Ming Tiampo ‘Who Am I Here?’: Diasporic Reflections on Settler Colonialism, Nation and Planet
Ming Tiampo, Professor of Art History and co-director of the Centre for Transnational Cultural Analysis at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, presents ‘“Who Am I Here?”: Diasporic Reflections on Settler Colonialism, Nation and Planet’ – Monash University’s annual Margaret Plant Lecture in Art History for 2021.
This lecture takes the question ‘who am I here?’, posed by artist Jin-me Yoon, as a starting point for thinking through diaspora as a method to reflect upon key questions of colonialism, nation and planet. By engaging with histories of colonialism, militarism and extractivism in Korea and Canada, Yoon’s work creates transversal links between the two contexts that enable multiple scales of analysis through her relationship to place across living time, intergenerational time and geological time. Foregrounding Yoon’s expansive formal, political and existential artistic project, this lecture asks questions about living relationally in troubled times.
Ming Tiampo is introduced by Dr Rex Butler, Professor of Art History & Theory, Monash Art, Design and Architecture. Her lecture is followed by a Q&A session moderated by Dr Michelle Antoinette, Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Art History & Theory, Monash Art, Design and Architecture.
The Margaret Plant Annual Lecture in Art History is coordinated by the Art History & Theory program in the Department of Fine Art, Monash Art, Design and Architecture and the Monash University Museum of Art | MUMA.
Rex Butler: Welcome everybody to the 2021 Margaret Plant Annual Lecture. It's a great pleasure to have you all here. My name is Rex Butler, and I teach Art History in the Department of Fine Arts here at Monash. I've been asked to begin by describing myself visually. I'm an older white guy, with sandy red hair, who maybe looks a little like a down-market version of the Australian actor, Bryan Brown. So if you've ever wanted to hear Bryan Brown talking about art, instead of making cocktails with Tom Cruise, you've come to the right place.
I'd like to begin proceedings with an acknowledgement of Country, which is to say that we are gathered here at Monash on the unceded lands of the people of the Kulin Nations. I wish to pay my respect to their Elders, past and present. And I hope that what we'll be speaking of tonight is in part a way of bringing us together.
This is the third of our Margaret Plant Lectures, named after Professor Emeritus Margaret Plant of Monash University. Margaret started teaching Art History as a tutor here, back in 1962. My God, 60 years ago. Left for RMIT in 1968, and returned to Monash in full glory as a professor in 1982, where she remained until 1996.
Here is a magnificent picture of her at the launch of one of her numerous books. Thank you, technician. And I can't think of anyone else I know, actually clever enough to write a book about art, and yet look like a rock star at the launch of their album.
Now, of course, Margaret has written all kinds of brilliant and acclaimed books and essays, from all the way back to 'Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in 1966', through to maybe her magnum opus, 'Venice: Fragile City 1797-1997', in 2002.
But actually, the one I think you should start with is her most recent title, 'Love and Lament: An Essay on the Arts in Australia of 2017'. It's a decade-by-decade history of Australian art throughout the 20th century. And the striking thing about it is that Margaret treats equally all the arts, not just painting, sculpture and architecture, but film, photography, and even radio and television. And at one point, she even mentions the Australian rock band, The Go-Betweens.
And the other striking thing about it, as one of the book's reviewers pointed out, is because it is not driven by a nationalist agenda, that is, does not try to identify some specifically Australian culture, it does not follow that well-worn pattern of thinking some decades are more interesting than others. Usually, the naughts and teens when the Heidelberg School went overseas, and the '70s, when no one knew what was going on.
From my part, I remember a little while ago, trying to write something on the rehang of 'The Field' exhibition by the National Gallery of Victoria in 2018, and coming across Margaret's brilliant essay, 'The Journey from Field to Fieldwork 1968-2003', published in Eyeline magazine that year, and realising I'd have to think a lot harder.
Now, usually, we'd have one of Margaret's many now eminent ex students offer a testimony of how she changed their lives. In the past, we've had Max Delany of ACCA, and Nathalie King of the Victorian College of Arts. This year with COVID, it's obviously been a bit hard to do that. So I thought I'd just say a few words myself.
When I came down to Melbourne from Brisbane, where I'd been working, I thought it'd be a great idea to have an annual art history lecture, like the well-known University of Sydney Power Lecture. And who better, I soon figured out, to name it after than Margaret. We managed to track down her address. And early one afternoon, I knocked nervously on the door of her groovy apartment block, I won't tell you where, seeking her approval.
Several hours later, I tipsily exited after more than enough gin and tonics — Margaret, from hazy memory, drinks scotch — with her delighted and perhaps even slightly intoxicated approval. Every so often, not often enough, I go over and debrief about the job and the place here. It's a bit like a shrink's chair. I felt almost as soon as I met her, that I'd made a friend, someone who thinks about things almost exactly as I do. And when she doesn't, I'm wrong. She once confessed she liked reading detective stories with an art world twist, and I have one on my desk at work. And whenever I can, I'll bring it over. Thank you for everything, Margaret.
Our speaker tonight, Ming Tiampo, Professor of Art History and co-director of the Center for Transnational Cultural Analysis at Carleton University — and wow, what an impressive mouthful — is a perfect match for Margaret and her research interests. I know also, they align closely with a number of my colleagues here at Monash. We might begin with her 2003 dissertation, 'Gutai and Informel: Post-War Arts in Japan and France, 1945-1965', which is obviously a prescient form of transnational art history.
In fact, Ming has written a number of such parallel histories. For example, the dreamily titled, '"Under Each Other's Spell": Gutai and New York' of 2009. And Ming has a long-running interest in Japanese and Asian art throughout the 20th century, which she also shares with others with the co-edited anthology, 'Art and War in Japan and its Empire: 1931-1960', and the co-written essay, 'Slade, London, Asia: Contrapuntal Histories between Imperialism and Decolonization 1945–1989', which is now the subject of her current book, 'Transversal Modernisms: The Slade School of Fine Art'. But as well as these wider historiographic studies, Ming has also written a series of powerful monographic studies, particularly of artists who work in some ways between cultures. To mention just two, she has written 'Jinny Yu: Don't They Ever Stop Migrating?' on the Korean Canadian artist, Jinny Yu. And is currently finishing a book on Jin-me Yoon, another Korean-born Canadian artist.
