FOR ORNAMENTAL PURPOSES

koi-fish (walkway)_Astria-Suparak
Detail from “For Ornamental Purposes,” Astria Suparak, 3-channel digital video, 2022

“For Ornamental Purposes”

Astria Suparak
3-channel digital video
2022
https://bit.ly/for-ornamental-purposes

Koi (specifically 錦鯉, nishikigoi, which translates from Japanese to “brocaded carp”) are social fish that are kept for decorative purposes. 

The koi fish is one of several tropes employed by white filmmakers to visualize an Asian future. This 3-channel video work shows us how koi are used to embellish the scenery in Hollywood sci-fi. Isolated and GIF-ified, they become glitches of techno-Orientalist fantasies: From giant hologram koi swimming amongst the skyscrapers above, to digitized koi to be stepped on below.

“Astria Suparak explore[s] Asian subjectivities and objecthood. […] For Ornamental Purposes treats the motif of a koi fish in three iterations, pulling from techno-Orientalist clichés in sci-fi films. While koi are typically presented as ornamental rather than vital, Suparak challenges this Orientalist symbology, reclaiming and speaking to lived Asian subjectivities in which the portrayal of self is rarely initiated by the subject. How might attachments reveal futurities that move away from techno-Orientalist clichés and toward an Asian-futurism?”— stephanie mei huang, curator, with her voice, penetrate earth’s floor
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For Ornamental Purposes is one part of Astria Suparak’s ongoing research project, Asian futures, without Asians.

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EXHIBITION

WITH HER VOICE, PENETRATE EARTH’S FLOOR
Curated by stephanie mei huang
Eli Klein Gallery, New York
April 13—June 5, 2022
http://www.galleryek.com/exhibitions/with-her-voice-penetrate-earths-floor

Artists: Kelly Akashi, Patty Chang, stephanie mei huang, Christina Yuna Lee, Maia Ruth Lee, Candice Lin, Astria Suparak, Hồng-Ân Trương, Haena Yoo

With both honor and continued heartbreak, Eli Klein Gallery presents with her voice, penetrate earth’s floor, a group exhibition in memory of Christina Yuna Lee. Christina, a beloved employee of the gallery for over four years, was stalked and killed in NYC’s Chinatown on February 13, 2022.

Works by nine contemporary femme artists in the AAPI community, including Christina herself, will be presented to celebrate the life and grieve the death of Christina Yuna Lee. At least 50 percent of all sales will go directly to Christina Yuna Lee’s Memorial Fund to support the organizations and places of most significance to her.

“Hollow depression interred invalid to resurgence, resistant to memory. Waits. Apel, Appellation. Excavation. Let the one who is diseuse. Diseuse de bonne aventure. Let her call forth. Let her break open the spell cast upon time upon time again and again. With her voice, penetrate earth’s floor, the walls of Tartarus to circle and scratch the bowls’ surface. Let the sound enter from without, the bowl’s hollow its sleep. Until.” – Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Death haunts the Asian diasporas in the Americas and across the Pacific arena. An unending tenor of mourning falls from lips to the earth’s floor, vibrating with the unease of diaspora. Spat vitriol to go back to where you came from; violent pathologizations of flesh; grief processes stolen by neocolonialism. The afterlives of imperialism, war, militarism, and the remains of losses that resist evading or forgetting. 

 

For Ornamental Purposes is a new 3-channel video work created for this exhibition.

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CATALOG

“with her voice, penetrate earth’s floor” (New York: Eli Klein Gallery, 2022)
Digital catalogue, 55 pages
Download here.
http://www.galleryek.com/publications/with-her-voice-penetrate-earths-floor-a-group-exhibition-in-memory-of-christina-yuna-lee2

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PRESS

NEW YORK TIMES: “What to See in N.Y.C. Galleries Right Now,” Jillian Steinhauer,  May 18, 2022

Excerpt:
“The nine participating artists grapple with personal and communal traumas in complementary ways […] The gallery is suffused with loss, but the artworks are open and layered. Their existence and convening offer a small countermeasure of hope.”

OCULA: “Christina Yuna Lee, Art Worker Murdered in New York, Remembered at Eli Klein Gallery,” Sam Gaskin, April 11, 2022

Excerpt:
“Works in the exhibition address themes including racism, violence, and grief.

Thai-American artist Astria Suparak’s three-channel video For Ornamental Purposes (2022) zooms in on the holographic koi fish sometimes used in Western sci-fi to signify a more global future.

‘Suparak shifts the agency of the koi, and thereby, the Asian body and narrative,’ huang said. ‘Rather than envisioning Asian futures, without Asians, how might Asian-futurisms be envisioned?’

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST, “Why is being an Asian-American woman in the US still a danger? Art exhibition in tribute to Christina Yuna Lee seeks answers,” Danielle Wu, April 18, 2022 

Excerpt:
“Ultimately, the exhibition searches for the reasons why Lee’s identity – an Asian-American woman – is one that continues to endanger those who live with it.

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.

