Richard Long and Francis Alys both employ “walking” in their performance work. Long focuses on making marks in the landscape in his A Line Made By Walking in 1967, where the repetition of walking creates an indented path on the ground. Alys uses the strategy of walking as a way to explore communities, cities and landscapes. Alys dragged a magnetized dog through Mexico city in his piece The Collector (1990-1992). This piece explores the street debris of Mexico City and plays on the idea of walking a dog through the space, and the transformation it potentially brings. My work is also a walk: it begins at Nathan Phillips Square and ends at the Chow Keong Hand Laundry and Cleaners. A long yellow silk fabric (100% silk) is tied around my waist. A segment of the fabric is touching the ground as I walk.
My research of Toronto’s Chinatown and its Chinese communities revealed that most early Chinese migrants opened and worked in the hand laundry business due to employment restrictions implemented against them by the Canadian government (during the 20th century). Nowadays, as the economy and times have changed, most of the hand laundry businesses are gone. Chow Keong Hand Laundry might be the only one left in Toronto. It is located on Avenue Road, directly south of Nathan Phillips Square.
Toronto’s first Chinatown used to be on Elizabeth and Hagerman Street. When the new city hall and Nathan Phillips Square were built, the first Chinatown residents were evicted and forced to relocate. Walking from the Square to the Chinese hand laundry up the street is an effort to revisit the painful history of migration, bringing back the forgotten past of the Square, which is portrayed today as a Toronto landmark and public area for leisure, and doesn’t acknowledge its connection with the displacement of migrants.
My performance also explores manual labour. It has two parts: walking with silk cloth tied around my waist and hand laundering the silk myself –– cleaning, scrubbing and ironing it. Performing the manual labour of washing and cleaning is edited into sensual colours, challenging the perception of cheap labour associated with Chinese migrants and hand laundries. I performed in my private home and showed my half-exposed body, connecting this particular manual labour to the intimacy of private space –– a sense of contemplation.
The final presentation will consist of a folded clean fabric hung on the wall with a tag, labeling 2017 43.654°N 79.385°W with years ranging from 2017 to 1961, referencing the year the first Chinatown was evicted. A projection of two separate videos, cutting between the documentation of my walk and the hand laundry process, will be projected beside the folded laundry. Similar to Alys, I let the street between the Square and the hand laundry shop mark my fabric with dirt and debris, leaving traces of migration. Then I cleaned the fabric, washing off the marks of suffering. He/She has come and laboured in a foreign land, but this labour and path cannot define him/her.
The work is also about presence and the image: my figure in red wool and yellow silk contests the idea of Chinese migrants as being impoverished. The video projection is a split screen where half of my body will be on each screen. It is not about the comparison between two windows (views), but rather to physically be on the border (the split between two videos) –– the boundary between lands –– and transgress it.
the video projection.