Tonight, Professor Tiampo will be delivering a lecture entitled, '"Who am I here?": Diasporic Reflections on Settler-colonialism, Nation and Planet'. In part, on Jin-me Yoon. And one couldn't possibly imagine a topic more relevant for all of us here, living and studying in Australia, even though none of us is exactly diasporic at the moment. Equating myself with Ming's work for the lecture, I was struck by the profound parallels between what she has been thinking and writing about for over 20 years, and the interests of many of the art historians and students here in Australia.
I welcome her virtually to Melbourne, and invite her to present her lecture. But before we begin, I would like briefly to thank all those from Art History, Fine Art, and MUMA, who have made this extraordinary technological feat possible. After Professor Tiampo finishes her lecture, there will be time for some questions mediated by my good colleague, Michelle Antoinette.
So please, if something occurs to you, please type your question into the question and answer box online. I'm sure you all know how to do that. And Michelle will put your question to Ming. So I now invite Professor Ming Tiampo to deliver the third annual Margaret Plant Lecture, '"Who am I here?": Diasporic Reflections on Settler-colonialism, Nation and Planet'. Thank you very much.
Ming Tiampo: Okay. Thank you very much. And thank you for inviting me here today. I would like to express my gratitude to Rex Butler for that lovely introduction, to Michelle Antoinette, the entire MUMA team, and also to Margaret Plant, who sounds like she is an extraordinary individual.
I would also like to give my thanks to the Algonquin peoples, upon whose unceded land Carleton University is located, and to the many ongoing conversations with friends and colleagues about what it means to build treaty relationships between Indigenous people and settlers.
Today, although I am physically sited in Rome, Italy, so I am in diaspora again, I have chosen instead to locate myself in a painting by Emily Carr, 'Old Time Coast Village' from 1929-1930, a painting that she made after spending time in the territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples in the village of Yuquot in British Columbia, on the West Coast, in Canada.
The painting behind me, which is also one of the two paintings that formed the backdrop of Jin-me Yoon's 'Group of Sixty-Seven' work, that I will discuss momentarily, is of a village with long white buildings, punctuated by abstracted totem poles in the mid-ground. The tiny buildings are dominated, almost swallowed by old growth forest, which is painted in Carr's signature expressionist style, heavy with eternity and rendered in fluid brushstrokes of dark to medium greens.
In the foreground of the painting is a partial view of a canoe, with elegantly sculpted bow, around which are painted two red stripes. I am an East Asian-Canadian settler, sitting in front of this painting with short, asymmetrically cut dark hair, medium skin, and glasses.
'"Who am I here?": Diasporic Reflections on Settler-colonialism, Nation and Planet.' The past year-and-a-half has been a period of global and racial reckoning, of fleeting togetherness and human solidarity, of trauma inflamed by vaccine politics, desperate migration, ethno-nationalism, and an ontological turn that while important, risks splintering social justice movements, and being limited by essentialism.
In my talk today, I will be reflecting upon what it means to speak from a located positionality in motion, through the work of Korean Canadian artist, Jin-me Yoon. Taking as a guiding light the question that she asked herself as a new immigrant to Canada, "Who am I here?"
In particular, I will be examining the multiple positionalities that she invokes through the shifting sands of situational privilege and intersectional identities, as starting points for reflecting upon larger issues of colonialism and settler-colonialism, militarism, tourism, and extractivism. And ultimately, of generations and of planet. In reflecting upon her work here, in the context of the Margaret Plant Lecture at Monash University in Australia, I am hoping to allow the social, political, formal and existential problematics she poses in her work, to address itself to an Australian context. My hope is that in the discussion that follows, that we will be able to think comparatively and transversely about her work, and the questions posed by diaspora, which have for too long been constrained to the narrow identity categories in which they have been understood.
We will begin today with Yoon's most iconic work, 'the Group of Sixty-Seven' from 1996, which cemented her reputation as a major voice in Vancouver's photography scene. And as a conceptual artist, making interventions into the History of Art and representations of nation.
This work comprises two grids of 67 photographs each. In the grid on the right, 67 Korean-Canadians face outwards towards the camera, in front of Lawren Harris' 1924 'Maligne Lake, Jasper Park', and in the grid on the left, the same figures face away from the camera, towards Emily Carr's 'Old Time Coast Village' from 1929-1930.
The year 1967, as in group of sixty-seven, was the year that restrictions on East Asian immigration to Canada were lifted, enabling this group of immigrants to migrate in the aftermath of the Korean War. The work was made in 1996, when the National Gallery of Canada's exhibition, 'The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation', traveled to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which I show you on the right here, one year after the second referendum on Quebec sovereignty. The year of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal peoples, which recommended a public inquiry into residential schools, and a year before the handover of Hong Kong to China, which caused a large increase in Hong Kong immigration to Vancouver.
In this fraught environment, the National Gallery of Canada's 'Art for a Nation' was an assertion of white, Anglophone, settler-colonial narratives, trumping 'The Group of Seven' and associated artists for their independence from British artistic models, through their appropriation and mastery of Canadian landscape in Modernist form.
Yoon's work was not simply a series of portraits, but a social, political and artistic intervention that interrupted narratives produced by the 'Art for a Nation' exhibition. Asking herself, "who am I here?", her response was to cite herself relationally. Asking what her responsibilities were to the place where she had settled, as well as questioning the ways in which it constructed itself.
The work was her first at the intersection of conceptual photography and social practice, and consisted of three separate Korean dinners that she hosted and organised at the Vancouver Art Gallery, with members of the Korean-Canadian community, with whom she led discussions about their experiences of racism in Canada.
Delighting in olfactory interventions of kimchi in the Vancouver Art Gallery's neo-classical architecture, Yoon reclaimed the space, and staged portrait sessions with each of the participants in front of the Harris and Carr paintings that she had selected. The photographs are purposefully and obviously constructed, using formal repetition and awkward poses to signal what Yoon calls the "synthetic real", a tactic, which reveals her critical relationship to Vancouver School Photoconceptualism.
Here, she uses the sitter's posed awkwardness to underscore the assumed disjuncture between racialised immigrants, the Canadian wilderness, and in particular, this Canadian wilderness, framed through a white settler-colonial gaze. By bringing attention to the nature of the frame and the presence of the settler-colonial gaze, these portraits denaturalise Harris and Carr's representations, and ask us to look more carefully at the vast, unpeopled landscapes being offered for visual pleasure.
