Do Asian Americans Dream of Techno-Pirates?: Asian American Identities and Pirate Futurism in Contemporary Art
Pirate Futurists dream of other social possibilities. Formed through Internet pixel fictions and snippets of bootlegged Hollywood fables, their visual narratives intervene in the course of overdetermined tales to open new sites for agency and political critique. As an artistic practice, Pirate Futurism is equal parts pop-culture piracy and speculative imagination. It suggests an aquatic field, crisscrossed by futurist storytelling engines propelled by political urgency, twisting with currents of race, gender, technology, sexual identity, and varied nationalisms. When used to understand particular identities, as in this study in relation to Asian American identities, Pirate Futurism simultaneously offers an oceanic mobility that undermines gross essentialisms and a contextualizing map of intersecting identities and concurrent political critiques.
This paper explores the work of three visual artists—Stephanie Syjuco, Glenn Kaino, and Jen Liu—and what their practices suggest for understanding and complicating the framework of Pirate Futurism. Syjuco’s pieces extrapolate from the information gaps in low-resolution digital imagery. Through sculptural forms and photographed tableaux, she exposes moments of productive difference between originals and self-consciously low-tech translations. Kaino’s filmic interventions undermine the scripted inevitability of conflict and violence in Asian American and African American communities as told in Hollywood celluloid. Liu produces karaoke video fictions critiquing the traces of failed utopian politics in popular culture. Her pieces invite audience members to sing along to faux national anthems accented with hair-metal grandiosity, thereby deflating the fascist underpinnings of her sources.