Soy Dreams of Milk tells poignant stories of Asian migration

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Soy Dreams of Milk tells poignant stories of Asian migration

Homoerotic papercuts and 3D-scanned Chinese restaurants tell stories of Asian migration

In Hong Kong, stories of Asian migration take over Blindspot Gallery in group show, ‘Soy Dreams of Milk’

Stretched across a cardboard screen is a video of a woman washing the bone-white carcass of a young sperm whale. Standing thigh-deep in the water, she sponged over the whale, which had died alone in Newfoundland, with no trace of its family to be seen.

This video piece by Asian-American artist Patty Chang, titled Calling for a wandering lake, is just one of the moving stories in ‘Soy Dreams of Milk’, a group exhibition at Hong Kong’s Blindspot Gallery about the joys and sorrows of diasporic migration. Focusing on Asian emigration, the show brings together six artists working across video, digital renderings, traditional Chinese paper-cutting and more, in a thoughtful curation by Blindspot co-director Nick Yu.

‘Soy Dreams of Milk’ at Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong

Patty Chang, Invocation for a wandering lake, 2016. Installation view. Courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery

Drawing parallels between Asian emigration and the American dream, Yu tells Wallpaper*: ‘Many people migrate for a dream, for something that drives them.’

Alongside Chang are artists Michael Ho, Lap-See Lam, Tan Jing, Zadie Xa and Xiyadie, each exploring unique yet strikingly universal stories of migration.

Installation view of ‘Soy Dreams of Milk’. Courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery

Some of the stories are delightful, like Shaanxi artist Xiyadie’s vibrant homoerotic paper cutouts. Xiyadie, who grew up in rural China and learned his craft from the women in his family, moved to Beijing after coming out as gay. In Gate, his largest work in the exhibition, two men copulating in front of Tiananmen Square; a national symbol bound in a tumultuous history is reclaimed by Xiyadie’s jubilant scene. It is a dialogue between traditional forms and symbols, and hopeful self-expression, shifting from the expected monochrome palettes of Chinese paper cutting to rainbow pastels, from tradition to joy.

‘There is this joy and this aspect of migrating. Migrate for an idealized good life, for love, to chase a better dream,’ explains Yu.

Michael Ho, A Cowboy Renaissance2022. Courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery

Emigration is a rich intergenerational story for the Asian community. For many of the second-generation artists, there is a sense of longing for something intangible and a delicate balancing act between identities. German-Chinese artist Michael Ho, for example, paints on both sides of his linen canvases, his paint bleeding through the back to create ghostly backgrounds for his works such as A Cowboy Renaissance: depicting a pair of tall western cowboy boots. The interaction between the piece’s two painted sides creates both pressure and meaning, speaking of the pressure of the artist’s dual identities as a queer second-generation immigrant.

By Lap-See Lam and Wingyee Wu’s digital single channel video mother tongue, a fictional relationship between a first-generation immigrant mother and her second-generation daughter is explained against a backdrop of incredible renderings of Chinese restaurants in Sweden. Lam, whose family opened a Chinese restaurant after immigrating to Sweden, laser-scanned numerous such eateries around the country to create her spectrally hazy visions narrated in a patchwork of Swedish and Cantonese. Posed in front of a physical 3D sculpture of a melting, incomplete dining room table created from Lam and Wu’s scans, the work expresses a longing to understand and belong – stymied by the pressure of the digital and real worlds.

Installation view of film mother tongue 2018, and Table (Wingshing)2020, by Lap-See Lam and Wingyee Wu. Courtesy of artists and Blindspot Gallery

‘Soy Dreams of Milk’ ends with an ode to the motherland, told through the lens of a dog. Shenzhen-born artist Tan Jing’s grandparents emigrated from Thailand in the 1950s amid a wave of Sinophobia, returning to a homeland they barely remembered.

Visitors walk through the sensory installation Trancing Lap Hung, a long corridor lined with crackling porcelain tiles and a beaded curtain scented with herbs, to a video – blurred by begonia-adorned windows. Throughout her life, Tan’s grandparents rarely shared stories of their migration back to China. After her grandfather passed away, she reimagined him through her video as a dog wandering the unfamiliar streets of Lingnan and Nanyang. Viewers are thrown into a state of traumatic displacement as they watch the video through a small opening in the glass window on a crane, and are forced to crouch as they watch the first-person footage of the dog scurrying through the streets in search of to fame.

Installation view of Trancing Lap Hung, 2021, by Tan Jing. Courtesy of artists and Blindspot Gallery

‘Soy Dreams of Milk’ is only partially a celebration of diasporic migration, because for any family that has chosen to migrate in search of a better life, joy is only part of the experience. For many it is also disorienting, lonely and full of nostalgia for a place you once knew, or want to know.

But above all, it is hopeful. The dog in Tan’s piece can finally find its way home. The beached whale is honored to death by Chang, a mother, in place of his own parents. These are not all success stories, but they are love stories of perseverance. §

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