By interrupting Harris' sublime landscapes with her portraits, Yoon makes visible Harris' fictional assertion of 'terra nullius', and his attempt to claim the land. The figures facing towards the village in Emily Carr's 'Old Time Coast Village' are, however, turned away from the source of the settler-colonial gaze, and towards the Nuu-chah-nulth village, seeking a different form of relationality on this land.
The portraits that she produced for the Group of Sixty-Seven are thus not a plea for inclusion into the white settler world, imagined by Harris, Carr and the 'Art for a Nation' curators, but rather a critique of nationhood in Canada. Fundamentally questioning how national narratives are written, and the fictions that they produce about settler-colonialism. By questioning the representational claims being made by the paintings themselves, and the exhibitionary complex through which they were framed, Yoon's 'Group of Sixty-Seven' prompts the viewer to ask themselves: who is Canadian? Whose land is this? And as cultural theorist, Monika Kin Gagnon, writes, "who is the rightful and naturalised national subject, especially given the ongoing history of colonisation vis à vis the First Nations peoples?" The complex relationalities built by Yoon in 'Group of Sixty-Seven', resists the logic of official Canadian multiculturalism, which sought to manage difference by incorporating discreet cultural communities into white, Anglophone, majority cultural structures and narratives, putting communities of colour, Francophones, and Indigenous peoples in competition for resources and dispersive space.
Instead, what Yoon enacts in this work is a structural critique, which she continues throughout her career. Here in the work, 'Touring Home from Away', Yoon surveys a golf course with her long time interlocutor, Chief Bill Williams, the hereditary chief of the Squamish Nation. Rather than agitating for inclusion into white settler-colonial structures, Yoon's work thus takes an anti-racist stance that questions settler-colonialism itself, and considers the situational privilege of settlers of colour on Canadian soil.
To use language developed by Michael Rothberg, to get beyond binaries of perpetrators versus victims of injustice, Yoon's work deftly considers the positionality of settlers of colour as implicated subjects.
Yoon's thinking was thus not just a critique of Canada and Canadian multiculturalism, but more fundamentally, a critique of colonialism, which she understands as a structural and a transnational issue. In addition to the contexts for which she is known within Asian-Canadian and Korean art worlds, the discursive networks and intellectual worlds that she built for herself in the 1990s also included Indigenous artists working in Canada, such as Rebecca Belmore and Gerald McMaster, as well as Cuban-American, Coco Fusco, and Mexican-American, James Luna, who were similarly using their bodies to perform attacks upon the discursive structures that supported colonialism, that is to say museums, public memorials, zoos, and other sites of public culture.
Although Yoon's work is frequently framed within a history of Asian-Canadian contemporary art, I argue that it is important to think comparatively and transversely about her work, as it reveals theoretical and artistic significance of her interventions.
Significantly, this analysis also reveals the formation of transnational networks of solidarity, and decolonial practice among contemporary artists working in Canada, the UK, the United States, Australia, South Africa, and beyond, in the early years of globalisation. These networks materialised in the 1999 touring exhibition, curated by Sunil Gupta, 'The New Republics: Contemporary Art from Australia, Canada, and South Africa', in which, Yoon also showed. Her first time showing in Australia.
This discursive and social undercommons, itself a response to mass migration, historical decolonisation and shifts in immigration policies, was subtended by journals such as TEN.8 and Third Text, which were circulating through artist networks in the 1990s as photocopies and printed matter. And exposed Yoon to post-colonial theory, British cultural studies, figures such as Stuart Hall, and artistic practices such as that of Sankofa, the Black Audio Film Collective, and Ingrid Pollard, whose work questioned the whiteness of the English countryside and the UK's post-imperial identity.
It was in this context, and in the context of her increasing involvement with the art world in Korea, through a different set of artistic networks that included Young Soon Min, Eunjee Joo, Yoshiko Shimada and Kim Hong-hee, that Yoon turned her critical and artistic attention to Korea and its history of Japanese colonisation, asking herself, "where am I here?" in the place of her birth.
Taking the insights that she developed in the context of settler-colonialism in Canada, Yoon began to investigate subconscious hauntings of colonialism in Korea. How does the body carry history? How is the body transformed by trauma? What overlapping histories of colonialism and war subtend the subconscious?
In this series of durational performance videos, Yoon pivots her black-clad body, sometimes made monstrous with a variety of prosthetic devices, from a vertical to a horizontal axis, and pushes herself along the ground on a hidden platform. Passing through landscapes of historical and political significance, Yoon's horizontal movements are designed to upend modernist progress-focused, ocular-centric narratives, and to explore undercurrents of contemporary society.
In 'The Dreaming Collective Knows no History', for example, Yoon pulls herself along between Japanese and U.S. Embassies in Seoul, Korea, evoking dark histories of war-damaged bodies, Japanese colonialism, and American imperialism suppressed by the collective dreaming of colour TVs and advanced capitalism. The scraping sounds of the wheels on pavement, miked to amplify the sound of friction and her physical effort reminds the viewer of the costs of advanced capitalism, of a kind of cultural colonisation resisting the fluidity with which progress is framed as cost-free. In, 'As It Is Becoming (Beppu, Japan)', her entire form, including face and head, are covered in black giving her bodily form the impression of truly emerging from deeply buried psychological shadows. This form insists on being seen, pushing itself along beneath the photogenic stand of bamboo located on a former U.S. army base and bringing to the surface realities of Japanese imperialism and American occupation against the performance of Japanese beauty and pacifism.
Yoon's investigation of relational emplacement rooted in a positionality of diasphoric world making took on a new scalar significance when she began investigating the impact of the military industrial complex in Korea. It was here in the works, 'Other Hauntings (Dance)' and 'Other Hauntings (Song)' that the work began to take on an environmental perspective, expanding the question, "who am I here to encompass the planetary?"
Both works tell the story of the Gureombi rocks on Jeju island in Korea, an outcropping of sacred rocks upon which an American naval base was built in 2012. The Gureombi rocks were designated by UNESCO as a World National Heritage Site, a world geological park, and a human and biosphere reserve. Ignoring these preservation efforts and then 94% of residents who opposed the base, the South Korean government pressed ahead and expropriated land in order to build the base. Gureombi Base was used for American and Canadian warships, as well as for cruise ships, making visible linkages between militarism and tourism, which she brings out in 'Other Hauntings (Song)'.
