Yarli Allison

Yarli Allison

Playing with docu-fiction, sculpture, and personas, Yarli Allison explores ways to survive uncertainties, based on experiences like post-colonial, queer sexuality, and our datafied bodies.

Yarli Allison is a Hong Kong-Canadian born, UK/Paris-based artist with a multidisciplinary approach that traverses sculpture, performance, digital, film, drawing, and installation. Building upon her experiences of displacement, Yarli embodies ‘emotional geography’ studies to compose both sculptural and virtual fictitious scenarios that are seemingly hopeful and functional, yet on the verge of falling apart. By exploring processes such as ‘belonging remapping’, she plays with the sense of futility and the uncertain future of ‘what if’. Her recent research focuses on themes of border systems, datafication, and diasporas identities.

Yarli graduated in 2017 with an MFA in Sculpture from Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, UK. Her works have exhibited and screened internationally including State Hermitage Museum’s Young Artists Program, St. Petersburg (2014), 30 Under 30, Gardiner Museum, Toronto (2014), TAF_The Art Foundation, Athens (2018), Videotage Gallery, Hong Kong (2020), Queer and porn film festivals of Berlin, London, Vienna, Hong Kong (2018-2020), and Institute of Contemporary Arts: ICA, London (2021). Recent/upcoming grants and residencies include Hong Kong Art Council Project Grant, Canada Council for the Arts Travel Grant (2020), CFCCA Manchester research grant with FACT Liverpool, UK, working with curator Annie Jael Kwan (2021). Yarli Allison is a member of Asia-Art-Activism.

In Virtual Return You (can't) Dehaunt 於虛擬的彼岸 迴魂(不)散

HD Video / 24:18 min / 2020

‘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.

Sea Chicken - A short memoir on “Immigration Tide”

HD Video / 02:32 min / 2017

‘Sea Chicken’ is an experimental short memoir on a migration story of a Canadian born Hong Kongese who dislocated to HK in the British colonial era. The personal journey can be seen as relevant to current discourses of Asian-diasporas identities, xenophobia, and Hong Kong’s political turbulence with identity confusions.

Wrestling Blues 藍調摔角場

HD Video / 06:06 min / 2019

In this blue wrestling ring, no one seems to be living the present. Their minds wander off deep into the consciousness of sexual desires and suicidal propensities of the human mind. (在這摔角場內,所有人都心不在焉,他們的思緒飄到了深層意識裏,展示了人的生之慾和死之慾)

Narrated in Cantonese + Subtitle in Traditional Chinese: this language combination is unique to Hong Kong.