‘In Virtual Return We (can’t) Dehaunt’ is a multi-channel moving-image work by Yarli Allison. It traces the real life stories of four queer Hong Kong (trans)migrants by reconstructing their nostalgic homes in virtual reality (VR), that draws attention to diasporic narratives and cultural archives through the process of cognitively metaphorical ‘returns’.
The videos, presented on a set of three screens, consist of ethnographic research, VR modelling, soliloquy and poetic extracts from real dialogues. These are intertwined with docu-fiction writing and choreographic representations, while exploring the possibilities of sexual and political identities that have transcended geographical definitions in the digital age.
Yarli Allison first poses the question ‘to which house do you most wish to return?’, recalling memories of the four overseas ethnic Hong Kongese who were all born in the 80s and identified as queer. The VR spaces are then contextualised after a series of interviews conducted by writer Yin Lo and anthropologist Dr. Haro Matas. Upon invitation, the interviewees revisit their memories of ‘home’ – now a synthetic but emotionally believable VR environment. Further comments are recorded, allowing the team to build a social construct among them, which becomes the core of the work. These misplaced nostalgic spaces – or ‘homes’ – are as if empty shells but significantly contribute to the formation of their identities, yet one can no longer confirm its spatial accuracy and are left with immaterial impressions.
Throughout the work, the concept of ‘returning’ obsessively exposes itself, attempting to transition from “longing” to “belonging”, whether it is achieved with the act of perpetuation with VR; or illustrating the migrant being forgotten; or as a self-reflexive phantom-like being who is heedlessly seeking to survive.
In Hong Kong’s mainstream cultural beliefs, phantom-beings are expected to return to their origin after death, otherwise a wandering result is expected. Before reincarnation, one has to drink a bowl of Mang Po Soup (孟婆湯) to forget past attachments. These semi-invisible lingering phantom-like beings appear in the middle-half of the work, metaphorically representing in-betweenness, embodying unconscious imprisonments and cultural alienation. Their existence questions the romanticised attachment to the non-existent spaces of the past.
In an attempt to distinguish between the four characters, viewers are met with faceless creatures with mixed soliloquies, evoking a sense of confusion and distance, implying the characters’ tangled identities could easily be dismissed, simplified, or depersonalised.
With Hong Kong’s complex political history, including several past “Mass Migration Wave” events, the unceasing debate on migration for a “better life” remains. The need for an “escape route” is further stirred by the recurring political turbulence. Although a temporal sense of ‘community’ among diasporic Hong Kongese is reinforced by digital connectivity, the practicality of migration is left perpetually unresolved.