What unifies the artists is a shared understanding of ‘what the experience is in the US right now, what Christina’s experience was in New York’, Huang says. […]

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. […]

For the curator at least, it creates a rare space for AAPI women to mourn personal and cultural losses, and it grants permission to mourn for permanent losses that cannot be resolved by policy and legislation.

As Huang writes about childhood memories of attending funerals in China: ‘We have been robbed, as members of the diaspora in the West, from our grieving processes. Our grieving spaces, also, stolen.’

Such a loss has inspired new languages for this group of artists. […]

With Her Voice, Penetrate Earth’s Floor carves quiet moments like these to express how it feels to be broken.

HYPERALLERGIC, “Commemorating the Life of Christina Yuna Lee,” Isabel Ling, May 30, 2022

Excerpt:
For huang, a guiding motivation for curating the show was a desire to establish a safe space for grieving. “It was important to me that we didn’t grieve in isolation,” they said in a recent phone conversation. During this conversation, huang points out that within the Asian diaspora it is common to hold grief privately, an isolating experience that is caused by the geographic separation of individuals from their homelands and community-based rites and rituals. “I was interested in depathologizing mourning and normalizing extended mourning. Within extended mourning I think there’s extended celebration of someone’s life too, a way to extend remembrance.

with her voice, penetrate earth’s floor brings together the works of nine Asian American femme artists — stephanie mei huang, Kelly Akashi, Patty Chang, Maia Ruth Lee, Candice Lin, Astria Suparak, Hồng-Ân Trương, Haena Yoo, and Christina Yuna Lee herself — in order to commemorate and highlight Lee’s life and work within the art world.

Despite Klein’s initial intentions to disentangle Lee’s legacy from the conditions of her death, the exhibition, which draws its name from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s poetry volume Dictee (1982), does begin by mapping the through line of gendered and racialized violence within the Asian femme experience.”

CNN, “The art gallery where Christina Yuna Lee once worked honors her life and legacy,” Harmeet Kaur, April 18, 2022 

Excerpt:
“Some of the exhibition’s powerful works grapple with themes of tragedy and violence. […]

‘Asian people are expected to dull their emotions in this country and be perceived as pleasant,’ said huang, who opts to lowercase their name to keep the emphasis on the art. ‘To be pleasant all the time means that you cannot grieve all the time. And I think it’s resulted in a lot of unprocessed grieving. Reminding ourselves to return to the grieving processes that our ancestors engaged in feels right at this time.’

Despite the sense of loss and tragedy that continues to haunt Asian Americans, the show is also meant to celebrate Lee — her life and the power she embodies in death. Her voice continues to reverberate in the movement against AAPI hate, and huang said they hope others in the community are able to find strength, too.

‘The only people that can really help us are ourselves, and we have to speak up,’ huang said. ‘As crippling as these events and crimes have been, I wanted to channel the grief into something that was social rather than isolated.'”

ARTNET: “Editors’ Picks: 14 Events for Your Art Calendar This Week, From Joan Jonas in Times Square to Art Inspired by Courtroom Dramas,” Sarah Cascone, April 19, 2022

Excerpt:
Each week, we search for the most exciting and thought-provoking shows, screenings, and events, both digitally and in-person in the New York area. See our picks from around the world […].

NY DAILY NEWS: “Reflecting on violence in NYC at a tribute to Christina Yuna Lee,” April 15, 2022

ARTSY: “A Moving New Exhibition Pays Tribute to Christina Yuna Lee’s Start in the Art World,” Harley Wong, Apr 11, 2022

Borrowing a line from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee (1982) for its title, the exhibition carries grief’s immense weight, as well as the heavy truth that racialized and gendered violence against Asian American women is not a foreign concept—even to supposedly cosmopolitan cities like New York. […]

huang said in an interview with Artsy. ‘Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was well enough to do the show, because the timeline is so urgent and this [violence] keeps happening. But it also became clear that it was an avenue to channel grief into something that was a more socialized mourning rather than feeling isolated.’

This also rang true for the participating artists, who were confirmed within days after huang and Klein decided to stage the show, just a week or two after Lee’s death. Organized while in close communication with Lee’s sister Angela, the show will dedicate at least 50 percent of proceeds from sales to the Christina Yuna Lee Memorial Fund, which supports the organizations and places that carried significance for Lee. The exhibition features the work of nine Asian American femme artists—stephanie mei huang, Kelly Akashi, Patty Chang, Maia Ruth Lee, Candice Lin, Astria Suparak, Hồng-Ân Trương, Haena Yoo, and Christina Yuna Lee herself. […]

‘As I navigate this grief, I’ve been learning that this is lifelong,’ huang said. ‘A space of mourning doesn’t necessarily have to be a space of pain.’”

JOY SAUCE, “Remember Christina Yuna Lee With Art About Absence,” Hua Xi, May 25, 2022

Excerpt:
The altar is part of a group exhibition running through June 5 featuring works by nine Asian American femme artists at the Eli Klein gallery in NYC’s West Village in remembrance of Lee, an art lover who worked as associate director of the gallery for four years. The exhibit is a space of presence within a space of absence, with pieces referencing the many forms of grief experienced in Asian communities. Using photographs, sculptures, videos and paintings, artists have gathered their own stories to surround Lee’s story, as if to create togetherness out of emptiness.

