Video still. Chun Yin Rainbow Chan and Corin Ileto. Residual, 2015, HD video, 8:31.
Residual is an improvisational work that investigates different notions of “Chineseness”. Both the artists of "Residual" have immigrant experiences and can be labelled “Chinese” in some way. Chan was born in Hong Kong and has spent most of her life in Australia, while Ileto was born in Australia and brought up by Filipino parents with distant Hokkien ancestry. Both artists are interested in the idea of structural nostalgia and the processes by which a cultural artefact is repeated, transformed and reduced to the point that it is unrecognisable.
Cultural theorist Ien Ang argues that essentialising race “obscures real and significant differences within and between the many groups of people scattered around the world who may still be labelled “Chinese” in some residual way”. This act of flattening produces hierarchical relationships, whereby the mainland is viewed to be legitimate, originary and authentic, whilst all other diasporic forms are seen to be derivative. Rather than unifying diasporic and homeland communities, the dispersal of Chinese people engenders a “resurgence of competing nationalisms on a global scale.”
Drawing on Ang's essay “No Longer Chinese? Residual Chineseness after the Rise of China”, Residual explores the problematic idea of “essence” in racial categories. Both artists selected words from the essay to make up the video's text. Invoking the method of Chinese whispers, Chan teaches Ileto a fragment of the Chinese song “Hé rì jūn zài lái” (When Will You Return). Ileto has never heard this tune before and regurgitates the melody via a synth vox pad, suggesting the start of removal from the source, the human voice. The melody is repeated, truncated, and blended with Chan's screwed sample of the original which is fed through a delay and feedback loop. Layers of signal degradation amalgamate until Teng's original recording surfaces at the end, and is revealed for the first time to the audience—and Ileto—in its intact form.
“Hé rì jūn zài lái” was first performed by mainland Chinese singer Zhou Xuan in 1937 and popularised across East and South-East Asia by Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng in 1979. The song has had political and social resonances throughout the century amongst both diasporic and mainland populations. It was banned and labelled pornographic and traitorous by the Chinese government, who read hidden anti-Communist sentiment in the song's lyrical content. Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng enjoyed popularity in mainland China in the 70s and 80s via black market bootlegs, despite the fact her music was also banned for inciting bourgeois desires. Teresa Teng's cultural significance across real and imagined borders suggests a continuous and consistent Chinese identity that the artists wish to examine and unravel. The degradation of the song by the artists symbolises the unstable and porous nature of an essentialised Chineseness.