“ASIAN FUTURES, WITHOUT ASIANS” series
“If the war is the continuation of politics by other means, then media images are the continuation of war by other means. Immersed in the machinery, part of the special effect, no critical distance.”
– Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) by Trinh T. Minh-ha
A samurai sword on the wall of an evil mastermind’s office. A home decorated with Buddha statues. A blonde woman in a cheongsam. A speculative cityscape punctuated with prominent signage in Arabic. What does it mean when so many white filmmakers envision futures inflected by Asian culture, but devoid of actual Asian people?
Asian futures, without Asians is a visual analysis of over half a century of American science fiction cinema. A multipart research project, it draws from the histories of art, architecture, design, fashion, film, food, and weaponry.
Asian futures… will be unveiled throughout 2021 and 2022 in various forms, including videos, gallery installations, illustrated presentations, collages, and visual essays, presented by contemporary art institutions, a science-fiction festival, art and film journals, an experimental film festival, universities, and other organizations.
PROJECTS & SCHEDULE
“Collection Playlist: Virtually Asian & Beirut Outtakes“: Peggy Ahwesh and Astria Suparak offer inventive perspectives of Western influences on Asian cinema and Asian influences on Western cinema.
Sept. 7—20, 2022 @ online on Art At A Time Like This and NOWNESS
ILLUSTRATED PRESENTATION: Asian futures, without Asians
Register for the Zoom link. Free and open to the public. Live captioning and ASL interpretation.
Los Angeles premiere of Asian futures, without Asians. A conversation between Astria Suparak and writer and media creative Jason Concepcion will follow the presentation.
New York premiere of Asian futures, without Asians. Suparak is joined in conversation by art historian and curator Xin Wang, as well as Theodore Lau, 12-Month Curatorial Intern, Department of Film. Part of the Modern Mondays Virtual Cinema series.
Followed by a conversation between Suparak and critic and editor Dawn Chan. Produced by Bard Film & Electronic Arts in collaboration with the Center for Curatorial Studies, Asian Studies, and Experimental Humanities at Bard.
Pacific Northwest premiere of Asian futures, without Asians. Followed by a conversation between Suparak and Chandan Reddy, Associate Professor in the departments of the Comparative History of Ideas and the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Register for link. Free and open to the public. Live captioning.
UK premiere of Asian futures, without Asians. Followed by a conversation between Suparak and programmer, writer, and researcher Jemma Desai.
Free and open to the public.
Free and open to the public.
April 9 (Saturday), 2-3:30 PM PDT. Register here. The live performance lecture will be viewable online.
Week of April 25, gallery hours (April 27–30, 12–6pm). A recording of the Canadian version of the lecture will be available for viewing on-site as part of The Living Room exhibition.
April 16, 2022 (Saturday), 6pm EST @ The Ohio State University
Register: https://go.osu.edu/on-radical-practiceAsian futures, without Asians is the Keynote Address for “On Radical Practice: Representing Politics, Resistance, and Transmission” History of Art Graduate Symposium, organized by the History of Art Graduate Student Association.
EXCERPTS IN PROGRESS:
January 19, 2021: SHORT LECTURE: Asian As Costume (excerpt) @ Living Room Light Exchange artist salon (LRLX), San Francisco
VIDEO (LOOPING DIGITAL PROJECT): Tropicollage
A new looping video commissioned by science-fiction festival Other Futures, released online.
February 22, 2022, 7pm PST @ Northwest Film Forum, Seattle
Launch event for the new issue of MONDAY Art Journal (published by Jacob Lawrence Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle), featuring a visual essay version of Tropicollage.
April 30–May 22, 2022 @ SOMArts, San Francisco
Part of the Grow Our Souls exhibition. Inspired by Grace Lee Boggs, Grow Our Souls showcases artists who are reimagining labor in an era of climate change and late-stage capitalism.
May 7 – June 18, 2022 @ Galerie Marguo, Paris, France
Part of The Hearing Trumpet, Part II exhibition. The exhibition, titled after Leonora Carrington’s fantastical 1974 novel, features artists whose eloquent articulations result from their critical quest into the past and imaginative investment in the present. Suparak’s installation of Tropicollage is framed by a new wallpaper piece created for the occasion, Aloha, Boys.
Part of The Hearing Trumpet, Part II exhibition.
COLLAGE: Helmet to Helmet
MURAL: Tang Rainbow
VISUAL ESSAY: Asian futures, without Asians
A new 3-channel video work will premiere in with her voice, penetrate earth’s floor, a group exhibition in memory of Christina Yuna Lee, curated by stephanie mei huang.
For the latest updates, follow on social media.
PRESS & QUOTES
NEW YORK TIMES
“One of the key strategies for today’s artist-activists is creating visibility: calling attention to the often unseen and unnoted presence of Asian-American communities in cities and in the culture — to their labor and contributions, and to the violence aimed at them.
Countering invisibility is at the heart of a short film by Astria Suparak titled ‘Virtually Asian.’ It splices together scenes from science fiction movies in which urban landscapes are filled with stereotypical ‘Asian’ signifiers, but the actual characters are almost exclusively white. She worked on it during the coronavirus lockdown.