In both works, Yoon is asking questions that she has been taking up over the past 10 years. Questions, which take a longer and larger scaler view on her earlier driving question, "Who am I here?" She asks, "How do multiple planes of being exist simultaneously? How can one be here and elsewhere? What are the other hauntings that suffuse places and beings? What does our shared ecology force us to think? And how can we think on the scale of geological time and what inextricable linkages does that enable us to see here?"
I am showing you a clip from the beginning of 'Other Hauntings (Dance)', we will not be looking at 'Other Hauntings (Song)'. This work shows us how militarism haunts the everyday lives of Koreans. A consequence of the long Cold War, the unresolved Korean War and the continued role that Korea plays in global geopolitics in the containment of Chinese power.
It also reflects upon the small human scale of those concerns and urges us to think beyond the Anthropocene. In 'Other Hauntings (Dance)', the story of the Gureombi rocks is narrated by Tara, an activist and a dancer from Busan whose hands move balletically as she speaks.
As she speaks about Gureombi, she invites the viewer to imagine her body as the rocks themselves, she begins to fade and another figure dressed in fatigues with seaweed hair flickers into view. As she speaks the wind blows, further presencing the island, its winds and its energies. And you'll see the strategy that Yoon uses in many of her works, where she uses camera shake or the ways in which she uses the camera, in order to presence different places, in order to sort of presence a relationality.
And in fact, the relationality of the encounter with Yoon is also presenced in this piece, through Yoon's voice, translating spontaneously, hesitantly with a diasporic grasp of language that is both intimate and distant. Yoon's use of voice and imperfect translation amplifies the work's rejection of the documentary form with its authoritative and didactic register and underscores its intersubjective and relational form through zoom with earphones, the effect is amplified even further as you hear Yoon whispering urgently into your ear. What seemed like a far away problem then is brought closer, imbrications of militarism, extractionism, the Anthropocene and environmental degradation is our problem. And as we have learned in the past year and a half, thinking on a planetary scale is a matter of survival. In this most recent work, 'Untunnelling Vision' from 2020, Yoon brings her oeuvre full circle, connecting a diasphoric analysis of colonialism with settler colonialism, the military industrial complex, and relationality. 'Untunnelling Vision' is a complex multimedia installation and socially engaged artwork that straddles the boundaries between social practice, performance, cinematography, sculpture, and landscape photography. The work focuses on the histories of environmental destruction and land dispossession that take place on Treaty 7 territory between Calgary and the Tsuut’ina Nation where 'Untunnelling Vision' was filmed.
In this work, Yoon puts into relation histories of colonialism and dispossession from multiple geographies by exploring the ways in which lands and bodies carry histories. In so doing, she continues an inquiry that has long driven her practice, seeking to make visible the parallels and entangled relationships between Indigenous peoples, immigrants of colour, their histories, and the land. The work is structured in three parts, which use different camera techniques to embody different conceptions of linear time as demanded by the narratives of settler colonialism and progress. Unfortunately, we won't be able to watch the entire work, but I am showing you here, some excerpts, sort of a trailer, and then I will follow it up with specific clips that I'll discuss in detail.
The work begins in Heritage Village, where the film conveys a constructed past-ness through the use of black and white imagery and stuttering, interrupted pacing. Two figures, Yoon's own son, Hanum Yoon-Henderson and seth dodginghorse of the Tsuut'ina Nation walk through the village together and discover a tunnel, a contested construction site, which the city of Calgary forced through against the wishes of the Tsuut'ina Nation.
The transition between Heritage village and the tunnel is signaled through the click of a tourist camera and the manic energy of Rubble the Clown, a figure that holds entangled histories between Canada and Korea, of war and dispossession, cloaked as progress. As the figures begin to walk through the tunnel, their steps begin creating music, pleasure and excess beyond the requirements of forward progress, rhythms of relationality that take us through the film and develop into something larger than these two figures. The rhythms are distinct, yet intertwined, as if to underscore the situational implication of Yoon-Henderson's history as a settler and guest on Tsuut'ina land and dodginghorse's familial ties to the Korean War, in which his Blackfoot grandfather fought. And here, I hope that you heard the difference between the very militarist drum beat of the soundtrack behind the Heritage Village, which then transitions to a much more sort of improvised sound that seth and Hanum were trying to work out as they walked through the tunnel and as they sought to find some way of relating to one another musically. So the song that they play together undermines this technocratic efficiency of the tunnel, which embodies the rush of progress and modernity underscored by the manic absurdity of Rubble the Clown. And here, I'll just play you another clip. The work then settles into a third part, which is set on a piece of the Tsuut'ina Nation that was leased by the Canadian Armed Forces for war simulations. Strewn with rubble, it was later used as a set for the filming of the Canadian war movie Passchendaele, a World War I battle that was critical in the story of Canadian independence from Britain.
This last scene is staged at the end of a series of workshops on these lands and three years of relationship building between Yoon, the Tsuut'ina and Calgary based artists, which included Indigenous peoples, settlers of colour, and white settlers. During these workshops, the group explored inherited histories of colonisation and white supremacy which was experienced by Indigenous peoples and racialised immigrants, seeking to think beyond siloed habits of tunnel vision, hence the title 'Untunnelling Vision'. Importantly, Yoon does not equate different histories and positionalities, but seeks to put them into relation, which is threaded through the work through sound. Earlier, I played you a clip of the 'Sonic Transformation' by dodginghorse and Yoon-Henderson. I'm now playing you a clip from the last scene of this film. Each musician holds an instrument of their own making and marches to the beat of their own drum. Musicians, nonetheless, play in relation to another, eventually creating a musical composition, not dominated by one single theme or melody, but orchestrated in contrapuntal form, which they play while sitting in a circle beneath the ruins of the Passchendaele's site and its glorification of militarised nationalism. Proposing an 'Other Way Through', via the eponymous sculpture that anchors the installation of 'Untunnelling Vision', which I will not be able to address much further than this, Yoon suggests the fertile possibilities of solidarity, lateral analysis, and communities of care that think beyond binaries of coloniser-colonised.
