Studio 7 Residency 2023

May Li is a multidisciplinary visual artist currently studying history and politics at UWA. Her studies underpin her artistic thought process and praxis, helping her question the world through methods of drawing, printing, and painting.

"When I make art, I constantly question Place and Perspective, particularly what we consider the boundaries between the "home" and the "foreign" to be. I am guided by my background in Chinese painting and interest in media to synthesise flat images that harken to places of nostalgia, where the boundaries between home and the foreign are blurred and confounded."

During her residency at PS May Li proposes to produce a comprehensive body of work that reveals an alternative anti-map of "Perth", inspired by her "bizarre bildungsroman experience here. The quality of living in the "city of Perth" - or what we know as the colonial entity mapped upon Boorloo - is a constant, somewhat painful, awareness of where I am technically situated. Due to imposed colonial mapping, there is a suffocating feeling of spatial limitation that follows me wherever I go."

"All of Perth is thus both home and alien. This is further magnified by my experience growing up as a financially unstable Chinese immigrant - which adds further tensions of disconnection from the main structural language of "Perth's colonialism. Therefore, my body of work will refute traditional mapping to create an alternate experience of cartography that synthesises "Perth" into a simulacra both familiar and foreign. What I'm looking for in my work with PS Art Space is to combine my process of mark-making with the organisation's professional capabilities of spatial installation to refute the ideological privatisation of space of colonial map line-work - to reimpose a bizarre nostalgia of lost wonderment and limitlessness to my childhood home. I paint, draw, and print to connect myself to this world. Mark-making is my primary tool - especially with its simultaneously connective and demarcative quality. Drawing a line maps out an understanding, but also creates borders. In the future - and in further studies - I hope to work in relational and socially engaged art practices because I believe that the ideology of commodified haecceity and individualised privatisation has engendered a modern condition of disconnect. I believe that working within PS, and the opportunity to work with 40 other artists, will help my realisation of art as a process that connects people and reduces the boundaries between different realities."

"With this project, I look to refuse the individualised disconnect engendered by dominant colonial mapping and connect the human experience through the
contemporaneous pluralities of line-work in space."



I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are creating on, the Whadjuk people, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

"This month I didn’t know who I was anymore. It’s been a month consisting of a lot of terrible and great changes: so I’ve been feeling like a lot of different pieces and that none of it, or none of me really makes sense anymore. It’s probably not that big of a deal but I’ve never really lost myself on this scale before. I’m really glad to have the space here at PS Art Space because the studio is just a really good space to concentrate, to gather myself, and to be ugly. It’s great. I think people don’t give you the space to be amorphously ugly enough ! It really is a good space to orient myself - typically I enjoy doing environmental studies to inform a subject, but that process has felt a bit impossible, and I feel like in the studio I realised it was due to my own orientation of thinking changing. I wrote the following story at the beginning of the month, and came back to it at the end to finish it off. I'm not sure if any of that can be felt !

City Beach

There was a girl who was beginning to see black marks out the corners of her eye. It was happening in public too - she’d see them creep into her vision, whip her head around despite herself, and see nothing. There was no question as to what the cause of this could be. Cockroaches, of varying shapes and sizes, were taking over her house. Some were indeed like tiny black marks, some more long and a bit tannish in colour, and some were large, oily, and fat. All were quite disgusting. Despite her best efforts, there really was no stopping them - and before long it seemed they were crawling in and out of every crevice. The united mass of all the cockroaches far outfolded her at the very least eight times - and it was perhaps due to this that the cockroaches seemed to move in, take over the house, and act like she was the guest in the building.