‘The piece is part of a larger project examining 40 years of sci-fi films,’ Suparak said, ‘and how white filmmakers envision a future that is inflected by Asian culture but devoid of actual Asian people.’
The project emerged, Suparak said, ‘out of an ongoing erasure and racism and violence, and how both in real life and in mainstream media our varied and unique cultures are carelessly misidentified and jumbled together.'”
– Aruna D’Souza, “Pushing Against Hate: Asian-American artists are spurred to activism,” April 18, 2021
“[Frank] Herbert’s original text [Dune], inspired partly by T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, derives its motifs from Islamic culture to construct the fictional Fremen and their beliefs, and the film offers lots of well-composed images of unabashed Orientalism to make sure these parallels stick: light streaming through geometric grilles, fortresses rising like ziggurats, long lines of dusty, robe-swathed masses, fragments of swirling calligraphic script. Many of these were already cited as common elements of contemporary science-fiction films in Astria Suparak’s illustrated lecture “Asian Futures Without Asians,” which she’s been presenting since early 2021. Suparak demonstrates, through copious examples, how persistently—and incoherently—Western science-fiction films borrow from superficial aspects of Asian culture, via costuming, architecture, and set design, in order to impart what is imagined to be a sense of the exotic and futuristic.
It’s hard not to think about her thesis while watching Dune. Even if its Islamic borrowings might be expected owing to the source material, all kinds of unrelated Asian cultural artifacts are randomly strewn about this Duniverse—bindis, chimes, mandalas, parasols, silken robes, even Mongolian throat singing—intermingled with a cold European medievalism to round out its project of conveying the fantastical through a bewildering collage of familiar tropes. At times these cultural mash-ups are deliriously wacky: there’s a powerfully somber sort of camp at play when Villeneuve throws in a martial bagpiper to lead a procession of the House of Atreides, men in macho metal armor and women delicately jeweled and veiled, as they debark upon their arid satrapy.”
– Ed Halter, “Dune,” October 22, 2021
“Once it’s pointed out, it’s hard to unsee: Asian futures without Asian people. In 2019, Oakland curator and artist Astria Suparak started cataloguing the trope (a form of techno-orientalism) in science fiction films made by white directors. […]
The talk ‘Asian Futures, Without Asians’ is Suparak’s critical distance. Examining the imagery in movies like Luc Besson’s ‘The Fifth Element,’ with examples that stretch from the 1970s to present-day sci-fi, she asks the audience a crucial question: What does it mean to absorb visions of the future that decontextualize Asian culture from its very people?“
– Sarah Hotchkiss, “Sci-Fi is Full of ‘Asian Futures, Without Asians’,” THE DO LIST, March 2020
Suparak’s piece is immediate and her voice, narrating the words, is melodic and compelling. The over-dubbing of her acerbic observations on blockbuster films is a compelling prelude to other iterations of her work that will appear in fragments across digital platforms. […]
Racist histories feed right into an inability to imagine less racist futures. It is here that Suparak’s work intervenes, insisting on creative depictions of a future in which white American myths no longer dominate the collective imaginary. […]
Virtually Asian is just one shard of a larger research project that examines over 40 years of American science fiction cinema and television from a critical lens. The presentations of her results are diffuse: the video at Berkeley Art Center, a forthcoming ontological essay on the conical hat, troughs of materials culled from fan sites and military wikis, illustrated essays, screenshots from Bladerunner and Ghost in the Shell and a possible series of GIFs. […]
The less utilitarian approach to composing digital worlds, modeled by the Berkeley Art Center’s hands-off curation and suggested by the arguments in Suparak’s work, feels like a possible escape from the algorithms. Instead of a high-tech future designed to tell white American stories, instead of a pressing cohesion that insists on one national mythology, The Option To… and Virtually Asian make an argument for complex, non-rigid and diverse sequences of media that cohabitate in the present moment.
– Theadora Walsh, “Astria Suparak’s ‘Virtually Asian’ Analyzes Sci-Fi to Argue for Less Racist Futures,” March 2, 2021
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Asian Futures, Without Asians illuminates the lopsided nature of one Hollywood genre and critiques the way media is concepted to guide audience empathy. Suparak’s [installation] investigates how artificial intelligence is coded in film, and the ways in which sympathetic robots and cyborgs, who are often white, are designed as “who the audience is supposed to root for,” Suparak says, adding: “The way they’re presented is in stark contrast to how Asian robots are often dehumanized.”
Encoding Futures — which examines how artificial intelligence molds society, and how algorithms have the power to define the world to come — was co-organized by Oxy Arts with Mashinka Firunts Hakopian, Mellon professor of the practice at Occidental, and Meldia Yesayan, director of Oxy Arts. It takes a multidisciplinary approach to looking at representation, both in terms of how the future is presented and who gets to exist there.
