High Muck-a-Muck: Playing Chinese explores the narratives and tensions of historical and contemporary Chinese immigration to Canada. The project is both an interactive installation and an interactive website. Accompanying the installation and embedded within the website are eight videopoems. The piece is a result of a collaboration between eleven writers, artists and programmers and was created over three years from 2011–2014. The installation received its first public exhibition at Oxygen Art Centre in Nelson, BC in July, 2014. The digital work was created in HTML 5. The three aspects of the project – videos, interactive installation and website – can be exhibited together or in discrete parts.
Pak ah Pu, an historical Chinese lottery game, is the entry point into the experience. Users stamp their choice of characters on their Pak ah Pu lottery card and feed the card into a small antique cabinet where it is read and then displays the users “fortune.” Fortunes include animations, poetic text, video and voice recordings. All materials are artist generated / manipulated and include original text; hand-painted maps referencing the human body and specific geographies of Canada; archival and found text; oral histories, original music, sound and recorded voice; original and archival video; hand-drawn graphics and archival photographs.
Our title “Playing Chinese,” suggests the complexities of mimesis at the vortex of diaspora and globalism. High Muck a Muck: Playing Chinese plays with the notion of fakery, of imitation, of wearing the master’s clothes; of the disruption and reversal of roles as white Canada now strives to serve a Chinese economic master. It expresses some of the internal community struggles that erupt between different generations and classes of immigrants and it challenges the racist paradigm of an all white Canada into which Asian immigrants enter but are never fully allowed to arrive. The project deconstructs form by using a low-tech aesthetic within the gleam of the digital world and deconstructs subject matter by questioning the myth of immigration as a pathway to increased fortune and happiness. The journey may take you nowhere, the winnings of the game may be bitter. Home becomes forever dispersed: the Pacific Ocean’s the real boss.
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