When I am forced to give my elevator pitch, I say “video, performance, sculpture”. In that order.
But if given a chance, I like to relay a story of when I reviewed a children’s book for a television show, Reading Rainbow. Broadcast on PBS in the early ‘90s, the series aimed to educate children about the joys of reading. At the time, I was eight years old and oblivious to the social dynamics that surrounded the show; but, when I look back at my younger self, I recognize how all the elements from my book review weave and inform my current work.
The experience marked the first time I “performed.” Rehearsed words had to be said aloud, over and over again, in front of a camera. I learned to speak with exaggerated tones and emphasized particular words that felt unnatural to me. I learned to perform a version of my non-self.
People always ask, “how’d you get onto Reading Rainbow?” By chance, I went to a diverse elementary school. On the annual picture day, someone from Reading Rainbow had come down to, in a sense, pick the colors of the rainbow, in gender and race. Unwittingly, I fulfilled assumed categorizations of gender and race that make up our identity: I represented a category of Chinese and male.
Lastly, in my book review, I introduced myself as “Chris,” a name my parents gave me, although this wasn’t the first name they picked. As their first child, my parents had agonized over my name and eventually settled on Zhiwan, which means “intelligent cloud.” But right before I was born, my parents freaked out and thought I wouldn’t be able to assimilate properly with a Chinese name, so they added Christopher as my first name.
This intersection of performing, racial identity, and naming informs my search for an understanding of an impossible homecoming. It is a journey guided by an allusive visual language, with a mix of pop cultural, art historical, and aesthetical signals and choices that also guide audiences into finding their own rites of passage.