A statement from the gallery accompanying the exhibit reads, “Residing in loss or sustained mourning may be viewed as the ultimate position of defeat in the West—but where is the continued engagement with ongoing forms of loss?” This exhibit suggests that perhaps death is something to hold onto a little longer, that loss need not be shamed or buried, but can form a place of exchange and support. In curator stephanie mei huang’s words, which hung on the wall, “We have been robbed as members of the diaspora in the West, from our grieving processes. Our grieving spaces, also stolen.” In response, the works in this exhibit seem to purposefully pause in a space of grief rather than a push to move on, heal, and forget.

[…] It can seem bleak to surround one absence with other forms of absence, but like the melted lines of wax solidified around an empty space, it is a reminder of the flame, of the light that once was.”

CONTEMPORARY ART REVIEW LOS ANGELES (CARLA), “Existing is Resisting,” Vanessa Holyoak, August 29, 2022

“Historic underrepresentation within the art community has been replaced by its Trojan horse cousin, tokenization—empty virtue-signaling bereft of the necessary structural change such gestures claim to stand for. Often typecast or taken for granted as the “model minority,” Asian Americans suffer from endemic invisibility—violence in and of itself. In grappling with the current and historical waves of violence, AAPI artists and curators turn to the tools they have: using their art and exhibitions as platforms to reclaim space to mourn, process, and resist the repercussions of these deep physical and psychic traumas. These acts make room for the communal shaping and expressing of AAPI subjectivities in a society that would render us invisible. If grief is a function of what it is to be human, the ability to mourn and process within our community is the first step toward envisioning new ways of existing outside of hegemonic structures. For a population plagued in this country by historic and continued invisibility, the act of being seen and heard, of taking up space, is itself a form of resistance. In particular, three recent shows—one in New York City and two in Los Angeles—offered diverse approaches to reclaiming the gallery space by transforming it into a site of mourning, processing, and resisting unspeakable acts of violence against our community. While art cannot enact new legislation, it does have the power to plant the seeds of change by way of a more open-ended form of inquiry, one that holds space not only for action but for the emotional reckoning that necessarily precedes it.

with her voice, penetrate earth’s floor, an exhibition curated by LosAngeles-based artist and writer stephanie mei huang, took a radical and cathartic approach to exhibition making. A memorial exhibition devised to honor the life and mourn the death of the aforementioned Lee, with her voice brought together the work of nine AAPI women artists, including Lee, and was held at Eli Klein Gallery in Manhattan, where Lee worked for over four years. The exhibition took its title from Dictée by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, a Korean American artist who was raped and murdered in Lower Manhattan 40 years ago, in 1982, a week after the novel was published. […]

In the exhibition catalog, huang writes: “We have been robbed, as members of the diaspora in the West, from our grieving processes,”³ noting that Western culture pathologizes extended periods of grief, only pushing the mourner deeper into her bereaved isolation. Instead, with her voice sought to create a shared space for public mourning, one from which new forms of connectivity might begin to take form. […]

Let us briefly return to the real world context in which these artworks exist. The wave of attacks against AsianAmericans has been a wake-up call for many white Americans, in and outside of the art world. When I began this writing in May, it was AAPI Heritage Month (coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Month, not unfitting for a population plagued by acts of hate and their ensuing trauma),and my Instagram feed was temporarily aglow with galleries’ and art institutions’ messages of solidarity. Yet, the recognition of an entire ethnic group should not be limited to an arbitrary month, and unthinkable atrocities should not be the necessary forerunners of genuine visibility. To put it bluntly: why do Asian Americans have to die for a broader audience to begin to recognize our cultural contributions? In the wake of a string of brutal murders and amidst a context of unacceptable anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S., appreciating AAPI artists does not exclusively have to be a function of grief. As made evident from the sheer breadth of inquiry, form, and material strategies deployed by AAPI artists, in L.A. and beyond, as they come together to mourn, process, and resist, art can become a fruitful place to subvert attempts to classify or reduce via stereotype. Amidst a political, social, and cultural reality of physical and psychological violence in the U.S., and particularly in light of our community’s historic invisibility in the West, it is a joy  to see these artists’ work effectively performing their authors into being—through its articulate strategies of resistance, but also by dint of its presence. That is: for a population long condemned to silence or stereotype, perhaps existing on our own terms can itself be a form of resistance. These artists’ work—at turns grief ridden, poetic, and incisively intelligent—inherently resists effacement and invisibility, as if to proclaim: I am here, I contain multitudes, and cannot be hidden from view.

TOKYO SHIMBUN, “アジア系ヘイト アートで憎しみを少しでも変えたい 米ニューヨークで美術展 (Asian Hate: An Exhibit in New York Changing Hatred With Art),” April 28, 2022

ABC7 NY EYEWITNESS NEWS: “Christina Yuna Lee honored with exhibit in West Village art gallery,” April 15, 2022

News 12 Westchester, “NYC gallery exhibit dedicated to stabbing victim Christina Yuna Lee,” May 12, 2022

Spectrum News NY1, “Woman killed in Chinatown honored at gallery,” May 11, 2022

 

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