Weitian Liu, Jason Wee
Two of our PhD Scholars at Goldsmiths, Weitian Liu (2021) and Jason Wee (2023), engage in a conversation discussing the intersections amongst their writings, research, and artistic practices.
WEITIAN: I’d like to start with a question that is directly connected with your research question: How did the notion of polyphony come into your practice?
JASON: The difficulty lies in identifying the moment, if any, when it isn’t present, in part because this moment of ‘the contemporary’ that we are meant to work within and under is ridden with the rhythms and beats of other temporalities and velocities. I cannot help but stray from my designated timeline, in part because for a long while I was making poems out of existing documents, replaying the historical omissions in these documents as a method of creative rewriting.
My first book The Monsters Between Us is largely a single long sequence appended with shorter sequences in front almost as a prologue. That sequence Unreliable Evidence comprises my memories around a pivotal year as well as ‘found’ poems that were made from existing words in detainee testimonies, court documents, government speeches and statements, conversation and interviews I’ve had with detainees, or texts I found through searches in the archives of Amnesty International and other institutions.
The legalese and bureaucratese in those official documents, as well as the hesitations and opacities that marked even the most self-revealing of witness accounts, inevitably press for my acknowledgement within the book that I was shaping, so that whatever is read or heard of my voice is also hearing through other voices. I thought for a long time of poetry as an act of ventriloquism, an act of voicing through which a chorus is heard, which is not to assume that this chorus performs in harmony or even in tune. I also think polyphony is a condition of place, especially of the place that goes by the name of Southeast Asia, where by putting our ear to the ground we cannot help but hear the murmurings of multitudes.
I am curious for you, now that you are entering more persistently into a phase of writing, how would you describe your voice, or is the question begging too much self-consciousness too soon?
W: Being self-conscious of one’s voice, I think, is part of the work of writing. In fact, I often find it difficult to write without at the same time developing a position of enunciation and a mode of address, both of which are components of what I understand as voice. Much of my writing is marked by the urge to address an issue and to think with other people’s works and writings. If anything, I would say my voice carries a sense of urgency and comes from a place that is in close proximity to other people’s voices. I really like the word ‘chorus’ that you use to describe the act of voicing in poetry. It makes me think of an ensemble and, by extension, collaboration. Could you share some moments of collaboration in your artistic and curatorial practice?
J: In my ongoing work Quora Fora: A Rehearsal, I invite composers from island postcolonies – my aim is to work with at least seven of them – to create new choral compositions that also accompanies a set of choreographies. The choreographies progressively put together then dismantle a fabric-based installation that stands in as my search for a symbolic form for deliberation and public assembly. The question I ask myself but also the composers I work with on the music is 'how do we design the shape and scale of a demos?' There is a parallelism in my conversations with the musicians between the choreography of architecture and body, and the structure of repetition, delay and variation in choral canons.
But I am also thinking through the politics of citation that may allow a writer to ‘collaborate’ with another without ever obtaining explicit permission, through which the cited work is no longer the original upon which commentary is proffered, but a reversion that reads the initial work in such ways that the reading rewrites over and through that text. What we come to in these acts of reading (or more accurately ‘rereading’) is no longer a question of one text incorporating or ingesting another but the instantiation of one through the interpretation of another.
W: I also want to pick up on what you said about the ‘condition of place’ proper to Southeast Asia, a geographical marker that has assumed greater significance in contemporary art since Documenta 15. You were based in New York for a while and have now embarked on this PhD in London. I’m wondering whether moving from one cultural context to another has generated for you perspectives on Southeast Asia, and, assuming the answer is yes, how these new perspectives inform your practice.
J: In this week’s PhD seminars a question came up about the tools we could avail ourselves of to engender metamorphoses; it got me thinking of the tools that sing to us, that call our name, in some registers as insistent as a summoning, tools that press themselves upon us rather than us choosing them, and these can mean trauma, pain, but also history as well as the facts and conditions of this fleshly housing that is our own body.
On my mind a lot more these days is a history of dislocation that I am slowly recalling, in my own life and those lives that preceded my own in my family, who have in every generation moved or were forced to move, in crossings and journeys that traverse Southeast Asian waters. The triadic meanings in moving I suspect will provide both the descriptions as well as the forms for thinking about place and belonging – moving as a shift in affective or emotional states, as an ongoingness with its own momentum and orientation, and as a change in residence.
You’re hearing my reluctance to answer yes; what about the possibility that Southeast Asia was once important to Europe’s shaping of its own contemporaneity before that moment passed into amnesia? Also, the possibility that I don’t have anything new, only older, and future, things.