Paradise (Flooding) is a performance about the visible and invisible labor of care and the intimate politics of bodies in spaces hidden from public view. As a Chinese and female immigrant, my people are stereotyped for disposable, cheap, and silent labor that services the bodies of dominant culture: restaurants, cleaners, nail salons. The afternoon before sharing this performance, a white 21-year-old American man was heard saying, “I’m going to kill all Asians,” as he stood in Gold Massage Spa in Atlanta, GA. He had already purchased a gun and killed 8 people (6 Asian) across 3 different spas that day.
I bought a pair of $2 house slippers a few years. One of the plastic straps snapped recently, so I taped it back together so they could live on. I washed them in a porcelain bowl I usually save for nice meals. I wanted to sit with the labor that immigrants perform to maintain the objects that anchor their ways of living. That is, the objects that make up their personal forms of paradise within an unwelcoming and perpetually foreign land.
Toni Morrison wrote: “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” I know that memories are travelers and, like many travelers, they resist containment. Over 24 minutes, the water in the bowl gets dirtier and spills out—an ephemeral memory of cleaning a worn object.
In 2018 and 2019, I visited my family in China, thinking this time would be the last time to see my maternal grandparents. I had anxiety going into the trips and packed a camera, wanting to document everything. What I saw through the lens and the process of editing have become a bastion of memories, against the videos sent by my relatives via group chat of my grandparents' unyielding drift towards passing.
Scholar Ariella Azoulay writes that photography is an inherently violent act. We as camera-wielders and viewers of videos, especially of those who have passed, are responsible to what we capture, see, and imagine. Was I seeing to quell my anxiety or to know my grandparents? Surveillance can often happen in the name of love, but that breed of love is one that fears impermanence, uncertainty, and grief.