Meng-Yu Yan in 2020

Double Witness
17.04. - 10.05.2020

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Meng-Yu Yan, ‘May 20th’, Double Witness, 2019, single channel video

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Meng-Yu Yan’s new body of work ‘Double Witness’ includes videos that were filmed in Paris last year, reliving each diary entry in Qiu Miaojin’s 1995 novel Last Words from Montmartre on the exact dates she wrote them. As France begins its 45 day lockdown, and perhaps Australia will too, these video letters give people an opportunity to see Paris as it was exactly one year ago to the day. It also highlights the temporal connections that are so significant within the work.

Each of the 20 video works created by the artist will be released in a slow-burn format, one video per day from the opening of the virtual exhibition on Friday 17 April, echoing the diaristic character of this body of work. You can follow these video letters HERE.

In this work the artist becomes a medium in both a psychic and artistic sense. Yan’s videos respond to Qiu’s letters through geographic and temporal connections. They reveal how the artist engages in a literary séance with the author, reading and retracing Qiu’s novel on the exact dates she details. From this Yan creates a video diary of dérives, directions, wanderings. The artist becomes Qiu’s double: mirroring her in age, ethnicity, sexuality, relationships, time, place and gender identity. It is an act of haunting and an attempt to re-animate the steps Qiu took throughout Paris in her final months.

During the course of this intensive endurance performance the artist experienced a blurring of boundaries between their own life and that of Qiu. The artist’s own relationship of three years broke down and feelings of heartbreak, guilt, betrayal, passion, and love begin to mirror those expressed in the novel.

These works meditate on ideas of serendipity, synchronicity, coincidence, and fate. As France is currently in lockdown due to COVID-19, and with Australia and much of the world in self-isolation, these works allow people to see Paris as it was exactly one year ago to the day. During these difficult times, temporality is what connects all people. This work uses temporal connections to engage with the lost histories of queer kin. It is part of greater research into Queer Spectrality: a term used to describe the ways queerness has been disavowed and rendered spectral throughout history and culture.

Mirrors, reflections and doppelgängers often lie at the heart of Yan’s practice, which conjures ghosts as a parallel to the marginalisation experienced by queer people. By resurrecting the ghost of Qiu Miaojin, a queer Taiwanese writer who lived in Paris during the early 90s, Yan becomes “a medium who has opened themselves up to being haunted, allowing Qiu’s words to come alive again through my physical embodiment.”

Meng-Yu Yan’s practice concerns Queer Spectrality, which is a term that encapsulates the erasure and absence of queer people throughout history, culture, and society. It looks at history through the figure of the ghost; an entity that challenges common notions of being and exists in a liminal space, traversing distinctions. The intensive three-month immersive performance that forms the core of ‘Double Witness’ was created while the artist was on residency in Paris at the Cité Internationale des Arts in 2019. 

This work was created with the support of Create NSW Small Project Grant.


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