Osmanthus (桂花)

2018
Multichannel video installation of a short film using personal footage from a 2018 family visit, cellphone videos shared in a WeChat family group chat, surveillance footage from an elderly monitoring camera in my grandparents' apartment. Dimensions variable.

I remember the sweet waft of osmanthus blossoms in the night air, occasionally mingling with aromatic chili oil from the street vendors. Gravel under our feet shift in two rhythms: the steady beat of walking and the long scratch of a wheelchair. These memories are vivid, but I don’t remember if I saw them in a video and unconsciously took them home. As a child of diaspora, I know that memories are travelers and, like many travelers, they resist containment and are always in motion. Marita Sturken wrote: "it is precisely the instability of memory that allows for renewal and redemption without letting the tension of the past in the present fade away"(Tangled Memories, 1997).

Osmanthus (桂花) grapples with the impermanence of family memories as an immigrant and the anxious dreams of permanence introduced by archives, camera technologies, and moving images. How do we move beyond approximating intimacy with technologies?

In February 2018, I visited my family in China, ostensibly to see my maternal grandparents for the last time because they were sick in different and difficult ways. I had a lot of anxiety going into and during that trip, but I had packed a camera and knew that I wanted to document everything, just in case I missed something important--even if it wasn’t clear what “important” looked like.

We often substitute care with surveillance, but surveillance is an anxious form of care—one that tries to “see” someone without considering how they want to be seen. In trying to document everything, I realized that I was seeing to collect, rather than seeing to connect, which almost like surveilling my family. Growing up with an ocean between us, I was out of practice being present to my family. The story of my family overseas has become almost like a myth. Caring for someone requires being present to them, demystifying them, and I only started that care work in compiling these videos.

Installation view
Huret & Spector Gallery
Emerson College
2018



Video stills of each channel

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