On Friday, May 27, Shaina and I brought our completed glitch projects outside of Campbell Hall, where the annual Reel Loud Festival was being held. That was the day we were to premiere Glitch Off the Boat to the world (or to UCSB Reel Loud Attendees, at least). The project was a series of glitched photos from movie stills of The Cheat and Drums of Fu Manchu and a looped video sequence created using clips from the two films and Adobe After Effects.We entered this project with little knowledge of glitch art theory and After Effects editing. We left as glitch artists and adept film editors.
Our project was the product of hours of hard work. I had come up with the concept of using glitch as a way to showcase Asian targeted racism in pre-digital cinema. This would be achieved through taking footage of old American films accused of perpetuating Orientalism and glitching it into a looped segmentation. The looping would be symbolic of the continuous presence of Orientalism in media in the 21st century. Orientalism is, according to Edward Said in his book, Orientalism, “a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ (The East) and ‘the Occident.’ (The West)” and “The Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the orient.” As a graduating senior, I decided that it was time for me to do something personal, otherwise, I would have done video game glitches, since I consider myself an avid gamer. Being an Asian American woman is a significant aspect of my identity; it is my pride. I also consider myself to be a very political person (I was to be a political science major, before I changed my mind). As a film and media studies major, I knew of the significance my race would be in the entertainment industry, where race and ethnicity is often discussed. The internet has been a platform for people to call out the racism of Hollywood. For instance, hashtags on social media sites like twitter such as #whitewashing, #OscarsSoWhite, #StarringJohnCho have been trending all over the web, catching the attention of the mainstream news sites and ultimately opening dialogue among both consumers and content producers on how race and ethnicity is perceived and portrayed in visual media. This convergence of digital media has granted marginalized groups the ability to speak out against racism. I began to ask: How did marginalized groups speak up before the internet? Before the civil rights movement? How could they speak up when the federal law treated them like second class citizens? How could they be perceived as real Americans when the Motion Picture Production Code forbid the portrayal of interracial couples? With this line of questioning, I decided to focus my attention on the film media of the first half of the 20th century, which I would consider to be the height of ‘Yellow Peril’, the perceived threat of eastern influence to the west and the xenophobic perpetuation of orientalism. By taking a retrospective approach, I had hoped to restore the identities and dignities of Asian American actors in the silent era through glitch as both an aesthetic and a political function and to encourage dialogue on how orientalism is perpetuated in the digital era. We decided to glitch The Cheat (1915) and Drums of Fu Manchu (1940). The Cheat, directed by the iconic Cecil B. DeMille, is a film starring Japanese American actor Sessue Hayakawa. He plays a predatory Japanese merchant who, by the climax of the film, claims ownership to a white woman by branding her with a branding iron. I first came across this film in the FAMST 101a course. We screened the film in the Pollock theatre and I remembered being shocked at seeing an Asian man in a silent film! However, I was troubled by how Hayakawa’s character was being portrayed. He would reside in his “den of orientalism”, a dark chamber characterized by wax sliding doors, burning incense, and oriental artifacts. Our second source, Drums of Fu Manchu is a movie serial starring Henry Brandon as the titular character. Fu Manchu is a character so iconic that he has become the archetype for oriental evil masterminds. Fu Manchu was also exclusively portrayed by middle aged white men in prosthetic makeup. In both movie examples, Fu Manchu and Hayakawa’s characters are fictional constructions of Asian characters by white producers. Brandon’s facial features were transformed through prosthetics and costume; this is called yellowface. I believe yellowface is highly problematic because they are inauthentic and orientalist portrayals of Asians based on western perceptions of Asian facial features and culture that tended to be exaggerated and exoticized. The result of yellowface makeup is not of an Asian but of a caricature, an unnatural alien creature with slanted eyes of unrealistic proportion. It is disgusting.
(Hugo Weaving transformed with Yellowface in Cloud Atlas. No, this is not an ‘Asian’ character. This is a monstrosity.)
Orientalism was also a problem that Asian American actors suffered from. Throughout his entire career, Hayakawa was victim to typecasting, only landing roles as orientalist stereotypes. By glitching these characters through masking, we are emphasizing their anomalous nature. Furthermore, by incorporating digital technologies with silent film, our projects take on an anachronistic quality, which is intentional, as we are also reflecting on Orientalism in American history and reminding audiences on how these instances are still present in media today. On a brighter note, by looking back at history, we can also see the tremendous progress that society has made. Yellowface and whitewashing are no longer ignored by the media but are treated as shamefully as it deserves to be.
The Reel Loud festival was my first time exhibiting any art project. Usually, I turn the art project in as an assignment, and I receive it back with a grade. The only audience of my artwork would have only been my teachers, professors, or TAs. This was a different experience. Time went into not only its creation but on planning how the art was to be exhibited. I had to create an art project that was to be exhibited to hundreds of people. I was unaware that our art projects were being judged. If I had known before, I would have probably reorganized the presentation of the exhibit, making it as clear as possible to the judges on what the purpose of Glitch Off the Boat was. I would have also taken advantage of our exhibition space through decoration and immersion. This project gave me an opportunity to learn more about how to use Adobe After Effects. I have only used it very briefly for very simple effects, but learning how to glitch, mask, and layer was life changing for me, mostly because I am an editor, or at least I plan to be a film editor in the near future. It has allowed me to acquired important new technical skills that I was able to show off in my Film 101E video project. This project also gave me an opportunity to learn the theory behind glitch art. It wasn’t just all about the aesthetics, but the powerful message behind the use of glitch. I based my project from an assigned weekly reading on the Glitch Feminism Manifesto by Legacy Russell. I applied her concepts as using glitch to undermine the duality of gender identification. In our case, we were to undermine the duality of the Orient and the Occident, and the white versus the other.
There is definitely room for improvement in terms of exhibition and communication. I wish I would have gotten more time to work on this project. As a senior currently enrolled in 19 units, my time was very limited. If I had more time, I would have spent more time checking out the venue. With that said, it was very useful to have a partner for this project. I was able to share my knowledge of video editing with Shaina; our project was a culmination of both of our editing skills. With the limited time we had, I think we did a pretty decent job. Due to a class that had conflicted with the exhibition time (from 5 pm to 7 pm), I was unable to be present during the exhibition itself, although I did assist in setting it all up. We played our video on a monitor and displayed our glitch photos on a table. If I had been present, I would have engaged with the audience. However, I do like the idea spoken in class of letting the art speak for itself without the intrusion of the artist. So ideally, I would have to time travel to the past, be present at the exhibit, and then compare from there. Having the glitch art exhibition outside instead of at an indoor exhibition space had its unforeseen obstacles. I remember that it was quite windy that day, and we had glitch art prints to exhibit. I wonder what would have happened if it rained. Our glitched art prints would have been destroyed. Finally, I believe the biggest room for improvement would have to be better communication between ourselves and the coordinators of Reel Loud Festival. It was not clear what equipment was being offered to us until the last minute. Ideally, my project would have shined if we had access to a projector, but unfortunately, the art exhibit budget was so tight that we were barely able to get enough monitors for the class, so a projector was out of the question. Ideally, if we were given clear information on what equipment we had access to early on, we could have better crafted our projects based on these expectations.
Overall, I am quite satisfied with how Glitch off the Boat turned out. The Reel Loud exhibit went smoothly. I learned more about glitch art, video editing, and art exhibition. It has been a great journey of artistic discovery, and it has finally come to an end. 谢谢!