Tales from the Silk Road: Baesianz & Nowneess Asia
Emoji summary: 🌏 🕸 😬
I’ve been such a good girl. I’ve not rubbed up against a Big Bad Institution in absolutely fucking ages. But now it’s like blue balls, it’s been so long since I felt that friction, I’m just spoooooiiiiling for a fight. I think this is a messy text; it’s all complicated and sticky and I am trying to talk about it all at once. So, let’s go slow, ease ourselves in gently.
Tales from the Silk Road is a cluster of films curated by Baesianz, and hosted on Nowness Asia. First: the films. At the time of writing, there are 3 films from this cluster up on Nowness Asia.
Co-star notification flashes up, aspect in 4:3. Screenshots clash with archive footage and grainy analogue reels. A voiceover plays on top, a poem spoken aloud like it is heavy. Rhythm, rhyme, all that is missing is melody - but there’s the jumble of images to fill that gap. It all bleeds into each other, like montage and glitch, purposeful.
A music video and a love letter to the 90s and the universal screen-kitsch. ‘Beirut drag royalty Anya Kneez takes centre stage in Wake Island's official music video for Last Ruins’. But this is also a study; there is a careful power in recreation. This is not tribute, this is analysis and its weight rests in gesture.
Collaborative filmmaking duo, and lovers: April Lin and Jasmine Lin. Reality Fragment is 3 parts in 1 film; I loved it the best because of this fullness. At first it is lyrical and abstract; clips and sound glide over each other. Then it turns itself inside out; into narrative, as we shudder into Story. Building worlds and layering them, then letting it all unravel in the third act. It cracks; we are placed back into a desktop and screen syntax. Yes, long distance metaphor. But also, World is transcended as it is built. It becomes a level, an object, it peels away as it is handled. The description reads, ‘Who have you merged your world with, and what does that mean for the subjective truths you tend to?’ Careful careful, remember this.
Now, the container. I often still think about Gab’s last ever exhibition review, where she writes a kind of break up text to the idea of galleries. ‘I can’t with the anti-social social promise, or the jarring organisation around the art itself… these write ups feel like blockages.’ She articulated the aggro hum of institutionality; its lingering scent across an experience of an artwork, the way it appears like a haze between onlooker and it all.
There are a lot of parts and components to this so, a lil breakdown. Baesianz is a London based curatorial collective, with a focus on ‘producing, curating and exhibiting the art and voices of Asians living both within and outside of Asia’. This wide span feels like a nice backdrop to fall back against, away from institution & white gaze; just a little pocket where there are gentle limits, a more happy understanding and a collective identity. It operates on the assumption that there is an Us™️. Nowness Asia is a relatively new offshoot of Nowness, a ‘global video channel’ that’s ‘powered by Dazed Media’. It has a similar wide span in its focus. The Asia it speaks to is a broad continent: Turkey to Japan and everything in between. But on the scale of a media giant, this happy pocket of collective understanding hits a lil bit different than a curatorial collective of 3 people.
This is a soft thought that I hesitate to voice here. But fuck it. For the past decade or so, the politics of representation has rumbled along in a monotone about the lack of media that contains our image as likeness and symbol. We were not represented in mainstream media, this was a problem with ~diversity~ and ~inclusion~ and it just wasn’t fair that we were invisible in the cultural machinery that exists out in the world. But it’s 2021, and there is no singular and specific cultural machinery for us to pin down, point to and identify a lack within. We are being handed representation for its own sake: in Netflix original, at the Oscars, in government (lmao). Also, beyond that too. The West, as we knew it, is dead or dying. The internet has globalised business, culture, and the business of culture. Now we have representation; but it’s slippery. We can exit the era of solid institution and land in the lap of brands, make a bid for autonomy by pitching a bet on how much the market will value our output. We have representation, but it’s as images within a cultural machinery that we don’t have any actual ownership of. Like, not really. Not materially, because materially speaking, it’s enormous corporate media giants that own the means of cultural production and distribution. So on this scale, yeah. Yeah, I think that wide span feels uncomfortable. The continental slippage feels like a boardroom decision, where East and West have been redefined in relation to each other; not as distinct and immutable ideological categories, but instead as a kind of market segmentation.
And I say this is a soft thought because, fundamentally, who fucking cares? At the end of the day, take the money and run. It’s not really even that deep because, practically and functionally speaking, these enormous and distinct media entities could operate like conduits or stepping stones. They could be a useful jumping off point from which to catapult yourself. But - doesn’t the uncertainty make you clench? How do you know that you’ll be sensitive to yourself and your output once you’ve made that jump? It’s a soft thought because I feel this sinking despair with how I want the creative and cultural industry to be, and the reality of how it actually is. I want some kind of ownership and autonomy for ~emerging~ asian artists and filmmakers. I want a better space.
I liked these films, I liked this cluster as a curated program. I resented their container, and while it was an old and familiar resentment, it wasn’t any easier to move past because of that. I think there is a kind of residual potential within this way of working: by carving out a little pocket, and defining an Us™️. I do it, and it is done to me too. It is Network Fatigue, it is soft-good-nepotism, it is protective, careful and tender-tender-tender. But that potential is dependent on scale, and it is sO fragile. Where is there space for that? To carefully handle and nurture the articulation of a new and tentative Us™️. What is the aesthetic language of this emergent category, and how is it meant to be developed when the market is stepping in to the vacuum left by a lack of institutional support? Ayyy we bounce from institution to corporation, never having the means hanging heavy in our hands. This is an old problem, an ancient fight. What does your fiction feel like? What is a familiar and pressing mythology? Who is making your world, who have you merged it with, and what does that mean for the subjective truths you tend to?? Soft thoughts, and not that deep. I don’t have or expect the answer, I am just clenching up to ease back in.