So she found herself at the beach a lot. She was practically minded: not only was it a good escape from the cockroaches, but also: the sun, the surf, and the sand were collectively some of the few things that could blast her eyes free of the black marks. It was one day when, despite her better instincts, she whipped her head around at a dark shadow that had creeped into the corner of her eye. There didn’t seem to be anything there - and she was about to kick herself for it - before something emerged from the water. She thought for a second there had been an oil spill because what surfaced was so nebulous and lustrous black she had to shield her eyes. Her vision was amiss with the brilliance dancing around it and the water, and it took her a second to see after the shape took off into the sky that it was a specific kind of seabird with an S-shaped neck that tapered into a sharp beak, somewhat like a heron, that could be occasionally seen around these parts. Sea herons were usually white or a washed out grey, though, just like everything else at the beach.

All things are eventually washed or bleached out at the beach - so it was a good place to disorient yourself. She’d heard tales regaled on how swimming in the ocean long enough could completely disorient you – all directions would slide into one another and you’d get the feeling of having absolutely no place anymore. Well that’s what the people here said, anyways, and people loved running off to the beach; they had a special connection with it, it seemed.

She remembered something her dad would tell her about the mysterious and far off land he and her mum had journeyed long and hard to get from here. In this land, it was suggested that eyes would look yellow, and everyone’s black hair seemed to reflect a more aubergine luminescence. However, one day, a boy (either older or younger than him) with utterly no colours attended her school. In his retellings, her dad would be particularly enraptured, and take great care in emphasising that even his eyelashes of all things were translucent. The boy would walk around, completely alone, and a soft hiss of shifting sands would follow him.

Of course, if you thought about it, that boy probably had a form of albinism or something of the like. No explaining the sound of shifting sands, though. To her parents, or the people of that land, it was quite obviously a lonely White Moon Stork who, by the sheer force of his loneliness aligning serendipitously with some rupture in the cosmological movements, had come up from the river, gaining a form to reach others and civilisation. In an absurd way, this explanation almost made more sense - but that was the thing, she didn’t know whether to believe in it despite it being so real to her. This was a world that had once gained a voice so resounding through her parents’ stories - with swathes of imagery orated into a reality both fantastical and mundane, so full of life that it would swirl and solidify into a home that exclusively existed in her brain - but had turned into an echo that resounded so right in her ear.

The black heron, she thought as she watched it, with its coat glistening so brilliantly to the point of uncanniness, was definitely a result of some disturbance in the natural world. She didn’t know whether it existed by force of loneliness, or grief, or pure misunderstanding, she just knew that it was brilliant. But most importantly, it had wings and could come and go as it pleased. Thinking this, she felt a disturbance in her own body. What was to stop her, really, from rearranging her own morphology? To take control, to sprout wings by sheer force of disturbed will, and fly away?

Her parents definitely had the answer - but, they were unfortunately rarely home to tell their stories anymore. Or if they were home, they were too exhausted to speak creatively. That’s what full time occupation in pest control does to you, perhaps - you lose your mental lustre. Pest control wasn’t something they did on purpose - they hadn’t journeyed arduously from a distant land to become exterminators - it sort of just happened; the people here construct labyrinthe homes so bewildering that one ends up eddying into the position, eventually. She could see them changing too: they were rather twitchy (although she herself wasn’t free from this), and their eyes were glazing over, almost cockroach-like. Perhaps her parents couldn’t help with the roach situation in the house because they didn’t want to kill any more of what they now considered to be kin. Or more realistically, they were simply too exhausted. She couldn’t blame them at all - even if she knew that they, returning home every night with their equipment, were really the convoys for the cockroaches to set up nest at their home; sadly, or funnily.
She knew from the moment her parents were too exhausted to teach her how to use the industrial-grade pest control equipment that there was to be no stories anymore, and the door on her distant home was slowly closing her out. She wasn’t going to let this stop her, though. For one, her parents had lugged with them a small library of books from the distant land for days and days just for them to exist here - she wasn’t going to let that go to waste.
The way the books of the distant land worked is that they were mostly pictures with some accompanying semiotic and pictorial maps, with needed stories given by orators to coalesce into something that bizarrely made sense. None of which the order you read it in mattered, by simple fact that time was not considered linearly there. Neither did it matter that her parents couldn’t orate anymore - she could go off her memory of their stories, she thought. By sheer brute force of will and diligence, she was going to sprout wings and fly away. She flipped through the books and fixated eventually on the transmogrification process of the White Moon Stork, perhaps due to that story being the most acerbic of her memories. She stared, she read, she looked at other examples, just to make the process gain clarity. She wasn’t scared, because something in her brain had already been there the whole time. The way she had always treated her parents’ native tongue, even if she had never really learnt how to use it properly, was that it felt like the joy of childhood conversations with other children, where none of the sentences put together really made sense but there was a grander level of emotionality, a force of will, a shared understanding to it all.

