Text by Leila Armstrong for Eurasialicious publication

Questions of Enunciation: Eurasialicious
It is enunciation that circumscribes the marginalized positions of subjects historically misrepresented or underrepresented in dominant systems of representation. … The contestation of marginality … inevitably brings the issue of authorship back into play, not as the centered origin that determines or guarantees the aesthetic and political value of a text, but as a question about agency in the cultural struggle to ‘find a voice’ and ‘give voice’ to subordinate experiences, identities, and subjectivities.
-- Kobena Mercer (1)

Eurasialicious is a multi-media exhibition by Kevin Ei-ichi deForest and Lana Ing Gabor which focuses on the intersection of racial and cultural identity with popular culture.  Both deForest and Gabor identify a lack of portrayals of Eurasians in mainstream media and acknowledge the inability of the word Eurasian to aptly describe either of their lived experiences.  Given that Eurasia is an actual geographic area with its own historic and cultural specificity, the term Eurasian fails to provide any clear definition of self for either artist.  Thus, Eurasialicious provides a tongue-in-cheek moniker for the artists’ attempt to create the possibility of community together.

In two distinct series of digital prints and a video installation, Gabor references her mixed racial and cultural identity.  In the first series of prints (2005), Gabor inserts her own image into stills from Hollywood films The World of Suzie Wong (Richard Quine, 1960), Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (Henry King, 1955) and The Joy Luck Club (Wayne Wang, 1993).  The World of Suzie Wong is a romantic melodrama in which an American artist (William Holden) living in Hong Kong meets and falls for his model, a local prostitute (Nancy Kwan).  The film portrays its leading lady as cunning and over-sexualized while, at the same time, remarkably unsophisticated and childlike.  During an argument between the interracial couple, Holden’s character states that he isn’t interested in “discussing the ethnic concepts of morality.”  Throughout the film, the moral disparity between Holden’s and Kwan’s characters is presented as one based more on cultural distinctions than evident class differences.  In this way, the film overtly ties morality to the conventions of perceived racial standards.

More than questioning racial stereotyping in the film, by placing herself in specific scenes, Gabor upsets the tenets of this tepid romance.  At the bottom of the brothel’s staircase, Suzie no longer encounters the thuggish sailor who will beat (and by implication rape) her.  Instead, she encounters Gabor dressed in a slinky, distinctly Asian-style dress not unlike her own.  As a result, Suzie is no longer the hapless victim of working-class white male violence destined to be saved, ironically, by a middle-class, gentler and more sophisticated white man.  Instead, she is met by a woman who, like Kwan (the actress portraying Suzie), is neither Asian nor white, but connected to both cultures.  The viewer, thus, can imagine a different sort of relationship between the two subjects depicted: one involving a discussion of shared experience as well as difference.  Furthermore, by choosing a film from an era, and a genre, which tends to be overly simplistic in their depiction of racial difference, Gabor skillfully generates the very ambiguity that engages the viewer and initiates dialogue.

In “Love Series: digital interventions into Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (2006).” Gabor appropriates a scene from Love is a Many-Splendored Thing -- also a romantic melodrama -- in which an American war correspondent (again played by Holden) falls for a Eurasian female doctor (played by non-Asian actress Jennifer Jones).  The couple faces a myriad of challenges including prejudice against an interracial couple, her family’s traditional Chinese values, and the fact that Holden’s character is married with children.  In the scene Gabor works with, Holden is driving a convertible with Jones in the passenger seat beside him.  Gabor maintains Jones’s profile but replaces her hair and features with postcards of the Hong Kong cityscape: streets filled with signage, a marketplace, etc..  During the looped scene, the viewer/listener hears a dialogue between Jones’s character and her friend Suzanne, a fellow Eurasian. At one point Jones tells her “Oh Suzanne, you should be proud to be Eurasian and proud of your Chinese heritage”, to which her friend replies, “Nonsense, you can’t be two things at once.”

