Online exhibition: Picturing a Pandemic
Part 3: Chinese Characters
Read an interview with Richard Fung conducted in May 2020, Conal McStravick discusses Chinese Characters, then and now, in the contemporary context of the COVID-19 pandemic and LGBTQIA life here.
Chinese Characters is a 1986 video by artist, activist, retired academic and writer Richard Fung (b. 1954, Trinidad), which opens with the line from Confucius: ‘Food and sex are human nature.’ Fung describes the video as an examination of, ‘the ambiguous feelings of Asian gay men to gay porn videos,’ which he explores through first-person narratives of the artist’s sexual experiences and that of his Asian peers.
In theatricalised interview sequences actors, including the artist, explore sexual fantasies with sex-positive images that interact with the gay porn archive, reflecting on their ambivalence towards images of Asian sexuality in porn whilst being stereotyped or racialised in their everyday lives. This was a relationship that Fung described at the time as one that places sexual desire within the scope of our means to survive and was a method which José E. Munñoz later described as an auto-ethnography of video and Fung himself called a ‘meta-pornography.’
Richard Fung is part of a generation of gay Canadian video artists and queer people of colour who came of age in the context of gay liberation, the Toronto Bathhouse raids, the AIDS crisis and a rapidly diversifying Toronto gay and lesbian scene, merging new technologies, art and activism to energetically explore the intersections of LGBTQIA histories and cultures. His work continues to intersectionally explore his Trinidadian roots, the Asian diaspora and the lives of LGBTQIA people
“Richard Fung’s Chinese Characters weaves together storytelling, documentary interviews, archival footage, dramatic structure, and video chroma-key to explore the relationship between gay East Asian men and gay white male pornography. Fung sits in as the talking head for interviews of others to call attention to his own role as producer of the tape and the choices he makes in the editing room. In other parts of the tape, images of an Asian man rubbing himself with explicit gay porn keyed in to the background deconstruct the traditional codes through which sexual imagery is consumed. According to Fung, the tape was made in response to the feminist debates around pornography that eclipsed issues – specifically racial issues – raised by gay male pornography. This tape is thoughtful and provocative and pushes new frontiers for documentary as well as experimental forms.” (“Remodelling Asian Media” by Lloyd Wong, Afterimage, May 1991)