With this strategy, after a while she realised what a lot of the lines and symbols in the books were pointing towards - that a lot of the processes were simply by way of extreme conjecture and very extended mathematics. A lot of it came down to measuring natural, meteorological, and cosmological phenomena in a cyclical fashion rather than linearly, before doing things at the right time the right amount of times. She was terrible at maths, though, let alone the fact that: in terms of meteorology and astronomy, the land she was in right now was simultaneously a mirror image and diametrically opposed to that of the distant land. She was spending too much time going through the process of flipping it back and reversing everything. She could feel the bones in her limbs hollow out as the days went by, and something disturbing slowly spiralling into her shoulder blades, though, she was already along her way and there was no stopping it or anything.

Something felt off, though, and eventually she reached a point though in her wafting amidst the language to understand that she had gravely underestimated it. She never was in the position of turning into a White Moon Stork. Turns out, the language was highly reliant on the positionality of oneself in the land and how they were oriented with its extant biome. But every day she could feel her neck cracking, thinning, and elongating - along with a deep, deep hunger that was beginning to expand a hole in her stomach. But now she had no idea what she was turning into. Quickly, she had to change course - preferably as soon as possible and she moved onto the first thing her memory jumped to: the sea heron. And so she found herself hurriedly envisioning and measuring out whatever relation between sea herons, natural phenomena, and herself that could be found - perhaps even arbitrarily.
It was harder though, by the day. She found herself getting increasingly easily distracted - by the cockroaches that flashed by and scurried into the crevices as she holed herself up in a nest at home, or by flashes of cars that drove by, with the sun reflecting off their windows and sparkling momentarily into her’s - and she was finding it harder and harder to leave the house by virtue of her strange appearance now. She also found herself knocking into an increasing amount of door-frames and lintels, leaving her to deduce that she was growing in size too. Eventually, she had to leave. In her gut, she felt that her isolation at home was messing up the process (her knees were bending sideways instead of backwards) - but most of all, this just felt wrong, it was like she was morphing a horrid chimaera whereby its nature was begot from a real purpose from the universe while its body was wrapped in materials adrift with no meaning and cloistered within a domiciliary cage. Transforming into the White Moon Stork, after all, required deep concentration concerning the deep meaning for why it existed through its material connection to the world. She felt that she could go through the process safely no longer, especially given that her bones and muscles were starting to creak and bubble like two incompatible materials: they felt like poor metallurgical work in terribly set concrete, left in piping hot sun and chemically expanding at divergent rates, and she could not go on. There was a soul and reason as to why these birds existed on this land, surely,,, hopefully. She needed to find out quickly.

She ran out and avoided the stares, but found herself running through the same blocks again and again. It was those cursed labyrinthine homes that veered and circulated into each other, over and over. She felt like she was at the opposite end of a fractal kaleidoscope, with panes and panes of glass reflecting off and into and within each other, until she was truly lost. She couldn’t see a reason for such a bird to exist here. Well, in a way, she thought as she twisted her now triple jointed long neck twice over, if you looked at the ever expanding and magnifying light rays that beamed off and refracted through glass on glass on glass, enveloping into a curvilinear grand scheme of undulating geometries - it was almost, in a way, like a frozen, domesticated ocean. For a second she felt comfort almost at this thought, before becoming distracted by dashes of black streaking across her eye. Out of habitual hostility, she snapped around, but felt immediately overwhelmed by what seemed like dashes of endlessly large dark ripples chasing her as she went. She moved faster, darting away from the scene, instinctually escaping down a route she’d been down so many times that it had carved a path in her brain,