In this sculpture, the tunnel that connects the city of Calgary and the Tsuut'ina Nation is visualised through a printed inkjet photograph of its interior that is rotated 90 degrees and stretched over the exterior of the scale model, turning the tunnel inside out. The gesture surfaces the construction's ugly human and environmental costs on its exterior, while the interior is lined with Pantone colours, evoking the “saekdongot” colours of traditional Korean clothing. As if joined by a tesseract from Madeleine L'Engle's 'Wrinkle in Time', two histories of colonisation and displacement, Korean and Tsuut'ina, crumple and meet, each enriching an understanding of the other in what Yoon calls "vertical time". Here, I take Yoon's musical metaphor of relationally negotiating togetherness as a jumping off point for offering a concept for theorising the work of diaspora art, what I referred to earlier in this lecture as "diaspora as method". Ultimately my intention here is to take the question "Who am I here?" posed by Yoon throughout her oeuvre, from different sites of iteration in order to theorise what I am provisionally calling the "contrapuntal consciousness of diaspora".
This is not a representation of diaspora nor a set of issues understood as being tied to diaspora, but a means of activating diaspora as method, as perspective or lens. This term "contrapuntal consciousness" takes its cue from two concepts. Firstly, Edward Said's notion of contrapuntalism, a term which he takes from musicology to describe, among other things, the attentiveness produced by exile, and I would argue here, migration and diaspora, which "produces a plurality of vision", he writes, "that gives an awareness of simultaneous dimensions." Secondly, the term draws from W.E.B. Du Bois' "double consciousness", a concept that denotes a doubled sense of self in African-Americans, which in Du Bois' words is "a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, the sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others." Contrapuntal consciousness takes on the meaning of both terms, the heightened awareness of simultaneous worlds which enables critical and structural analysis, and also, the racialised sense of being perceived and perceiving oneself as Other within systems of social injustice.
"Contrapuntal" consciousness thus resists the narrow centralism of identity politics and proposes the possibility of anti-racist solidarities that are both intersectional and allow for the comparative analysis of multiple systems of oppression at once. In Yoon, contrapuntal consciousness also opens up to an environmental critique, linking colonialism, extractivism and environmental degradation. The sense of contrapuntal consciousness emerges over the long arc of Yoon's oeuvre, which I have quickly walked you through during this talk. In addition to being reflected in the discursive positions that her works articulate, the critiques of settler colonialism, the trenchant connections that she makes between the military-industrial complex and the tourist and entertainment interests industries. Yoon's work also defines a set of formal tactics that provide a language of contrapuntal consciousness. These formal tactics are central to her work. In the early work, she uses awkward poses, repeated forms, costumes and montage to create what she calls a "synthetic real" or an image that demonstrates its own fictive construction.
These strategies continue in the later work and are joined by a new language of durational form that uses obstruction, voice, camera shake and image manipulation to convey the possibilities of holding multiple perspectives at once. The final moments of 'Untunnelling Vision' are instructive in this respect. And I will just play them for you right now. So I'd like to point out two things about this last clip. First of all, is, of course, the slowing pace of Rubble the Clown, and second of all, is the change in the sound, that you hear the sounds that were begun in the circle coalescing into a composition that takes on an increasingly rhythmic logic, that is still a logic that has multiple voices that then brings in the sound of water, and so, there's the beginnings of a kind of a dialogue between the multiple human perspectives and also nature. So the images here are taken with a 360 degree camera that are flattened into two dimensions and they create an impression of the image plane buckling and twisting to accommodate multiple points of view.
An anthropocentric, extractivist modernity is then taken to task for its domineering cinematic gaze as the work breeds its final moments in the ruins of the Passchendaele set, a fiction that has been fittingly taken back by nature or given back to nature in order to begin re-imagining a more balanced future. As I draw this talk to a close, I ask you, is this how the earth looks from multiple perspectives at once? Is this an embodiment of what the Zapatistas call "a world where many worlds fit"? And I'll end here with a quote from the Zapatista's Fourth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle: "Many words are walked in the world. Many worlds are made. Many worlds make us. There are words and worlds that are lies and injustices. There are words and worlds that are truthful and true. In the world of the powerful, there's room only for the big and their helpers, in the world we want, everybody fits. The world we want is a world in which many worlds fit." Thank you.
Michelle Antoinette: Hello everyone, and thank you, Ming, for such a stimulating and rich lecture. Before we move on to the Q&A, I'll just briefly introduce myself. My name's Michelle Antoinette. I'm a Senior Lecturer and Researcher affiliated with the Art History and Theory program at Monash University, Fine Art, with a specialist interest in contemporary Asian art, including the art of Asian diaspora artists in Australia. I have brown skin, curly hair and dark eyes. I'm wearing a beaded red necklace and mandatory artworld black uniform. I'm wearing thick framed, blue glasses and I am speaking to you from the Monash University Museum of Art gallery premises, otherwise known as MUMA, on the unceded lands of the people of the Kulin Nation.
I acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners and Elders of these lands, past, present and emerging. I also extend my respect to all First Nations people who may be listening in today in Canada and all corners of the world. My role now is to moderate our Q&A session. Again, we invite you all in the audience to submit your questions via the Q&A platform rather than the chat room. This will help us to try and address as many questions as we can. So to kick off our Q&A session, I'll start with a few remarks, a bit of a response, and offer a couple of questions before moving to the broader array of questions from the audience. So, Ming, it's been absolutely fascinating to take in this very close examination of Jin-me Yoon's contemporary art practice, to invite us to hone in on one artist's journey with such great depth and attentiveness. In some ways, it's stating the obvious, but I think it's worth saying that I think your lecture today reminds us that this close art analysis remains so vital to our art historical work, enriching the broader array of approaches and methodologies we work with as art historians, and of course, this is integral also to the task of curating art, which I know you also work in. Ming, when we invited you to present this lecture, you mentioned being particularly interested to have a dialogue with us in Australia about diaspora and settler colonialism. Indeed, as many of us would know, there are strong comparative experiences of diaspora and settler colonialism in Canada and Australia, including the similar but different experiences of European colonialism, histories of migrant settlers, both white migrants and migrants of colour, as you pointed out for the Canadian experience, and of course, there's also the impact of colonialism on First Nations people and their lands, so my comments here stem from my Australian basis in the hope of encouraging such a cross culture dialogue. So I was actually going to start with a small note about Jin-me Yoon in Australia and you did that for us, Ming, today, thank you.
