ASIAN FUTURES, WITHOUT ASIANS series

“ASIAN FUTURES, WITHOUT ASIANS” series

Astria Suparak
2020–Ongoing

“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 50+ years 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 in various forms, including videos, collages, illustrated presentations, installations,  digital projects, and visual essays, presented by contemporary art institutions, a science-fiction festival, a film journal, and other organizations.

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PROJECTS & SCHEDULE

VirtuallyAsian_Asian-futures_screengrab_Suparak
Video still from “Virtually Asian” by Astria Suparak.
Jan. 19, 2021: SHORT LECTURE: Asian As Costume
@ Living Room Light Exchange artist salon (LRLX), San Francisco..
 
Feb. 2, 2021: VIDEO: Virtually Asian
@ Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, online
A new short video essay commissioned by the Berkeley Art Center and viewable on their website.
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Feb. 2021: INSTAGRAM ALBUM: The Urban Legend of Rat Eating
@ The Royal Society of Canada, Edmonton, Alberta, online
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May—December 2021: ARTIST IN RESIDENCE
@ The Zay Collection, London, England
Astria Suparak will conduct research on the ways in which American science fiction films represent Arab fashion — particularly its overlap with West Asian and South Asian cultures. This work will result in a public talk and online posts elaborating Suparak’s findings.
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June 1, 2021, 1pm PST / 4pm EST: CONVERSATION
Instagram LiveSeen Journal
Conversation with BlackStar Festival Director and Seen Managing Editor Nehad Khader. 
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June 10, 2021, 5pm PST: ILLUSTRATED PRESENTATION: Asian futures, without Asians
@ The Wattis Institute, San Francisco
The full-length Asian futures, without Asians illustrated talk, commissioned by the Wattis, will be presented with the launch of the publication Why are they so afraid of the lotus?
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June 2021: VISUAL ESSAY: Asian futures, without Asians
In Why are they so afraid of the lotus?, edited by Jeanne Gerrity and Kim Nguyen. Print version published by Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts and Sternberg Press, and distributed by MIT Press; Digital version downloadable from the Wattis Library.
Commissioned by the Wattis. This is a condensed version of the Asian futures, without Asians presentation (June 10).
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Commissioned for BlackStar’s Seen journal of film and visual culture (print and online), focused on the history and future of the Asian conical hat. Related Instagram Live event on June 1st.
 
July 2021: DIGITAL PROJECT: Tropicollage
@ Other Futures, Amsterdam
A new looping video commissioned by science-fiction festival Other Futures, released online.

August 14, 2021, 2-4pm PST: ILLUSTRATED PRESENTATION: Asian futures, without Asians
@ ICA LA, Los Angeles (co-presented by GYOPO)
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.
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September 2021: EXHIBITION
Details to be announced.
 
Fall 2021: PRESENTATIONS
Details to be announced.

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For updates, follow on social media or check back here.


Screen Shot 2021-04-18 at 11.15.26 AM
Feature in the New York Times highlighting “Virtually Asian”: “Pushing Against Hate: Asian-American artists are spurred to activism,” Aruna D’Souza, New York Times, April 18, 2021

 

PRESS & QUOTES

NEW YORK TIMES

Excerpt:
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

KQED

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

KQED

Excerpts:
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

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.”

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.