She was escaping to the beach without even knowing it. It was part of her. She used to pride herself for her congruence with that environment: the ebb and flow, the eddying littoral zone - a state of constant flux and non-definition, she always thought she was finding herself in a home at the beach. Different to the people here, who she’d always considered as ones who escaped from their homes to disorient themselves at the beach. As she arrived, she saw some of them down enjoying the sand and the sea, awash within it all, sandy and clean - and she realised that they were all rather at home here in this washed out nothingness: faded, discoloured. The black sea heron was still there too, but it seemed to take one look at her and fly off. Alarmed, she slid over frantically into the ocean, trying to catch a glimpse of herself, but could only see disparate pockets of dark shades flickering back up at her. She looked out, at the ever reflective surfaces dancing about, and remembered something her mother - who, in the distant land had never seen the ocean until adulthood - observed after seeing it for the first time:

Her mother was, above all, intimidated by the infinite flatness of the beach. Coming from a world of steep mountains, sky-piercing trees, and vertiginous waterfalls (the clouds even moved vertically rather than horizontally), all she could think of was the annihilative indifference of its flatness. She was scared about the amount of worlds that had existed, now beneath her feet. All evidence washed away.

It was hard for her to think now, especially with the sparkles of light from the water dancing into her eyes. She forgot why she was at the beach. She was searching for something, wasn’t she? It was getting very hard to focus, she was searching, right? All she wanted to do was dart towards the lights. What exactly was she doing, again – she felt her skin bubbling and popping. Reaching for it, she was horrified by a texture that felt like, what she could only describe as, the crackling on roast meats - she let go immediately for fear of this, but also at the fact that the nerves in her hands were giving out and she was losing her sense of touch. She remembered, momentarily, that she was indeed turning into something and was here to find the purpose for its delivery. She knew, though, that it couldn’t be found here anymore. The beach and its flatness had taken all evidence away - and she understood, now, even perhaps why the washed out people here, of their labyrinth homes and glossy suburbs, held such a special connection to the beach.

The stories had been bleached out here. Without them, it was hard for her to believe she was anywhere at the moment, and far harder for her brain - which was so dazzled by the dancing lights of the sea - to hold onto any executive functions. Her mind started regressing back into places she was sure existed, back into the distant echo of her parents’ distant land. But as she was reaching for those it was like the memories had atrophied. The echoes of memories from her parents had started to funnel into her brain, leave holes, and sputter only in syncopation through the gaps.

She had to go back to see her parents. Darting off in a flurry, she noticed how dangerously lighter she felt, twisting round and contorting her way back to the labyrinth of houses; she heard pops of bubbles beneath her skin and realised that her muscles too had atrophied, leaving gaps and pockets of air to form in them. There was great pain, but no time to waste – if only she knew where her parents were - was she really to look into every glass window and hope she’d find her parents at work in there?
She couldn’t think of anything else, so she moved. Arriving somewhere in that direction, she thought she had come across something monstrously beyond her comprehension. The only thing she could describe ahead of her was a terrible vortex that seemed to suction all planes of the world into a vaginal slither. Frightened, she veered off, but was instead confounded by something frighteningly animalistic, of fragmented black sections that combined and shattered mutably, almost by instinct, at her every movement. She swerved again, pulling her head away further, but realised that the terrifying vortex seemed to follow whenever. So, she stopped, shook her head, and the vortex seemed to wobble with her.