Gabor has expressed her intent in choosing to work with this specific scene as wanting to “infiltrate [the] cultural stereotypes and racial miscasting presented.”(2)  Certainly, in this regard, she has succeeded.  Furthermore, by choosing dialogue in which Suzanne suggests that Jones’s character pass for “English,” in spite of pressure from others that she embrace her Asianess, Gabor highlights this character’s predicament: the expectations of her friends and her lover that she remain Asian and the reality of the privileges attached to being perceived as white.  There is no grey area presented in which the specificity of her identity can exist, let alone flourish.

In the second series of digital images, Local Foreigner, Hong Kong/China Series (2006), Gabor documents her search for a cultural identity during a visit to Hong Kong and China in the summer of 2006.  The project involves the artist dressing in traditional Hungarian garb and inviting the public to photograph her in a variety of tourist destinations.  Reminiscent of Jin-Me Yoon’s Post Cards of the Self (1991), in which Yoon photographed herself in tourist sights in and around Banff, Alberta, Gabor plays with prevailing stereotypes of the Asian tourist and adds yet another aspect of self-representation into the mix.  By dressing in the customary clothing of another culture, she conflates the tourist with the local and the observer with the observed.  Gabor, a woman of Chinese and Hungarian ancestry, explains that this body of work allowed her to “explore [notions] of visibility/invisibility, local/foreigner, authentic/unauthentic.”(3)

DeForest also addresses his experiences of racial and cultural hybridity through a variety of media including the reworking 1970s rock and pop LP jackets.  In “The Record Shop” (1994) deForest alters or completely obscures original album artwork, reinterpreting the initial designs and disrupting their highly stylized aesthetic.  In addition, deForest often utilizes his own image instead of, or as well as, the previous figures depicted.  In “Halfer Blvd.,” a reworking of a ‘70s Sesame Street album cover, he places himself amongst the original cast talking with Big Bird.  By suggesting a dialogue between himself and the beloved Muppet character, deForest playfully challenges the frequently unquestioned liberal notion of multi-culturalism touted by the popular PBS children’s program.

The exhibition also includes a mixed media installation by deForest.  Contained inside a large cardboard box set atop another box, “The Cave” (2005-2006) requires the viewer crouch down and peer through two 1” in diameter peep holes to view a cavern with cardboard stalactites and stalagmites in the foreground and a monitor in the background.  In the black and white video loop shown within, the artist stands in a suspiciously synthetic looking cave cringing and scowling at an unknown, off-screen threat.  Accompanied by a soundtrack of ominous music and shivering breathiness, the atmosphere of the piece is dark, brutal, and sinister.  Set in this strangely artificial landscape reminiscent of 1960s and ‘70s television sci-fi series such as Star Trek and Land of the Lost, “The Cave” allows one to furtively glimpse the Other’s private nightmare consisting of despair, apprehension and an uncomfortable sense of antipathy.

In both bodies of work, deForest addresses the constructed quality of mainstream representations including the language of pre-CD LP jackets and the conventions of television and film genres.  In this way, deForest is able to address the similarly constructed quality of his own identity.  By using a distinctly artificial setting in “The Cave” he is entering into a dialogue about the ability of the “fake,” whether a genre or a stereotype, to communicate a set of assumptions.  DeForest works with established genres to emphasize these assumptions and thereby draw comparisons between the structuring of filmic language, or aesthetics, and the production of cultural identity.

In the quote at the opening of this text, Kobena Mercer suggests that the ways in which certain subjects and subjectivities are represented, misrepresented, or ignored by the mainstream are the result of “[T]he question of enunciation” -- who is empowered to speak, who is spoken to, and what codes of communication do they share (4).  The works in Eurasialicious acknowledge both the prevalence of misrepresentations as well as the absence of representations of Eurasians.  Through thoughtful and thought provoking depictions of self, deForest and Gabor introduce “the author” back into the equation as someone who is empowered to speak and who creates a space for Other voices to enter into dialogue with one another.

1.  Kobena Mercer, “Skin Head Sex Thing: Racial Difference and the Homoerotic
Imaginary,” How Do I Look?, Bad Object Choices (eds.), (Seattle:  Bay Press,
1991), p. 181.

2.  Lana Ing Gabor, Eurasialicious DVD, 2007.

3.  Ibid..

4.  Mercer, 181.