Says Hakopian of selecting Suparak’s work for the show, “Part of the reason why it was so crucial to include this work is because it is a really remarkable media archaeology that’s looking at how Hollywood cinema has shaped popular imaginaries of AI. And so, Hollywood has played an outsized role in determining what AI looks like, sounds like, feels like within the popular imaginary. And I think Astria’s piece does an incredible job of bringing that to the fore.”
– Evan Nicole Brown, “How Sci-Fi Films Use Asian Characters to Telegraph the Future While Also Dehumanizing Them,” November 16, 2021
IMAGINARY WORLDS PODCAST
“Part of what makes up a genre, like science fiction or fantasy, is that certain tropes are repeated. And as a fan, it’s fun to recognize tropes when they come up and appreciate how they’ve been adapted. But I recently learned about a genre within a genre that’s been hiding in plain sight – or at least it was for me.
I was invited to watch a presentation called Asian futures, without Asians by the artist Astria Suparak. Her talk looks at how science fiction often depicts a future full of Asian iconography that’s mixed-up and taken out of context. But there aren’t many Asian people in these futures. This is a talk she’s given in person and virtually. And her presentation has been paired with exhibits at museums and galleries.
I expected her to cover obviously offensive things like Flash Gordon serials from the 1930s and Ming the Merciless. And that’s there, but she wanted to concentrate on more recent history. It was an eye-opener for me because I had seen most of the movies and shows she referenced, but I was suddenly seeing them in a whole new light. Apparently, a lot of people feel that way after seeing her presentation.”
– Eric Molinsky, Episode 193: “Asian Futures Without Asians,” March 3, 2022
What I like about Asian Futures, Without Asians is that it didn’t miss: it was meticulously curated and combed over—every name, pronunciation, artifact, fabric, statue, pattern, and possible speculation. White filmmakers, you designated all this racist stuff out there in the universe—about us, about our sisters and brothers—and Suparak isn’t here to tiptoe around it for your comfort. […]
It was as if Everything Everywhere took all the things that make sci-fi films insufferable and racist for Asian people, and banished them to another universe. Asian Futures, Without Asians showed us a map of where they were embedded, awaiting their destruction. In their own way, both are defiant, which made it cathartic, brilliant.”
– May Maylisa Cat “Asian Futures, With Asians: Astria Suparak and Everything Everywhere All at Once,” May 17, 2022
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
“It is not a yearning for representation, but rather the heavy burden that some bodies carry to represent nations oceans away, that the exhibition aims to confront. […] Astria Suparak’s For Ornamental Purposes (2022), a three-channel video, used scenes from films that cast Asian women only to be desired and conquered, pointing to the harm made possible by fantasy.
‘With Her Voice, Penetrate Earth’s Floor’ carves quiet moments like these to express how it feels to be broken.”
– Danielle Wu, “Why is being an Asian-American woman in the US still a danger? Art exhibition in tribute to Christina Yuna Lee seeks answers,” April 18, 2022
KIM NGUYEN, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts curator (Q&A, June 2021)
“Your project really underlines all the ways that power is exercised through representations and through the media. […] You tracking that kind of history over the last 40 years proves how those reproductions [of the same colonial violence] just keep happening.
[…] It ends up being our reduction and erasure, which is in service of expanding the white imaginary, which I think you very eloquently presented in this talk. We, and I use this as an invitational we, are so often being used to uphold the same violent racial hierarchies and I think the very expansiveness of your project really proves that. We don’t arrive at these associations alone, right? They’re reproduced, they’re in the media, they’re in all of these things that are around us that we’re constantly consuming actively and passively. And an Asian future, without Asians is this really economic rendering, like […] you don’t need us there to show that white supremacy exists and that they desire us not to exist at all.”
ED HALTER, critic and a founding director of Light Industry (introduction at Bard, Nov. 2021)
“with this lecture and its related projects Astria is bringing that same energy into a new form of media analysis that is in itself a new form of cross-platform production.”
T: NEW YORK TIMES STYLE MAGAZINE, “Paris, Europe’s Former Art Capital, Is Back on Top,” Noor Brara, May 4, 2022 [in print May 8]
OCULA MAGAZINE, “Christina Yuna Lee, Art Worker Murdered in New York, Remembered at Eli Klein Gallery,” Sam Gaskin, April 11, 2022
THE DOUBLE NEGATIVE, “Culture Diary” (Asian futures, without Asians selected as the Tuesday pick for what to do in the U.K.), February 14, 2022
ForYourArt, “Top Pick of the Day,” Sept. 16, 2021
Hyperallergic, “Your Concise Los Angeles Art Guide for October 2021,” Matt Stromberg and Elisa Wouk Almino, October 2021
THE ART REPORT, “This Month’s Feature: Asian Futures, Without Asians,” March 2020
SF/Arts, “Highlights: Films: Astria Suparak’s Virtually Asian,” February 2021
7×7, “28 Fun Things to Do This Week,” Chloe Saraceni, Jun 04, 2021
NOB HILL GAZETTE, “What To Do This Week,” Michelle Konstantinovsky, June 8, 2021
Press on Virtually Asian here.