Despite fearing what could be the results, she slid both her eyes back sideways and realised her vision was indeed subject to the morphological confines of a bird. Without knowing when and how: her eyes had slid backward and melted into the sides of her head. She struck her eyes out sideways in an attempt to see what would reflect back to her. A cascading swirl of panes reflecting and bending onto each other flipped frantically through her vision as she moved – and among this, she realised that the smattered panels of black flickering and following her throughout her vision was, indeed, her now exorbitantly elongated body, twisting and writhing through the air – flying, somehow, without her having realised neither the implications, when, nor how this phenomenon started to take place. She crackled and popped through the air, and even though every pop in her muscles brought her pain, flying somehow still felt as natural as breathing.

Aware of herself now, she slowed down a little to have a proper look, but everything was hard to register in terms of both the handling of her overwhelmingly spherical bird vision and the deeply distracting effect of light sparkling off every single plane and refracting through her paraboloid vision; the cars below, with the light dancing off every special curvature of their bodies, were a particular distraction. Her mind scattered with the light, and she felt nothing but a deep desire to chase and swallow every single sparkle and twinkle.
Perhaps it was the last thought of hers, when she felt herself adjusting to her new way of seeing and managed to catch a proper glimpse of her body reflected back - she was of mottled dark browns and greys that looked like scaly leather instead of an oily black - that she had not turned into the sea heron but rather a disturbed, imagined mutation of a bird that she was sure she had heard in a story. She thought she had forgotten about it before this point: it was hard for her to remember the name it was referred to, something like a snake bird. She was stuck wondering whether this bird was indeed just a resident of her mind - especially as she coiled and carolled her giant body (which now felt like all neck) through the air, snapping her joints and shrieking through whatever she had for a mouth at this point - but also being confused as to why, if it was simply told to her, that it felt almost like she had always had a long held and slowly curdling image of it in her head. Sorting through her recollections felt like flipping through dreams, it was all collating together, and her eyes - which could, horrifyingly, move independently of each other now - could no longer contain their excitement at the exponential lights sparkling up at her, enticing her. The last thing she remembered - a memory sounding in her as if it was whispered directly into her mind long ago - before she became completely enveloped in the frenzy of it all, of the flickering planes that swirled and glittered and confounded her - was that the bird’s natural hunt and hunger developed in it, an insatiable, fatal attraction towards all things that sparkled."


I was thinking about how I had a phase where, I was realistically considering how to break my limb(s). It happened quite a lot in high school and a few times in uni: I remember I would walk along the concrete second floor of my high school which opened to a courtyard down below and considered between whether it was a safe height to jump off and only break a leg, or whether it would kill me. In uni it escalated to me looking it up on google, realistic heights to jump off, or hammers and bullshit stuff like that. This all happened because of a sense of dread, just a dread of things to do, things coming up, tests, random stuff, dread of life in general. I think about it now and what sticks out to me most is: how enclosed, and how small my world was back then, that I really considered doing that to get out of stuff. It is strange how we humans get ourselves so caught up and enclosed in a concrete swirl of abstract limitations of our own creation.

My favourite thing in the world now is learning that the world is always bigger than I think it is. I’m starting to get into the world of grant applications for art at the moment and find it so vast and unlimited - it is very very interesting, and most of all I feel supported by everyone. I started talking with a grants officer and I was very moved by the vast conglomerate and infinitely interesting world they seemed to occupy and bring, but also by how very enthusiastic and supportive they were and made me feel like, again, that the world is larger than I thought it was and that I wasn’t alone in it. Just through talking with them it seemed to open up many avenues of life, practise, and thinking; and made me feel ok, that it really is a learning process.

