Literature Review 01

  • November 09, 2020
  • // Sweet Dreams Are Made of This


My journey from the now partially evicted village in Hong Kong has led me to a reengagement with my roots and heritage. Since then, I have been searching and working towards making sense out of what I have just retrieved. First, I began to connect my experiences from this village with topics such as de- and neocolonialism in Hong Kong and Asia, which further led me to topics like urban farming, (non-)indigenous wisdom, feminism ecology and socially engaged art. Exploring the literature in this field I realised that there could be more contributions regarding decolonial healing in Asia, how those structures of power put in place by colonial forces can be made visible and what approaches there are to overcome them. Jon Sueda shares his understanding of a work process that I have tried to incorporate into my own process. Kirksey Eben writes about his experiences with the Mee people of West Papua and topics such as multispecies communities and infrastructures of power. My friend Michael Leung shared many articles, zines and moments with me and has introduced me and steered my interests towards many of topics mentioned. Homi Bhabha dissects colonial discourses (in India) and Robert Wolff shares wisdoms from ancient cultures. Jack Latham and Ocean Vuong share their experience in a more subtle and poetic way.

Sueda, Jon. 2014. All Possible Futures. London: Bedford Press.

Jon Sueda describes an understanding of the work that I very much agree with. He sees the “final product” as the “interaction between the viewers’ imagination and our design. (…) A hint rather than explicitly communicate.” (Sueda, 83) To alter perceptions of reality, that it is not fixed and the only one, and show different possibilities through social fiction, value fiction and science fiction. (Sueda, 82) That sometimes we need fiction and imagination to talk about something. Sueda understands the work as research, as a conceptual result. By doing thorough research, one builds what Sueda calls the “vocabulary” of the project, that allows you to speak the “language” of the project. (Sueda, 91) So it does not matter which form the “final product” takes, whether it is an installation, film, photograph, performance, …, as long as it “speaks” the language and uses the appropriate vocabulary.

Kirksey, Eben. 2017. “Lively Multispecies Communities, Deadly Racial Assemblages, And The Promise Of Justice”. The South Atlantic Quarterly 116 (1): 195-204.

In this paper, Eben Kirksey describes his experiences in Unipo, a village in West Papua. Built by a logging company under the grace of the Indonesian government, it aims to turn the indigenous nomadic hunter-gatherer people of the Mee into a governable population. Kirksey shows here the effects of the interplay of racism, capitalism and political agendas. The Trans-Papua Highway introduced novel technologies, infrastructures and dreams to indigenous life (as Wolff criticises this development as a process of throwing away heritage). Meanwhile, the Mee people are barred from this new lifestyle, as they are discriminated and regarded as less-human and are denied access to healthcare that led to preventable deaths. However, introducing health care would not be necessary if the Mee people and the system of life in West Papua hadn’t been disrupted in the first place. The highway disrupted much of the ecosystem and led to a drain of resources for the indigenous people. Additionally, as the Mee people were nomads and “seasonal migrations disrupted the life cycle of the malarial parasite”, (Kirksey 197) infections were low. With the introduction of the sedentary lifestyle in Unipo, the malaria disease killed nearly half of the village. This example shows the colonial logic exercised by a government, that disregards traditions and lifestyles and sees nature as something that needs to be defeated and exploited instead of understanding and stripping internalised values and attitudes towards multispecies communities.

Leung, Michael. 2019. Working For The Commons (Part 2). 1st ed. Hong Kong: Self-published.

Michael Leung’s travel led him from small community farms and urban villages in Hong Kong to various communities, most lately to Europe, and brings back stories from which these notes tell. Stories of a global struggle for soil and resistances against neoliberal capitalist expansions. Stories of mutual aid, care and learning. Reclaiming what is ours: earth and soil.

U. 2016. Protect Our Farmland Act 1. Hong Kong. (Zine)

In addition to Michael Leung’s notes, this Zine, written by an activist resisting the eviction of Ma Shi Po village in the so-called New Territories in Hong Kong. An excerpt of their diary inside the fortress they have built to resist government forces, the stories tell of a spiritual connection with the soil, of our soul, the soul of the environment we inhabit and the souls of the creatures that inhabit this environment. Stories of decolonial healing amidst the neocolonial society Hong Kong has found itself.

Bhabha, Homi. 1983. “Of Mimicry And Man: The Ambivalence Of Colonial Discourse”. In Colonialist And Post­ Colonialist Discourse, 125-133. New York.

