Flatfile » Zhiwan Chris Cheung »

Location: Pittsburgh

Website: zhiwan.is

My work deals with how site and place intersect identity and performativity. Born in America and raised by Chinese immigrants, I live in a permanent in-between state of being neither American nor Chinese. I find inspiration through this in-between state of identities that permeates a critical examination of postcolonialism, posthumanism, and an endless homecoming. Narratives about specific experiences, about my own Chinese-Americanness, can become universal stories about what it means to be human. Seeking out the personal stories inside everyone about who we can be and what we can do centers the individual, while allowing the intimate to become universal. A presentation of the personal can become an act of dignity, by insisting that society face the individual – not looking past or through them. In thinking about site and place as a medium, I often probe how our relationship to landscape, mythologies, belief systems are inseparably linked to each other. As a result, the potential for an open narrative emerges. These stories where the narratives join and diverge drive both our lives and the world around us. This is precisely why it is so important to continue expanding the pool of stories, both real and mythological. These stories are guided by an allusive visual language, with a mix of pop cultural, art historical, and aesthetic signals and choices that also lead audiences into finding their own rites of passage.

Selected Works

Last May, I had an idea to drive through 130 West in Wyoming. The road links Laramie and Saratoga while passing through Centennial. Traversing the road takes you into the Medicine Bow Mountains, also known as the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. In the beginning of the month, the roads remained closed due to the winter snow. I felt if I could visit the area, I could think about time differently. The rocks on Medicine Bow are said to be very old, coming from the Precambrian period. In considering the Precambrian period, which represents Earth’s first four billion years of history, I tried to imagine time from a grander scale. Humans have always been becoming since half a million years ago, which is less than 1% of earths geologic time. Such a scale is humbling.

Inspired by a friend’s retelling of a children’s story she read to her niece, I created this multi-faceted 6-channel video installation. The narrative revolves around an encounter between a goose and crocodile. The screens show a group of masked individuals wandering around in the woods, sometimes converging together on screen and sometimes wandering all alone in the wilderness. 3D scanned images of a crocodile and duck float aimlessly around the screen. Imagery and points of views are refracted and broken up as a larger metaphor for human relationships and interconnectedness.

For “Disoriental Flavors (after Edward Said),” the video-essay takes inspiration from Edward Said’s seminal book, “Orientalism.” A computer generated British voice takes and repurposes Said’s ideas as its own. Footage from San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum plays in the background, with many of the artifacts originating from both the near and far East. Over 60 possible countries span the area of the undefined Oriental borders, each with a messy history that stretches to a time prior to Western civilization. Yet, the culmination of these countries become essentialized into a singular reductive category: Eastern / Asian / Oriental. The video grapples with the issues brought into focus by Said while spinning a new absurd tale.

This video attempts the absurd idea of trying to understand my Chinese background through the tenuous link of Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. Such a questionable line of inquiry is just as inane as tackling one’s colonial past or being asked, “Where are you really from?” As I embody the rubbery skin of Nixon’s mask, I embody all the questions, contradictions, and complicity in my existence.