Very interestingly, as Ming said, Jin-me Yoon presented work in Australia over two decades ago in the year 2000 as part of the traveling exhibition, 'The New Republics', and that was organised by the Organisation for Visual Arts in London, and in Australia, it was shown at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art here in Melbourne where we are, where Monash University is in Australia, and I hope I'm not repeating or crossing over too much with things you've already said Ming, but perhaps a little bit more context might be helpful for those who didn't attend that exhibition. The exhibition was curated by Edward Ward and Sunil Gupta, you mentioned Sunil Gupta, Ming, and it was with Claire Williamson who was then the director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
The exhibition gathered the contemporary art practices of 14 artists from South Africa, Canada and Australia, and sought to show how artists from the three countries were individually coming to terms with their respective colonial history after the effects of European colonialism, acknowledging that only South Africa held Republic status. Reflecting the cultural and aesthetic discourses of the time, the exhibition highlighted postmodern concepts in plural cultures, including Indigenous and migrant cultures. To give you a feel of the show, by way of the artists included in it, artists from Australia were Indigenous artists, Gordon Bennett and Richard Bell, Fiona Hall and Elizabeth Gertsakis who was born in Greece, actually. Artists from Canada were, as we've heard, Jin-me Yoon born in South Korea, Dominique Blain, Trevor Gould born in South Africa, and First Nations artists, Rebecca and Kenny Baird, and also, there was Leila Sujir born in India.
And then we had finally the artists from South Africa being Moshekwa Langa, Brett Murray, Clive van den Berg and Sue Williamson, Williamson born in the UK. So Jin-me Yoon, I understand, presented her installation work 'Regard', which was an extension of the work you showed us at the beginning of your lecture, Ming, the work, 'Group of Sixty-Seven', and I so love the fact that you're making reference to this work, Ming, by way of your background and your presence in front of the work they appropriated, the Emily Carr work, 'Old Time Cost Village', right? Great. And look, to give you a sense of the cultural and political climate at the time, the year before 'The New Republics' exhibition, Australia held a referendum to decide on whether it would become a Republic, and Australians voted no.
Four years before that vote, the former Australian prime minister, Paul Keating established the Republic Advisory Committee to promote a discussion around republicanism, and slightly earlier again in 1992, Keating delivered his famous address at Redfern Park in Sydney promoting a path to reconciliation with Australia's Indigenous people by beginning with an apology for the injustices they suffered with colonisation. It was also at this time that Australia adopted a refreshed regional outlook that sought to strengthen Australia's cultural and economic ties with the Asia-Pacific. In the art world, artists initiated exchanges by the Artists Regional Exchange or ARX series, The Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art was established in 1993, Asialink Arts residencies began in 1991, John Clark's Modernism and Post-modernism in Asian Art Conference was held in 1991, and the renowned international journal, Art Asia-Pacific, was launched in 1993.
'The New Republics' exhibition bore resonances with other curatorial projects at ACCA led by Williamson, such as 'Seven Histories of Australia' from 1995, and 'Above and Beyond: The Asian Connection' held in 1996, which Williamson co-curated with Michael Snelling, focusing on work by Australian artists of Asian descent and Australian artists whose work was informed by their experiences of leaving and working in Asia. By the year 2000, 'The New Republics' exhibition took place under quite a changed political climate with these issues of multiculturalism, republicanism and reconciliation taking somewhat of a backseat, but certainly, the art scene remained very actively interested to expand horizons of representation, and this is the milieu that Jin-me Yoon enters in in 2000 in Australia.
So there's just, yeah, a little bit of an exchange, if you like, on the 1990s and this moment that Jin-me Yoon's presenting her work in Australia, and I think it's really interesting to think about the comparative sociopolitical climates in Canada and Australia at this time. So for us in Australia, Jin-me Yoon's practice bears some obvious parallels to the work of a broad range of contemporary Asian-Australian artists we have here in Australia, this includes the central issue around being simultaneously Australian and part of the Asian diaspora. Her story will, I'm sure, resonate with many artists, colleagues and friends here in Australia, as well as those working as art historians and curators who have tracked the careers of many Asian-Australian artists. Perhaps most famously since the establishment of Gallery 4A in Sydney in 1996, now known as the Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and whose founding director was the now US-based curator, Melissa Chiu.
We've also had various waves of Asian migration to Australia, which has seen a number of high profile artists take up citizenship in Australia but who retained strong connections to their Asian countries of origin. So, again, there, I think we can be really thankful to you, Ming, for introducing Jin-me Yoon to a number of us who probably aren't so familiar with Jin-me Yoon's practice, to be able to make these kinds of comparisons. So, very importantly, I guess I just want to add that there is a sentiment that recognising Asian diaspora artists in the Australian art scene contributes to expanded definitions of what we call 'Australian' art, and unsettles established national narratives, especially around an Anglo-Celtic Australian art history. So, again, some strong resonances there with what you've presented today around Jin-me Yoon's, particularly that earlier practice and the engagement with, what is a Canadian national art history? Who is it for? Who does it represent?
So this expanded definition of what we call Australian art also encourages an expanded cultural conversation beyond the binary logic of black and white colonial race relations in Australia in order to recognise both European and non-European settler experience and privilege in the making of the modern Australian nation, and also gets us to think about intersections of colonial experience among diaspora and Indigenous communities. I heard that from you too, Ming, at the outset of your lecture, thinking about the expansion of that binary logic of black and white colonial race relations in Canada. It's this more expansive picture of race relations in Australia that I think can offer a way forward the decolonising art histories in Australia and resisting colonial legacies, and I'm really pleased to say that we have a number of artists in Australia paving the way forward in this regard.
So this understanding of Asian-Australian art, it's not to be limited by yet another category, but to recognise the crossover, the intersection and interaction of both Asian and Australian influences, and the agency of this for an art history that can include diasporic experience and achieve a more complex and expanded national narrative for Australian art history that recognises transnational connections as integral to Australia's art histories. I think this is something that we're still working through in Australia at the level of mainstream institutional narratives and I'd love to hear more about what that situation is like in Canada for, not only Jin-me Yoon, but other diaspora artists in Canada.
