ASIAN FUTURES, WITHOUT ASIANS

“ASIAN FUTURES, WITHOUT ASIANS”

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 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.

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PROJECTS  & PREVIEWS

4. Screen Shot 2021-05-30 at 5.06.33 PM
Screenshot of “Seedy Space Ports and Colony Planets” by Astria Suparak, Seen journal, 2021.

PROJECTS & SCHEDULE

Jan. 19, 2021: SHORT LECTURE: Asian As Costume
Living Room Light Exchange artist salon (LRLX), San Francisco (not recorded).

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Feb. 2, 2021: VIDEO PREMIERE: Virtually Asian
Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, online
A new short video essay commissioned by the Berkeley Art Center will be viewable in full on BAC’s 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 (original March 2020 date postponed due to COVID–19): ILLUSTRATED PRESENTATION: Asian futures, without Asians
The Wattis Institute, San Francisco
wattis.org/view?id=1200
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? (see above)
 
This presentation is part of a year-long season dedicated to the questions posed by the work of filmmaker, writer, theorist, composer and professor Trinh T. Minh-ha, and how they address art, culture, and society today. Series guests including Isaac Julien, Ranu Mukherjee, Adam & Zack Khalil, Hồng-Ân Trương, Astria Suparak, Genevieve Quick, Lynnée Denise, Việt Lê, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Ute Meta Bauer, Justine Chambers, and Cafe Ohlone.
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mid-June 2021: ESSAY: Asian futures, without Asians
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)
Commissioned by the Wattis. 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 (above).
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June/Summer 2021: DIGITAL PROJECT: Tropicollage
@ Other Futures, Amsterdam
A new looping video commissioned by science-fiction festival Other Futures, will be released online.

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

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PREVIEWS

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

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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

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

THE ART REPORT, “This Month’s Feature: Asian Futures, Without Asians,” March 2020

SF/Arts, “Highlights: Films: Astria Suparak’s Virtually Asian,” February 2021

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

Press on Virtually Asian here.

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