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The public call out for the inaugural CIRCA x Dazed Class of 2021 initiative asked audiences to submit a 2.5 minute film in response to the theme ‘Communion’ set by interdisciplinary artist and lecturer, Angel Rose. After receiving 2,000 applications, we are proud to present the 30 finalists who will each receive access to the Dazed Space and have their work exhibited as part of the CIRCA programme, appearing across public screens in London, Tokyo and Seoul this September.

Expanding on their commitment to help support the talent of tomorrow, CIRCA and Dazed appointed a community of jurors including Cauleen Smith, Frank Lebon, Hugo Comte, Simone Rocha, Dexter Navy, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Michele Lamy to select their top 5 submissions. From this, one lucky finalist will be selected by world renowned performance artist Marina Abramović to receive the #CIRCAECONOMY cash prize of £30,000.

With public art spaces diminishing, investment in arts education being cut and artist communities at risk, this joint initiative aims to empower the next generation of artists working in moving-image by platforming new voices and points of view from local communities on a global level, giving them unrivalled media exposure and the tools to help kick start their careers.

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO, EMPTY ORCHESTRA, 2021

We are an artist duo currently living and working in London. As second generation immigrants from China, our work responds to notions of cultural mismatch and subsequently cultural (re)discovery and identity. Our recent commissions and shows include “Lucky House”, a short film for the ICA/BBC New Creatives program and a solo presentation of paintings at Soft Opening, London. Our forthcoming group exhibitions include; Delphian Gallery, London; ICA, London; as well as a Summer residency and solo exhibition at VO. Curations, London.

Empty Orchestra, fleshes out the model minority myths and dissects the ‘silence’ that is often associated with the Asian nature. Given the current socio-political climate in the UK, the work intends to disrupt our deep-rooted traditions, stigmas, and psyche which make us as a diaspora distinctly quiet.

The work is inspired by China’s KTV culture and is composed of found footage, written poetry and field recordings from the Hackney Chinese Community Centre that underline the score. Karaoke rooms are spaces that are partly sealed off from the external social and political pressures. As a result they allow for people to come together as a communion to express themselves and explore their identity, particularly in a cultural context that discourages explicit expression. They become thriving and vital environments in which the illicit, the love songs and the political collide.

Empty Orchestra, offers to turn Piccadilly Circus momentarily into a Karaoke room, inviting the viewers to partake in the sing-along. The poem is a tender suggestion against staying ‘silent’, providing a moment to speak out (albeit literally) and to reflect on what may be, when one’s opinion is voiced. This act of solidarity reveals a range of identities and stories, from the playful to the political and from the erotic to the domestic.

How did you become an artist and what was your route to your current practice?

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO:
As both our parents and families come from working-class backgrounds, we didn’t discover art till our teens – by then we were using creative outputs such as dance or music. We both then went on to study architecture at the Architectural Association, where the education places emphasis on critical and conceptual design. After the completion of our architectural degrees, and having spent time separately working abroad in D.F (Mexico) and Basel (Switzerland), our desire to work together as an artist duo became apparent. We both really enjoyed and appreciated the diverse education of architecture that has prepared us with important skills and a critical outlook on life. Nevertheless, we feel that there is a big gap between the architectural education and profession, which is why we pursued an art-based practise after all. Art compared to architecture allows us create without having to propose a solution to issues, but rather to challenge social and political tensions we found pertinent, whilst at the same time allowing us to reconnect to our Chinese heritage. After graduating, we gave ourselves some time to experiment with different concepts, materials and mediums in order to establish our line of enquiry of our art practice. We feel that during these years of exploration, we have found a common ground and a subject matter that we feel passionate about and want to explore further in the future.

What inspires you to make your work?

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO:
With the outbreak of COVID-19 and its dissemination across the globe that has been accompanied with a wave of anti-Asian sentiment and news targeting East Asian communities, it is particularly important for us in this moment and time to ask what it means to be “Chinese”, more specifically “queer Chinese” today. As second-generation immigrants from China it felt natural for us to pursue and draw inspiration from our own understanding and experiences that come from the notions of diaspora. Growing up, we have constantly faced struggles between assimilating, accepting, rejecting and understanding juxtaposing values, traditions and cultures. We see our practice as a way to reconnect with our roots and to navigate between Eastern and Western ideologies and identities.

Can you identify any elements of your community or collaborators that have had a strong influence?

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO:
There are several elements that influence our work. We are inspired by our broader diasporic community, whether that be our elders or peers. We learn from their narratives and histories of migration and assimilation. We pay particular attention to the moments of ‘in-between’, where East meets West. For example, a short film that centred around the Chinese takeaway looked at their adaption of food to align with a western palate, by serving fish and chips alongside sweet and sour chicken.

