“ASIAN FUTURES, WITHOUT ASIANS”
“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 40+ 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 a video, illustrated presentations, digital projects, and visual essays, presented by contemporary art institutions, a science-fiction festival, a film journal, and other organizations.
PROJECTS & PREVIEWS
Jan. 19, 2021: SHORT LECTURE: Asian As Costume
@ Living Room Light Exchange artist salon (LRLX), San Francisco (not recorded)
@ The Royal Society of Canada, Edmonton, Alberta, online
In Why are they so afraid of the lotus?, edited by Jeanne Gerrity and Kim Nguyen (Published by Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts and Sternberg Press, and distributed by MIT Press)
The Wattis Institute, San Francisco
*Exact dates to be announced. For updates, follow on social media or check back here.
Hyper(in)visibility panel, online, July 2020. (View a six-minute excerpt, begining at 44:34)
“The Urban Legend of Rat Eating,” a small excerpt of “Asian futures, without Asians,” is included in the following exhibitions organized by Ethnocultural Art Histories Research, Concordia University, Montreal:
- Engaging Creativities, The Royal Society of Canada, online, February 2021
- (pre)existing conditions, curated by Tamara Harkness and Sarah Piché, with Alice Ming Wai Jim, Special Projects, ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Art) 2020, online, October 13 – 19, 2020
- Hear Us Now!, curated by Diane Wong, Tamara Harkness, Chaeyeon Park, and Sarah Piché, Concordia University, online, June 29 – Sept. 2020
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
“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
THE ART REPORT, “This Month’s Feature: Asian Futures, Without Asians,” March 2020
SF/Arts, “Highlights: Films: Astria Suparak’s Virtually Asian,” February 2021
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
Press on Virtually Asian here.