set within a broader international and Eurocentric contexts of the Venice Biennale. As I push the ‘sail carriage’ in Venice, the performative act aims to bring about a psychological conduit into the invisible dimensions of the city. The impulse for the ‘sail carriage’ came as I learnt of wind-powered land carriages with attached sails, as observed by 16th century European travellers in Ming Dynasty China—the dynasty that had sent a great naval expedition to Southeast Asia. Even as the ‘sail carriage’ addresses the
overlap between Venice and Singapore within a maritime historical context, it also
sets to resonate a Chinese ‘otherness’ that is present in my personal narrative and Venice. Growing up in post-Cold War Indonesia, my ethnic identity had been suppressed during Suharto’s New Order era. The Chinese ‘other’ similarly exists in Italy, with a high concentration of Chinese immigrants working in Italy’s textile capital of Prato. Incidentally, this Chinese ‘otherness’ is found in the geopolitical field today. China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR)—an infrastructural initiative that aims to resurrect the historical Silk Road on land, now added with a ‘Maritime Silk Road’, is poised to grow China’s global presence and yet it is not without international suspicion and reservations.
In your performance you will map the textures of Venice’s alleys and buildings through the process of rubbing. What does this process mean for you in terms of relating to a place, crossing it and bringing with you its surfaces as shadow of memories?
I am always drawn to visual projections of places: maps, photographs, drawings or films. Jose Luis Borge’s full scale map which eventually replaced the city it cartographed is a fascinating notion of how the image representation ultimately subsumed its subject, to exist completely on its own. If suppose ‘place’ dwells in our personal and collective imaginations, then how I imagined ‘home’ in my childhood was through mass media imagery, due to displacement. Press photos and video were the primary sites I visited to imagine the land I came from. As I continued to do this over time, ‘home’ gradually became spectral and tactile—my mind’s eye transfixed on the image surface even as my body retained traces of sensual memories of my birthplace. To make a frottage is to experience the tactility of one’s environment yet what one is left is an abstract fragment of the experience, a visual document that with time, would subsume the entirety of the lived experience. The frottages map my lived experience as I pushed the ‘sail carriage’ around Venice. To map is to translate, its gesture internalises a place into one’s personal universe. This is my method to contemplate my identity as a Southeast Asian artist of Chinese ethnicity through the history, culture and politics of Venice.