Would you consider your practice to have a positive social impact, and if so in what way?

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO:
Truthfully speaking at this point in our career, we do not believe our practice to have a positive social impact yet. As a young practice we have always engaged with local community centres and produced work that addresses the complex issues related to our diasporic histories. Nevertheless, as it stands for now, we believe our work does not have a wide enough audience and reach for there to be a form of social impact. CIRCA will in fact be our first piece that would engage heavily with the wider general public. We believe that the new film to be shown at Piccadilly Lights allows the audience a moment to reflect upon past, present and future issues and to question what may lay ahead for our society whilst at the same time providing a platform for East Asian voices to exist within a euro-centric context.

How is your project tied to the Circa x Dazed Class of 20:21 theme of ‘Communion’?:

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO:
The project entitled Empty Orchestra, addresses the model minority myth and the political ‘silence’ that is often associated with the Asian nature. This topic is explored through the gaze of China’s KTV culture, a common communal past time. Karaoke rooms are often seedy and anarchic spaces that are partly sealed off from the external social and political pressures. As a result, they allow for people to come together as a communion to express themselves and explore their identity, particularly in a cultural context that discourages explicit expression. They become thriving and vital environments in which the illicit, the love songs and the political collide.

Empty Orchestra, offers to turn Piccadilly Circus momentarily into a Karaoke room, inviting the viewers to partake in the sing-along. The poem is a tender suggestion against staying ‘silent’, providing a moment to speak out (albeit literally) and to reflect on what may be, when one’s opinion is voiced.

Has your work been recognised by any public bodies or organisations in the past?

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO:
In the past we have been commissioned by the ICA and BBC for the New Creatives programme shown at Soft Opening gallery, London.

How would the #CIRCAECONOMY prize of £30,000 impact your future practice?

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO:
Winning the #CIRCAECONOMY prize would be a major impact for our future art practice.
As emerging artist, we currently work two side jobs to maintain a studio as our art practice is financially not yet sustainable. The prize money would support us financially and give us the opportunity and time to solely focus on our studio and embark on a period of research and the possibility to create unrealised projects that have been on our minds that have not been able to be produced without external funding.

What would you do with the money?

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO:
As a large part of our praxis is informed through research, we are interested in the cross pollination of cultures and would relish the opportunity to travel to China and Hong Kong. Given the current socio-political climate in the UK, we plan to spend two months to research, document and develop a new body of work that intends to disrupt our deep-rooted traditions, stigmas, and psyche which make us as a diaspora distinctly quiet. The trip to China and Hong Kong is an opportunity for us to explore and understand our relationship to China further and gain first hand experiences which we have not been able to do in the last years due financial restrictions.

We will more specifically continue our investigation into China’s KTV culture and use it as a tool to address notions of silence, whilst looking at the role it plays in the construction and maintenance of people’s identity. We are interested how KTV has migrated as a cultural artefact across borders and form pillars that unify the East Asian communities abroad. Socially speaking, Asian-style karaoke in the US may appear to simply be a fun pastime for Asian immigrants. But psychologically, its effects run deeper. For Chinese immigrants Karaoke plays a vital role in integrating Chinese people overseas into communities, linking them with their cultural roots by offering them opportunities to meet other immigrants whilst they sing in their language from their homeland. During our research we will interrogate the differences between different KTV spaces and contexts, shifting the lens from the histories of the urban centre to the lives and experiences of the growing working and middle-class in the peripheries to the local KTV in Chinese community centres in the West. The whole research trip will be accompanied by collaborators that will help us to document and film our discoveries. The end of the trip will be translated into a new video piece that is informed by the research, poetry and field recordings.

Apart from the research trip to China we would use the money to create a new platform that brings together artists, researchers and local communities from across the East Asian Diaspora to start new dialogues and conversations.

Lastly, we would like to use the rest of the money to ease the financial burden of renting a studio in London.

If you are awarded the #CIRCAECONOMY prize, how might this affect your community?

MICHAEL AND CHIYAN HO:
The #CIRCAECONOMY prize would allow us to establish a platform for East Asian voices to exist. With the platform we hope to enable discussions and allow for different communities to engage with one another globally, truly forming bridges between communities within the East and West. Through a series of events, lectures and performances (physically and digitally), it is aimed to discuss the underlying societal and political we face in our communities, whilst tackling the complex questions surrounding otherness, assimilation and notions of belonging.