MY BODY, MY POETRY
The focus of My Body, My Poetry is the exploration of my Chinese culture with a focus on themes relating to loneliness and gender empowerment. The work employs photographing and capturing video footage of body movement portrayed in a romantic setting with the use of objects from Chinese culture such as flowers that symbolise innocence and purity, as well as elegance and reverence that ties to femininity. In contrast, the project uses masks and dancing choreography from traditional mask dancing in Sichuan China to convey masculinity to the stereotyped female character and introduce these different characters that portray loneliness.
I am subverting Chinese traditional gender roles and expectations by installing two video projections. The videos are projected onto walls facing each other. The first video portrays the woman in her most delicate, composed and feminine role. With the other showing her portraying a masculine role. The two videos, even though contrasting to each other, speak to each other. In Wong Kar Wai’s film In the Mood for Love, Mrs. Chan is portrayed as elegant and beautiful. She is a woman tied to her society’s views of formality and propriety. Likewise, in Yang Fu Dong’s films, the women are portrayed as elegant, beautiful figures judged by their aesthetic value. There is a necessary frankness in confronting female desire and the exploitation of the female body. However, taking from Yang Fu Dong’s dreamlike meditations on Chinese culture and identity with beautiful vibrant colours and manmade landscapes to imitate reality, my concept was to create a poetic video piece capturing it through the lens of the female gaze—to have an embodiment of Chinese culture as a whole rather than looking into a specific aspect of it. Taking bits and pieces of Chinese traditions and objects and incorporating them together. The use of flowers such as the Orchid symbolises innocence and purity, as well as elegance and reverence that ties to femininity. At the same time, the incorporation of Chinese masks and traditional Chinese mask dancing brings in masculinity to contrast the fragile femininity stereotypes of women.
My objective with this project was to intentionally take photographs for a personal project. However, I decided I could take advantage of this and film footage. I turned it into a short abstract piece, translating my idea to the audience in a poetic manner. My methods involved researching meanings behind flowers in Chinese culture and womanhood and to incorporate these elements poetically in an aesthetic setting showing gender empowerment, together with visiting the ACMI Light exhibition (2022) to learn more about lighting and how it impacts and sets a mood, and gathering inspiration for sets and ways I could use continuous lights to create a moody aesthetic as I would be filming in a photography studio. Further, I looked into mask changing dances. This traditional dance came from Sichuan China. In pulling-down masks (Chinese: 扯脸), the actor can pull down a mask which has previously been hidden on top of their head, changing their face to red, green, blue or black to express happiness, hate, anger or sadness, respectively. I used the colours of blue to express sadness and red-ish/orange to express bravery, heroic, loyalty. I wanted the model to wear these masks that I had painted and to dance in a very aggressive manner to channel masculinity as the masks themselves looked fierce and bold, exploring sadness in my culture and expressing the loneliness I feel with being uncultured and ‘white-washed’. With red representing bravery, I try re-educate myself in my culture and to stay true to who I am knowing that the fact that I have adopted both Chinese and Western cultures isn’t necessarily a bad thing—although it is looked down upon by older generations as they expect these traditions to stay alive and to be passed down.
My creative concepts involved research into the photographic artists such as Leslie Zhang and Cho-Gi Seok. Leslie Zhang is a Chinese photographer and videographer based in Shanghai. His work looks at exploring his romantic portrayal of Chinese culture and poetic representation of daily objects. Secondly, Cho-Gi Seok is a Korean photographer based in Korea. Even though his works do not resemble Chinese culture, I was still inspired by his ways of using flowers in his photography work. He focuses his work in surrealism on portraits that are distinct for their use of vibrant colours, recurring motion of bodies, flowers, butterflies and technology. A world balanced with natural and artificial elements. The photos from these artists were so visually stunning and colourful they inspired me to film in colour and incorporate as much colour on set. I brought in all these flowers to decorate the set and create this nature-like environment in an indoor photography studio. I also conducted research into flowers and their significant role in Chinese culture. They’ve appeared in countless poems, paintings, and other literary works. They’ve also been used in ceremonies and rituals to express emotion and spiritual meanings. Additionally, flowers represent female empowerment and femininity. I also sourced a model who is of Chinese ethnicity to shine light on my Asian culture and to re-educate myself in my roots and ancestors.