Spatial Poetics XII: Release Me

The Unfortunates of D’arcy Island (2013)
as part of Spatial Poetics XII: Release Me, presented by Powell Street Festival
Date: 2013/07/06

An interdisciplinary performance featuring live projection and sound re-animating a story of exile and isolation centered on a 19th century leper colony off the coast of Vancouver Island. The project melds Chien’s expertise in video media with Tsui’s stylized illustrations, and is accompanied by an improvised audio composition performed by Howie Tsui, Sammy Chien and special guest Andrew Lee.

Project/Concept initiator: Howie Tsui
Co-creation: Howie Tsui & Sammy Chien
Original Paintings/Drawings: Howie Tsui
Media Arts/Live Audiovisuals: Sammy Chien
Live Sound/Music: Howie Tsui, Sammy Chien & Andrew Lee

Spatial Poetics XII is an evening of experimental and collaborative performances by an eclectic line-up of Asian Canadian artists. In its 12th year, this interdisciplinary event celebrates collaboration and innovation in the use of text, visuals, music, and performance. The performances are always evocative and memorable, and sometimes haunting.

Spatial Poetics XII: Release Me encapsulates notions of captivity, restriction and transformation. Visual artist Howie Tsui and media artist Sammy Chien expose local colonial history, with a layered live projection and sound performance centred on stigma and discrimination and the history of exiled Chinese Canadian lepers. Musician Joseph Hirabayashi and animator Gillian Cole meld a rock operetta and animation in an evocative exploration of Kantian morality and notions of exclusivity. Dancer Lisa Gelley and musician Gabriel Saloman take on a more personal approach. Their musical composition and dance work cites physical memory and its transformative effects on the body and knowledge of the self.

Excerpts from Vandocument Review:
Visual artist and musician Howie Tsui, performer Andrew Lee, and media artist Sammy Chien’s experimentations with layered photographic histories, new media projections and live sounds exposes local colonial history in their piece The Unfortunates of D’arcy Island. Tsui, Lee, and Chien sit at a lengthwise table centre stage. Strewn over the table is a plethora of musical instruments, digital pedals, laptops and samplers. Unexpectedly, Howie plays a guitar at the far end of the table, and projected onto the screen are photographs of citizens of D’arcy Island (used as a leper colony for Chinese immigrants from 1894 to 1924).

Initially, I am made uncomfortable by Chien’s manipulations, as he plays with the footage live, super-imposing haunting auras onto the photographic evidence of the exiled Chinese Canadians. It seems to manipulate my own sense of belonging. Tsui and Lee, however, provide an arching soundscape that provides intermittent escape from the horrifying images. As Chien continues, I notice his live manipulations of the on-screen images also trigger terrifying noises. I start to ease into the terror and he becomes more dramatic, imposing layers of coloured auras, making the images oscillate and warp while Tsui and Lee also warp their melodies.

Howie Tsui, Spatial Poetics XII at SFU Woodwards, Vancouver, BC 2013
Work by Howie Tsui, photo courtesy the artist

The piece recalls the deeply deplorable history of exiled Chinese Canadian lepers sent to D’arcy Island between 1894 to 1924. The historical truth recounted by new media forms of storytelling, with live sound experimentations, could be understood as a comment on the contemporary realities of socio-spacial-economic separation, dislocation and isolation that is hardly unnoticeable outside the very doors of the performance space here in Vancouver.

Themes of memory, the past, repetition, dreams, tensions and the future are found linking the performances like a thin thread. Rather than the release, Spatial Poetics XII illuminates the chains of connectedness that bind us. Perhaps it is in the common boundaries linking separate bodies, substances, movements, spaces, language and phases of being that creates the meeting point for collaboration and transformation. Spatial Poetics XII is a telling glimpse of what the Powell Street Festival has in store for us.

The Powell Street Festival is the largest Japanese Canadian festival in the country and one of Vancouver’s longest running community events. It features contemporary and traditional Japanese Canadian performances and demonstrations, music, visual arts, film/video, walking tours, tea ceremonies, and an amazing array of delicious Japanese festival foods – don’t miss out! Saturday and Sunday, August 3rd and 4th, 11:30 AM-7PM 400Block of Powell Street. For more information or to volunteer: 604-739-9388;

For full review of the event please see:


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