So, yes, returning to Jin-me Yoon, her practice, as you say, Ming, presses us to question notions of Canadianness and what it means to be both Asian and Canadian. So yeah, I wonder if you can actually elaborate for us a little bit more on how this has played out with Jin-me Yoon in Canada, how has your practice been positioned in terms of Canada's national art institutions and Canada's art history? And can you elaborate a little bit more on the wider Canadian art environment that Jin-me Yoon's practice is situated in, but might I also just add that I'm interested in your interest in transnational art histories, and I'm thinking about Jin-me Yoon's positioning within Korean art histories as well, and so, I invite you to also speak about how you negotiate these different positionalities for Jin-me Yoon. I will leave you to answer to those couple of questions that I've already put forward and perhaps even to offer some reflections on the response that I offered in terms of the Australian context and what was happening in the 1990s when Jin-me Yoon was invited to present here. Thanks, Ming.
Ming Tiampo: Thank you so much, Michelle, for your incredibly thoughtful comments and provocations, and also for sharing your knowledge about the Australian context. I think it's really through these kinds of conversations that we begin to build the kinds of transnational and complex art histories that are necessary for thinking beyond the nation and thinking beyond these very narrow identity categories, because as I was arguing in the lecture, it's so easy and so frequent for diasporic art to be taken as a very narrow category, but in fact, there are so many connections outwards, it's not a narrow category at all. In fact, there are ways in which it resonates and it sort of enters into dialogue and challenges, not just narratives with the nation, which I think have been part of an ongoing conversation for many, many years, but also thinking about inter-Diasporic conversations. What kinds of networks and discourses of kind of decolonial conversation were taking place in multiple sites at once and how do we make those connections? And that's something that really interests me. Absolutely, I'm so excited to hear about the comparisons that you were bringing out in terms of the parallel histories between Canadian and Australian histories of Diaspora art. I would also add that those histories are perhaps intersecting with the articulation of Black British Art. And I'd love to understand more about how that, perhaps transversal lines of something that connects two parallel lines, which is something that I theorise in the work that I do on the Slade.
How does that transversal line help us to understand not just parallels, but connections between different sites? Perhaps there are even more concrete connections, connections like public show and learning more about how those connections came to be, would be something that would be very very interesting to me and understanding better what those networks actually looked like. And also, perhaps thinking about, what were the connections between Gallery 4A in Sydney and other diasporic sites...And also in Asia. You have asked me three questions, three very good questions. A question about how Yoon's work has been positioned in Canadian art history? About her work and sort of Diaspora Art more generally within mainstream institutional narratives and also positioning her work within transnational art histories? So I think I'll take them in that order. And the first one in terms of how her practice has been positioned in Canadian art history has been very much as a counterpoint to national Canadian narratives. The early work was much more easily understood than the later work, I think, within that kind of a framework. And so it has had much better reception than the later work.
The work that I showed you just now at the very end 'Untunelling Vision' is a very new work from 2020, right? And so it was just shown at TRUCK Contemporary Art Gallery in Calgary, where I think it was very well received actually, but that's a relatively small space. What's interesting is that her work is just starting to be picked now by institutions, National institutions. The later work that is. Her work in the '90s was really ever-present in a critique of Canadian national identity and in a critique of the national narratives that we produce in various contexts, including the Canadian Museum for Contemporary Photography, which was a part of the national gallery of Canada. Her work really featured as the sort of signal work for many important exhibitions that were really about national identity and thinking through multiculturalism.
So, that period of her work is very well known and is part of the collection of the National Gallery of Canada is part of the... But that might be a Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. And it's also a part of the Vancouver Art Gallery's collection and, and many others. She recently had a retrospective organised by the art gallery, Joliette, in Quebec, which is where she did her MFA and that was touring and had quite a good reception. And it's also a touring exhibition being organised right now by the Vancouver Art Gallery, which is touring within Canada and they're still looking for international sites, so if there's anybody in Australia who's interested, please get in touch with me and I'm happy to pass you along to the curator of that show.
It's really at this moment when people are starting to understand the larger implications of her work beyond that first set of quite legible works from the 1990s and that we are starting to enable a larger understanding of diaspora artwork as well and so in your comments, one of the things that you mentioned was that, I don't know if it was surprise or perhaps it was, well, I don't know... That sort of, that you were not expecting that level of visual engagement with the works perhaps, or the sort of, or historical engagement with her works in the sense that Diaspora art is often treated as narrative, as the illustration of an experience. Right?
And so one thing that I really wanted to do here was to think through what the formal interventions are in her work and to think through her work as art, Darby English's book, 'How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness" makes this argument as well, that African American art, diaspora art more broadly, is understood as being didactic, which this work, on some level thinks about structural issues and makes a political critique, but is by no means didactic.
And it's really important for us to understand within this larger artistic project. So I guess those are some of the ways in which her work has been shown and understood within mainstream institutional narratives and also positioned within Canadian art history. For diaspora artists in Canada, until relatively recently..
There has been well, as you sort of sketched out in Australia, there was this moment in the '90s, actually where possibilities of solidarity and possibilities of conversation between artists of colour and Indigenous artists were being explored. And then at a certain moment, there was this kind of separation between the two discourses. More recently, so if I just take the National Gallery of Canada, because that's... I live normally in Ottawa, there was a move to incorporate Indigenous histories into the presentation of the history of art in Canada at the National Gallery of Canada. But interestingly, that completely excluded artists of colour until the contemporary section, right? The contemporary section was much better about incorporating narratives of artists of colour, but really in the Modern period, there was almost nothing in terms of artists of colour. Even the contemporary section had very, very few artists, although they were present. I think that we are in a moment where there's a real insistence on... There's a focus that is urgent and important on Indigenous history. And that urgency is of course brought about by the recent, although not unknown to the people who were involved, revelations about the treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools and the importance of this process of reconciliation. And the last year and a half has also focused Canadian and global audiences on the fact of Black Lives Matter and the importance of looking at African-Canadian narratives and African Diaspora. And those are really important things to keep on the front burner.