In this conference paper, Homi Bhabha formulates theories in the colonial discourse, one important one is what he calls Mimicry. Mimicry he describes not as harmonisation, but as “becoming mottled against a mottled background”, a camouflage.(Bhabha, 125) It is a representation of the differences between coloniser and colonised and a process of disavowal. A series of strategies to reform, regulate, discipline and appropriate the Other. (Bhabha, 126) Bhabha describes this in following aspects in the backdrop of the English colonisation of India: Imitation: Mimicry as “imitation of english manners”, making the subjects remain under British protection. It is a desire of the colonised subject to be authentic through mimicry of the New World.(Bhabha, 129) A desire that is permissible and known but concurrently one that must be kept concealed. Bhabha calls it an interdictory (prohibitive, forbidden) desire. (Bhabha, 130) In short, invoking a desire of the colonised subject to become or assimilate to its coloniser Revaluation: Revaluation of knowledge that was norm before and redefining race, history, culture in the colonised society.(Bhabha, 131) In India, Christianity, in a feverish dream of post-Enlightenment civility seeks to normalise the colonial state, now becomes diffused and colludes with the caste system to prevent political opposition and alliances. Christianity so becomes a form of social control.(Bhabha, 127) Metonymies of Presence: Strategies of desire in the colonial discourse that portray and represent the colonised subject as something other than a process of “the return of the repressed”. (Bhabha, 130) I understand that as to depict them differently than persons who are returning or being returned to civilised Christian society. They are depicted as the Other. Those metonymies are the “nonrepressive productions of contradictory and multiple belief, a strategic confusion of cultural production of meaning.”(Bhabha, 130) Otherness: Mimicry shatters one’s own sovereignty over oneself. (Bhabha, 129) The colonised subjects become products of racial, cultural and national representation. Products of how the colonisers depicts them racially, culturally and nationally. (Bhabha, 131) Those discriminatory identities are constructed across traditional and cultural norms. Mimicry making the notion of “origin” problematic. So this mixed and split origin is defining their fate, as when you mimic white men and betray your coloured descent, you are still excluded from society and enjoy none of the privileges. (Bhabha, 130) Quite/not white: this realisation of otherness and other realisations from the colonial discourse, become what Bhabha calls objets trouvés. These become accidentally the founding objects that lay the foundation for the New Western World. Through colonisation, the Western World found new meanings for itself, redefines itself as what it is today. (Bhabha, 132)

Wolff, Robert. 2001. Original Wisdom. Rochester: Inner Traditions International.

Robert Wolff shares stories and knowledge from various cultures and indigenous societies he has visited and lived with. More than practical knowledge, he conveys different knowledge systems, with which he questions our dominant Western way of seeing the world. I have been looking for other ways to learn from other cultures and societies and shed the western layers of knowledge and assumptions, or as Wolff puts it, “other ways of being human”. He argues that in this new world we created, inhabited by things and machines, we threw away much of our heritage and culture as a creature of this planet. He further explains how we should shed our preconception that one way of knowledge (the Western one) is superior to others. This knowledge system has stripped many cultures from their ancient cultures. Through experiencing reality through a different point of view, we rediscover and recreate traditions and old knowledge systems. ”(…) if we listen, we can know”, the ethics of care.

Latham, Jack. 2020. Latent Bloom. London: Here Press.

Speaking of learning from other beings, photographer Jack Latham colludes with a machine instead of only relying on his camera to picture our world. Latent Bloom is a book co-created with an AI that Latham taught using flowers he picked during the Covid-19 pandemic and written works about photography. What emerged is a book with 124 photographs and 124 photography theory texts. A machine that “cannot see nor fathom what it is that it is producing” re-imagining our world. When machines and humans co-create, they compliment and bring each other further. The machine is then not merely an executor of our instructions anymore, but humans and machines are mutually affording each other. The AI produces what it thinks our world looks like. And through its view, we may have a completely new perspective to learn from and to look differently at our world.

Vuong, Ocean. 2019. Night Sky With Exit Wounds. Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon.

“Yes you have a country. Someday, they will find it while searching for lost ships…”

Night Sky With Exit Wounds is a collection of Poems by Ocean Vuong, an American-Vietnamese writer and poet. They reflect and distill topics such as war, love, LGBTQ+ (why do we need labels for everything again?), family and life as a “yellow kid” in America in an utterly honest, direct and exposing way that one might feel exposed and vulnerable themselves. Or short: They are simply beautiful and have an inherent transformative quality.
I chose this collection of poems instead an academic paper or things like that because I hope to achieve those qualities in my work. I want to create something that is transformative, delivers a new experience, a surprise or disagreement. Something that people passing by will take a fragment with them. And through that to rediscover what I willingly lost. And own it.

Next Readings

  • Held, Virginia. 2007. The Ethics Of Care. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Bishop, Claire. 2014. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art And The Politics Of Spectatorship. New York: Verso Books.
  • Thompson, Nato. 2012. Living As Form: Socially Engaged Art From 1991-2011. Boston: The MIT Press.
  • Kester, Grant H. 2011. The One And The Many: Contemporary Collaborative Art In A Global Context. North Carolina: Duke University Press.
  • Brown, Kathryn. 2016. Interactive Contemporary Art. London: I.B. Tauris.
  • Jemielniak, Dariusz, and Aleksandra Przegalinska. 2020. Collaborative Society. Boston: The MIT Press.
  • Gómez-Barris, Macarena. 2017. The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies And Decolonial Perspectives. North Carolina: Duke University Press Books.
  • Mignolo, Walter, and Catherine E Walsh. 2018. On Decoloniality. North Carolina: Duke University Press Books.
  • Manzo, Rosa D, Lisceth Brazil-Cruz, Yvette Gisele Flores, and Hector Rivera-Lopez. 2020. Cultura Y Corazón: A Decolonial Methodology For Community Engaged Research. Arizona: University of Arizona Press.