Adele H. Stamp Student Union - Center for Campus Life

Not Your Model Minority
Pandemic, Proximity, and Power
 

stephanie mei huang

Artist Statement

My most recent ongoing body of work, the foul lump in my throat, is a study in racial melancholia and racial grief, in examining how and why we fixate, even devour that which we are excluded from. In this case, it is my double’s (a Chinese cowgirl avatar) fixation on the American West, a mythological space she recognizes as biopolitically, historically, and thus, residually not belonging to her. The non-aligned position is not always something you choose for yourself––for many diasporic, melancholic subjects, it is automatic. Migration (forced or chosen) severs centrism––centrism provides distance and discernment. How does the diasporic cowgirl discern the American West? You are constituted within self contradictory positions of identifying, ultimately untethered.

The anti-Chinese discourses and anti-Asian racism that have emerged as a result of pandemic bring to light even more relevance to this body of work. The Chinese have a deeprooted history of being denied access to American identity, particularly in the West. Xenophobic rhetoric that characterized 19th Century “yellow peril,” such as bacteriological racism, germ theory, and animacy theory, is being used now to produce economies of fear to identify the threat of COVID-19 as stemming from the other, outside of the nation-state.

These histories that I have been reckoning with in the body of work are now being violently resurfaced. The yellow body, historically rendered invisible, now experiences a hypervisibility. how to paint a rocking horse, filmed on March 30, is an immediate response to these resurfaced histories––a performative lecture two weeks into the stay-at-home order in Los Angeles, in which I perform auto-theory while painting a mechanized rocking horse, a metaphor for the precariously thin line the Chinese body teeters upon.


how to paint a rocking horse (excerpt) from stephanie mei huang on Vimeo.

 

stephanie mei huang, how to paint a rocking horse, 2020. VHS-c converted to digital, sound, found carousel horse, steel, oil, 12V power supply, windshield wiper motor, 11 minutes.

Filmed on March 30, from my kitchen in Los Angeles during the stay-at-home order, how to paint a rocking horse is a performative lecture that uses auto-theory to synthesize the COVID-19 crisis, racial grief, and the colliding temporalities that arise with resurfacing histories of anti-Chinese rhetoric within the American West.

 


 


 

white vegetable i from stephanie mei huang on Vimeo.

stephanie mei huang, white vegetable i, 2020. 16mm converted to digital, 3 minutes

Camera by Erica Sheu

 

 

white vegetable ii from stephanie mei huang on Vimeo.

stephanie mei huang, white vegetable ii, 2020. 16mm converted to digital, 3 minutes

 

 

white vegetable iii from stephanie mei huang on Vimeo.

stephanie mei huang, white vegetable iii, 2020. 16mm converted to digital, 3 minutes

Camera by Erica Sheu

 

In considering Freudian melancholia, Freud details how melancholia is pathological, and the melancholic cannot “get over” loss, and in turn, melancholia exists as a type of consumption. Freud writes: “the ego wishes to incorporate this object into itself, and the method by which it would do so, in this oral or cannibalistic stage, is by devouring it.”
If we consider the white vegetable as a poetic vehicle for exclusion, the American West, and for whiteness, what is the melancholic’s relationship with its lost object?

 


inauguration (excerpt) from stephanie mei huang on Vimeo.

stephanie mei huang, inauguration, 2020. VHS-c converted to digital, sound, video, found footage, 6 minutes.

A parafictional documentary in which my double, a Chinese cowgirl avatar, recounts her admission into the Cowboy Artists of America, a contemporary society of artists, dedicated to upholding frontier mythology. Aside from the first and only indigenous member to be inducted in 1993, the CAA have always been composed of white men, and refer to themselves as a “brotherhood.”


transcription:


stephanie mei huang, seven self-portraits as a cowboy, 2019. 3'x4', oil on linen, sisal, horse shoes. 

Artist Biography

Within the first six years of my life, I moved from Wisconsin to Indiana, then to Yokohama, Japan, and to Shanghai, China. Through this diasporic upbringing, my work finds its roots in globalization and the role of of cultural fragmentation and displacement in changing perceptions of nationhood, loss, and identity. Through research and practice, I aim to erode the violent mythologies that perpetuate expansionist, exceptionalist, and settler colonial narratives, in the hopes of excavating forgotten, erased, and partial histories. I yearn to locate sites of emergence from which we can perhaps fabulate new and adjacent histories.

As a Chinese American artist, I dialogue with and challenge the affective racialized, gendered constructions that codify my body and identity as “harmless” and “non-threatening” within the hegemonic West. I am interested in how my presence has the capacity to disarrange systems of prediction based upon otherness and threat. I see slippery, chameleonic identity as a form of infiltration: a soft power reversal within hard architectures of power. I explore these subjects through a diverse range of media and strategies including film/video, installation, social interventions, sculpture, writing, and painting.