I have to say though, that other artists of colour are not seen, and there's still a certain invisibility about artists of colour that are not part of Black and Indigenous communities. Although, in many cases there are parts of the same conversations and the same sorts of discourses. And so this is something that I think that we can all collectively work on, but I'm also thrilled for the fact that Indigenous and black narratives are getting more attention, right? So, Stan Douglas will be representing Canada at the Venice Biennial this year. And there's a Rembrandt show on, up at the National Gallery of Canada, which does something interesting. What they did was they asked two curators, a young African-Canadian curator and Academic called Joana Joachim and Gerald McMaster to write counter histories, not so much counter histories, but responses to the narratives of the Rembrandt show, which were then interspersed among the labels, alongside also some artistic interventions. And that was a good beginning, and I think that's a really important start to begin thinking through, "What does it mean not just to represent Indigenous and artists of colour, but what does it mean to speak from those positions even when it comes to a Rembrandt show or European art." Right? So that those narratives are not lost and those perspectives are part of a larger story.
So, I don't know if you wanted to respond to those responses first.
Michelle Antoinette: Yes. That was a very, very comprehensive response to some of those questions I've raised. I'm conscious actually of taking up too much time myself when there are questions and very interesting questions coming through from the audience. But just a final thing if I may, is to say that just so we don't think we're stuck in the 1990s here, certainly the debates still move on and we continue to be working through the kinds of issues that you raise for contemporary Canada here in Australia and so it's really fantastic that we are having this conversation with you today Ming, and hopefully we can continue them to, yeah, continue to find ways to move forward on these topics of solidarity between diaspora, white settlers, migrant settlers and Indigenous peoples, First Nations peoples.
So turning to the questions from our audience, we have one from Soo-Min Shim. In fact, we have several from Soo-Min Shim, but Soo-Min, we might have to limit it to one question for now. And so I'm going to pick this one from you Soo-Min. Soo-Min says, "Thank you", and that, "it was very interesting to hear your analysis of Yoon's exploration of the similarities between entangled histories of Colonialism in Canada and Korea." And she's wondering if you could speak more on their disparate statuses, however, of Korea being technically post-colonial, gaining independence from Japan, whilst places like Canada and Australia are still part of the colonial project. The other questions are quite, quite different, actually. So I might let you answer that one Ming.
Ming Tiampo: Okay. Thank you very much for your question Soo-Min. This is a really important one actually, and an issue that is dealt with Jin-Me Yoon's work through the distinction that she makes between colonialism and settler colonialism and how she allows each to shed light on the other, in her work, that there isn't an equivalence that she builds between them, but rather an attempt to create resonances where one informs the other. And here in particular, I think it's important to look at well, two things.
It's true, Korea is technically post-colonial having gained independence from Japan, but she does also continue to think through the American military presence in Korea, which is not a colonial presence, but a military presence. So a distinction needs to be made, of course. And then in a Canadian context, the way that she understands herself, both to be a Korean post-colonial subject, but also, a settler of colour, so a coloniser, in the context of Canada is something that creates a very complex set of identity positionalities and opens up relations that she hopes will sort of build new ways forward, right? That's the whole point of these kinds of workshops, she's building and organising with the Tsuut'ina nation, the ongoing conversation that she has with Chief Bill, that these are negotiations that are not simple, but intersubjective and relational.
Michelle Antoinette: Thanks Ming. I'm going to take one final question, cause I see that we have run out of time. I'm picking up on this question Ming, precisely to link in with your comments around the very sort of formalist approach, alongside the cultural, that you've taken in presenting the story of Jin-Me Yoon's work today. It's from my colleague, Melissa Miles here at Art History also. Melissa also says "Thank you, Ming. Can you please speak more about Jin-Me Yoon's work with lens-based media in particular and how the approach to the lens may have changed over the years as understandings of the relationships between the lens, power, the gays, diaspora, and relationality have changed". I thought that'd be an interesting question to bring up, to get us to speak more about Jin-Me Yoon's various media that she works in and her practice.
Ming Tiampo: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Melissa, for this important question and I think here, it's probably useful to think a little bit about, well obviously the sort of the discourses that you're referring to here in terms of lens, power, and gaze, that this was very much a part of Yoon's education, especially given that she was in Graduate School, she was in Graduate School at Concordia, in Montreal, and then spent much of her early well, her entire career actually in Vancouver after that. And so was very much surrounded by Vancouver photos, conceptualism, and she did her BFA at Emily Carr. And that was very much a part of her formation, these sort of theoretical engagements with lens, power, and gaze. And you can see that in the early work, you can see that in the 'Group of Sixty-Seven' and the ways in which she is critically engaging with that, with those dialogues, which in her case were also very much engaged with feminist critiques, right?
As she started getting into durational practices, when she started to think about video, I think that she found different strategies for using the camera and it's probably also worth thinking about Ariella Azoulay's work here and the ways in which she thinks about implicatedness and the ways in which the camera is implicated in the actual space of what it is representing and the ways in which she tries to presence the camera and herself.
She figures in many of these artworks, her family actually figures in many of the artworks, something that I didn't discuss at all today and even in that short clip that I showed you of 'Other Hauntings (Dance)', there's a moment where the camera shakes and she says, "Whoa, it's really windy today". And so there, she's not just presencing herself and the cameraperson, but also nature, the land. And so it's very much about trying to incorporate different perspectives into the camera lens, but then also of course the manipulations that she's doing with her 360 camera, that's something that I haven't quite figured out yet a 100%, it's new in her work, it's something that I'm still trying to understand from a more theoretical perspective. So, if there are any thoughts from any audience members, I would be very appreciative.
Michelle Antoinette: Mmm, very interested to see where Jin-Me Yoon goes with her new works. So we will have to close today's session. And in closing, on behalf of my colleagues and I at the Art History and Theory program, in the School of Fine Art at Monash Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, I'd like to, again, acknowledge Margaret Plant after whom our annual lecture series is named. And I'd like to sincerely thank you Ming for presenting this year's lecture and giving us so much to think about. I'm really hoping to continue our conversations. I'd also like to thank staff at the Monash University Museum of Art MUMA, for assisting with the coordination and logistics of today's lecture in particular, Senior Curator Hannah Mathews, Director Charlotte Day, Communications Officer Warisa Somsuphangsri and Event Assistant Rachel Schenberg. Finally, a huge thanks to you, our audience for joining us today. We're really looking forward to seeing you again next year and hope you all stay very safe and well. Thank you everyone, and thank you again Ming.