The “Articulate Object” considers a particular Chinese legend, where objects become key players in blurring the lines between historical fact and fiction. The legend of Fusang is a 7th Century tale describing the travels of a Buddhist monk, Hui shen, along the coast of the Americas in the latter part of the 5th Century. Fusang was the name given to the land where Hui shen had travelled. There is little historical and archaeological evidence of the monk’s journey; however, there have been claims that a few ancient Chinese urns and coins were found off the coast of British Columbia. Amateur archaeologists have used these findings as proof of early encounters between Indigenous and Chinese communities related to Fusang. As an artist of Chinese heritage raised in British Columbia, I am interested in these reports, even if speculative. “The Articulate Object” builds on these narratives through a series of drawings and photographs examining the documentation of these found artifacts. The project unfolded in two phases: (1) initial research and drawing, (2) a photographic series.
Over the past few years, I have been collecting reports of pre-Columbian Asian objects discovered in BC and Alaska – some have not been officially identified. These records were provided by the Underwater Archaelogical Society of BC, the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, and the Alaska State Museum. My focus has been on objects from the same time period as the legend of Fusang.
Based on this research, I created a series of drawings, each clustered around a different case study of the found objects. Each cluster includes a representation of one of the objects in question, as well as related artifacts that were identified in archaeological reports or local news stories. These groupings speculate upon the connections made between Asian and Indigenous communities as reported by these sources.
For the second part, I digitally scanned the original drawings to produce a series of photographs. Once scanned, all the digital images had their light and dark values reversed, so that the final version is an inversion of the original drawing. In this way, the drawings act as negatives of the photographs. However, the unknown, Pre-Columbian objects underwent a slightly different process: I initially drew them as “negatives,” so that it becomes inverted twice (during the drawing process and again after the digital scan). The final photographic versions of these unknown artifacts will stand out as “positive” photographs, in contrast to the others images. I am interested in the inversion as a means to de-familiarize and slow the process of looking. The groupings are not meant to provide an accurate comparison or categorization, but instead point to the range and often disparate references made when trying to identify the unknown.
The original drawings and inverted photographs are shown together in the same room. By juxtaposing the two series, my hope is to show discrepancies and commonalities between two forms of representation. Neither form is completely accurate, but together they expand our sense of the objects themselves, through the remediation, repetition, and inversion.
Special thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for supporting this project.
Photo credit: Rachel Topham (drawings) and Blaine Campbell (Rubycreek Bowl drawing), Art Gallery of Alberta (installation views)