Media-N Journal review of Virtually Asian

“High-Tech Orientalism and Science Fiction Futures in Astria Suparak’s ‘Virtually Asian’ (2021)”

Kaitlin Forcier
February 1, 2022

The latest issue of new media journal Media-N (published by The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) features Virtually Asian on its cover and a review by Kaitlin Forcier that puts the video into a theoretical framework with Wendy Chun, Mary Ann Doane, Donna Haraway, and Fred Turner, with quotes by Genevieve Yue and Kim Nguyen.

Guest edited by art historian Megan Driscoll (University of Richmond), No Template: Art and the Technologies of Race is a special issue of Media-N that was conceived amidst a resurgence of discourse on the relationship between race and the technological. This issue responds in particular to Beth Coleman and Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s concept of “race and/as technology” wherein race operates as technē, a prosthesis or skill that can be leveraged by—or against—individuals within systems of power. No Template approaches this concept from the unique perspectives of art and visual culture, asking: How can artistic practice better elucidate the racialization of technology and the technologization of race?

Excerpt from Forcier’s review of Virtually Asian:

“Donna Haraway famously saw the female cyborg as a liberatory figure, arguing that by merging with machines women could move beyond prescribed gender roles. However the hologram women in “Virtually Asian” suggest that the technologized female body also serves as a site for amplified misogynist tendencies. As Mary Ann Doane has observed, the female cyborg in science fiction is overwhelmingly a conservative figure. She writes: “Science fiction, a genre specific to the era of rapid technological development, frequently envisages a new, revised body as a direct outcome of the advance of science. And when technology intersects with the body in the realm of representation, the question of sexual difference is inevitably involved.” Rather than presenting a liberated post-gender or post-racial body, science fiction uses the female cyborg or android to work out anxieties about technology. The cyborg woman exists outside of reproduction and sexual difference, argues Doane, and therefore represents a threat that must be contained. The mute virtual women of the films profiled in “Virtually Asian” represent a curtailing of the technologically-enhanced female body. The effect of the accumulation of echoing tropes in “Virtually Asian” – of repeated images of Asian women in traditional dress appearing as immaterial set dressing for white characters – is to emphasize how relentless this process of erasure is. […]

“Virtually Asian,” released in spring 2021 against the backdrop of the pandemic, is indeed timely. As racialized violence against Asian Americans spiked this year, this film turns a critical lens on just how pervasive anti-Asian depictions are in popular culture. As Kim Nguyen, curator at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts said, “Virtually Asian” “underlines all the ways that power is exercised through representations and through media. […] Tracking that kind of history over the last forty years proves how those reproductions [of the same colonial violence] just keep happening.” While many have spent the past year and a half watching movies at home, absorbing the types of media depictions that Suparak analyzes, the pandemic has also offered an opportunity for reflection. Despite its sharp critique, “Virtually Asian” ultimately strikes a hopeful tone. Science fiction films, after all, offer collective visions of the future: we have the capacity to imagine futures that are less racist, less sexist, more accurate reflections of the world we hope to inhabit.”


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