May 35th, 2017. Rives BFK paper, laser photocopy print, ink, gouache, charcoal, 3 hours 0 minutes.
This performance seeks to open questions about how we fill in gaps of information when historically authoritative sources — for example, the news media — are vulnerable to interrogation. Whose narrative shapes our perception of the world? How do we unravel the fictive from the real in the face of unspeakable horrors, amidst both individual and institutional attempts to mythologize?
In this performance, I read through a stack of re-printed editions of major U.S. newspapers from June 4, 1989, cutting out provocative headlines and images and pasting them on a scroll, creating a physical "newsfeed" of the day’s events. I primarily read silently, occasionally punctuating the silence by giving voice to the passages that provoked a bodily response in me — embodying my own processing of the news. As the "newsfeed" began to dry, I then engaged in a process of erasure and re-constructing: discomposing and reshaping the narrative.
As a Chinese-American immigrant, I come from a country where trustworthy news narratives exist outside of the traditional authorities, and I reside in a country where the sovereignty of the media is becoming increasingly vulnerable. Domestic Chinese Google searches for the date “June 4, 1989” do not yield any information about the Tiananmen Massacre, and one early effort to bypass government censors was to code the event as “May 35th”.
I thus seek to interrogate May 35th as an act of making meaning from a transnational space. How do we make sense of received mythologies when we are separated temporally and geographically from traumatic events that continue to resonate in our cultural, historical and sociopolitical consciousness decades after they have transpired?