A good way to think about it, I guess, is that: actually I lost my train of thought and forgot what I was getting to here. But the overall reach I was pertaining to was that, I’ve been really enjoying meeting the people at PS artspace because they all seem to occupy their own pockets of worlds that I can look into, and they all offer different perspectives and why we make art - just a lot of things that require me to digest properly, mull over, rethink why I’m here and why I practise art, what I want, etc. Most of all I’ve really just enjoyed talking and listening. The grants officer said to me that applying for a grant is a good opportunity to practise how to communicate to the world about your art, and I agreed in that I definitely think that there is joy (and irritation, they balance each other out realistically) through mediums of communication - ie what you think is true may not be true once you put it out there. In a way art in and of itself is just like a form of dialogue, sometimes you really get yourself into a swirling state of mind about something, but you have to engage in the texture of reality, the medium of communication, feel a response from the world or someone, and consider whether what you felt was true still stands true, or if its a nebulous ever evolving thing with the world etc etc


Hi folks. I’ve been a bit under the radar because something of a spanner has been thrown into my works. A part of this happens to be the fact that I have had to rethink why I make art — including such questions of: what do I truly want to make, and who do I even want to see my art - things that may sound banal and simple, but still things I realised I could’ve gone my whole life without truly thinking about, given the myopia of thought process that our state-of-the-world may tend to foster. It’s crazy how being afforded a space of one’s own - like here in studio 7 - can really change one’s way of thinking, undiluted by the loud and confusing cacophony of the outside world. No doubt also the influence of ways of thinking by the company around me - artists that I watch from a distance scratch things in, work into them, scratch it out, abandon, and then return to them time and time again - or otherwise artists who are otherwise happy to whack me over the head and remind me in-person that “May, process does indeed exist”: things will always move into the next, and sometimes you really have to step back and look into the future (not to sound platitudinous).

So I sit, I stew, and something begins to brew here. I’m kind of excited to say that I’m working on something at a scale and level of consideration that I haven’t done before — even now requiring larger pieces of writing that I’ve been working on and are to come up soon. In the meantime, please enjoy something from the archives — a piece that was certainly written in the energy of the moment and then, like everything, banished with uncertain perpetuity into my wheezing and heaving backlog - the annals of “underthought”, “irrelevant”, and “who cares”; but now being rescued - as you see - by my curious new understanding of this thing called process, wherein works can or do have a relational quality to each other, they can purposefully ignore, whisper, speak, or even galvanise one another. In my process, I’ve been taking a very stark look at myself and what I’ve left around - scanning and cataloguing many a thing I would’ve left behind in order to understand myself - and in this I found this piece of writing, but after what I’ve learnt this year, I feel its given new meaning now.

This piece was written during the holidays, I was struck by some illness and left the house I was at to return to my parents’ home for some spiritual reason. That bedridden week where I stared at the ceiling did inspire the first short story posted here. This piece, however, was a day or so post-bedridden, where I had just enough energy to sit about and bemoan the situation; it took great energy to unanchor myself from a place and move, so I was kinda stuck at place at a time, and forced to really sit and chew the scenery. That state of being, and what I saw, has been of reactivated importance given what I’m writing and working on at the moment, so I hope you chew on and enjoy this piece in anticipation of its energised recontextualisation in the near future.

“My mum has been cleaning the backyard and heaping various forms of clippings on top of each other to make a paraphernaliac pile with plants, colours and textures between various states of life and death — there’s a frottage of speckled morning sunlight cast through our mulberry tree that adds even more variegation and depth to the colour — but despite even that, the more you look, the more infinite amount of worlds will open up to you. I noticed, just before writing this sentence, that the back of a leaf - of a plant I don’t know - shines with the holographic translucence of an insect. I also notice a pigeon feather laying perfectly incognito, and dare I say, fitting snugly in camaraderie with small, dead, withered grey leaves. A singular, long dried out dandelion, puff, yellow, delightful - lying among straws and sticks that are all slowly being ground by the elements into fine powder. A still very much alive chamomile branch lying atop dehydrated sticks - my mum is still working on that plant today. A mulberry branch, ghostly pale with leaves creamy white atop the remains of a split-leaf philodendron, still in a way rapturously vibrant - just, instead of its usual green, it’s now a strong brownish- red, kind of like a calcified flame in a way — its surrounded by the greyish mint greens of more chamomile branches — only these are mid-death - my mum has been working on these plants for a while — the philodendra’s red hue is shared, but less vibrantly by a singular palm frond, with all its fingers splayed out, curled, dried, and dramatic (I’ve always considered palm trees to be weirdly attention-seeking).

