Rearranging Desires 

By Wendy Smith

When Chih-Chien Wang was a documentary filmmaker in Taiwan, he captured life through a camera lens. As an artist in Montreal, he has switched to a more gelatinous medium.

For several months, Wang entered the homes of other Chinese tenants in his building to sit and chat with them while mixing small bricks of Jello that congealed during the conversations.

The vernissage included a fashion show of some of the pieces featured in the exhibit. Magnifying glass

The vernissage included a fashion show of some of the pieces featured in the exhibit.

Wang’s Jello installation is currently on display at the Faculty of Fine Arts gallery as part of Rearranging Desires: Curating the ‘Other’ Within, along with a selection of works from three other Asian-Canadian artists who graduated from Concordia: Ayesha Hameed, Karen Tam and Mary Sui Yee Wong.

The Oct. 17 vernissage was followed by a symposium about culturally specific work. Curator and symposium organizer Alice Ming Wai Jim wants to complicate popular preconceptions about constructions of Asian culture, especially here in Canada and Quebec. The one-day interdisciplinary symposium was charged, rich in dialogues, dynamic, productive and informative, and involved over 20 speakers from Montreal and other parts of Canada, including Toronto and Vancouver.

“When we think about China, there are certain expectations about what China is, and about what an exhibition by Chinese artists should look like,” said Jim, assistant professor in the department of art history. “Here, we have four artists working in different contemporary art media in ways that play with our expectations about culturally-specific work in general. Many of the works included are humorous and playful but they’re also quite serious at the same time.”

Tam’s elaborate paper cutouts provide cultural commentary on essentialized depictions of Chineseness and media portrayals of China during the SARS outbreak and the Beijing Olympics. Hameed’s video art combines news clips and old Western movies to confront the reasonable accommodation hearings. Wong’s faux fashion line, Yellow Apparel, and interactive paper doll installation address issues of national identity and discourses of Asianization.

The symposium and exhibition are informed by Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, the Western mode of exoticizing and romanticizing the Asian “Other” for the purpose of colonial domination.

Jim borrowed the concept of “rearranging desires” from the work of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who described postcolonial pedagogy as being about “an uncoercive re-arrangement of desires.”

“This project is about trying to ‘rearrange’ the ways people expect culturally-specific practices to be, both in the gallery context and the university,” Jim said.

Keynote speaker Jamelie Hassan is an award-winning artist, curator, writer, and activist. “She spoke about her early artworks that drew from family archives which revealed the historical racist immigration policies of Canada. Her empowering talk was really about how we need to continually question and create possibilities for multiculturalism for it to be viable in this country– we have to be ‘answerable participants’,” said Jim.

Next Sunday, Oct. 26, Jim’s students will take Rearranging Desires to the wider community with a music event called Speak Out! at le Cagibi featuring performances by hip hop artist Tu Three (23) and his punk band Without Will. “We’re trying to raise political and social awareness about issues concerning cultural activism and Montreal’s diverse communities,” said art history graduate student Katrina Lukaitis.


Concordia University