All that besides, or maybe because of this — I think I like Jungles because it kind of acknowledges that Hybridity is bound to exist, in a sort of Cosmopolitan sense, a unified incongruence.”

Much Love, May


There have been some changes at PS Artspace. New walls have been going up, and I’ve been wondering what that means. Everyone I encounter in the space will remark about it and ask me what I think - whether politely to find something to say, or out of genuine curiosity - like “do you like the change?” or “how do you feel about these new walls?” The questions always took me aback - my first instinct would be confusion as to why people were even asking this. This was especially true at the beginning of the building stage, where the previous walls were just torn down and rudimentary skeletons were put up. But, as these walls have been going up, I have felt myself within, with, and as them - breathing in, and breathing out into the space. It’s so strange, it certainly has made me start thinking of boundaries.

If I consider myself as one with the walls, then it wouldn’t be too illogical to consider the body itself a boundary. And yet it exists, and it can be interacted with. So what exists could both be a communicator, and a boundary: similar to these walls at PS art space, which— because of the open space— walk a line between public and private, especially as the walls cordon us off into this nice private areas, and also exist as a gallery for us to hang paintings on and engage with each other. If we continue considering the body as an intersection as both a communicator and a boundary, then it’s a bit of a paradox. I often feel a tension between wanting to connect, and wanting to protect myself. And as these walls change, our bodies also change; and the studios inside change, and the walls outside change. What is truly the essence inside that is protected ?

The Lamp

A furniture store in Northbridge was hosting a closing down sale a few streets down. We decided to walk down in the early afternoon sun to check it out, “Maybe they’ll have something that’ll suit your studio?” Astro said. I was hoping not because: although I did have some money, it was technically better suited towards fixing three separate problems I had with my car at the time, and I also wanted to gather some funds in order to find a place to live— so, my heart was soothed by how shit everything in the store was. Unluckily, however, Astro came across what seemed to be the lamp of the century.

“You have to get it,” Astro said, “imagine your studio with this.”

The lamp was indeed great, but probably not for a reason fully in-tune with Astro. It was great because it was terrible. Basically, there’s a subset of mid/third-quarter twentieth century Chinese films I watched as a kid with a specific genre of character that the lamp harkened to. For context, I would say around a fifth of state-backed films in that era would be about the Korean War, a fifth and a half about the Chinese Civil War, and then the rest all about the Sino-Japanese wars– Japanese invasions and Chinese defence and what have you. The thing that united all these movies - and often the roles that allowed actors to absolutely devour and chew up the scenery - would be the most dastardly of all characters: the , ‘Hanjian’.
‘Traitor’ would be a simplistic translation of Hanjian - maybe we could say “traitor to Han Chinese”, or “traitor to the Chinese state”, but it’s really hard to determine whether it is exactly one would be betraying. The state, ethnicity, culture, or something else. The idea of China even as a whole is a contentious blurring of way too many subjectivities.

Anyways, the thing about these damned Hanjian was that, regardless of where the hell they were, or who they were betraying, and who they were in collusion with – they all seemed to have these incredible lamps. Now, why these lamps ? I could say, maybe, many things. These lamps were often paired with a desk and an office where the Hanjian would squirrel away information or host a conspiratorial meeting space. They symbolised, perhaps, the corrupt pomp and decorum of Imperial China that modern China wanted to get away from— its wheezing overload of bureaucracy and opulence– particularly that of Manchurian Qing Dynasty. It also posed the threat of Japanese technological advancements; new dang-fangled imposed designs from the West, a deal with the devil, betraying one’s very quintessence as an Easterner. Their uncanny out-of-place appearance in China also posed the threat of Western domination. It was something about their strange ornamental brass plates, cased glass shades, and strong visual association with finance and banking institutions in the West at the time that may have been the kicker: convoluted, expensive, exploitative.

And there I was, thinking about buying it. I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t sure if I even desired it, but I was tempted by Astro’s plea for me to imagine it in the studio, maybe just because it was a bit funny. I decided to loop around the store with him to give myself time to think about it, or perhaps to distract myself with other funny little things so I didn’t have to think about the implications. There I was, desiring something that I didn’t even desire that symbolised treacherous betrayal to my very core. Not even mentioning that, by way of certain forces in the world— of the industry that afforded the conception of this lamp, the market it was made for, the global production networks, the mass production, the screws, metal, flushed divets, glass, bobs, wires, and more— the most sick games of the world, of finances and father time, seemed to bring this lamp into this store, dusty and a bit waned in posture and countenance with a hastily scrawled “vintage lamp -$75” tag smacked onto it.

Seventy five dollars, I most certainly didn’t want to think about that. I’m pretty sure in the early 2000s you could’ve bought a dog with that money - I do remember looking at the little puppies in the pet shop windows at the mall. I looped around again, thinking about why I wanted to introduce the lamp into the studio space, was it really just because it was funny to me ?
Nothing in the furniture store was really meant to be here in Australia, no business at all: Japanese screen dividers, Mexican epiques—- and I was especially bewildered by a batch of lucky bamboo, still with their little red ribbon and fortune knot tied around it, tucked away on some étagère. But the plant seemed to glow. Not literally, but from a strange radiation from the inside. I could sense that it had been stuck in this store for a good while, and yet it grows. The greens were green and the leaves were soft and almost vibrating with a sense of barely containable vivacity.

It made me remember a game I had forgotten about playing from a long time ago, or perhaps it was a Chinese nursery rhyme that I had embodied into myself, or perhaps just something I always think about but never thought it through into full fruition - regardless, it’s a game of thinking of a plant growing inside you. You don’t really think about it from a seed and then grow into adulthood, but you more so try to think of the spirit of a plant, starting from a wisp, or a flash of green, and slowly cloaking and cloaking it, maybe with structural veins, or fibres reinforcing fibres, until it slowly, slowly formulates into a full plant. It’s a lot harder than it sounds because it has to grow into something true, and the ultimate goal is for you to consider this plant so hard that it can basically be fully rotated in the void of your mind without a flash of doubt or a wavering. It’s been considered with so much truth and beauty with every minute second and step along the way that its veins, vines, and tendrils become inseparable from your own being. You can certainly abandon the plant for a bit, and come back to it, but you must come back with full concentration immediately, lest the plant falters and withers away.

I remembered sucking at it. So why did I do it a lot— certainly, I do remember the, sort-of, “beginner”-friendly plant would be a head of bok choy (or bai cai, as my family called it). Probably because it’s so small and you get very familiar with its layers and materials from peeling and washing it for dinner as a family. But then again, I also have a vague feeling or memory that it was something the generals in the Chinese army, or leaders in the provinces would tell starving people to do as an exercise to soothe hunger through the sheer will of your mind and soul. I also do have the vague feeling that this might’ve been confounded at the time with an even older meditative practice from one of the Chinese schools of thoughts. Anyways, I sucked at it. It’s hard for a child to be overly enthused about vegetables, let alone some child in 2000s Australia with bai cai. Especially if you so happened to grow up in a corner store with sweets, pies, and icecream reliably five metres away from you. Context and meaning definitely feels eschewed in the fact of distraction. I remember then trying to think of growing the bai cai as some kind of artistic exercise, thinking more so of jadeite cabbage - something of glacial grace and beauty to slowly crystallise into.

I don’t think I’ve ever properly manifested a plant. The furthest I’d get would probably be a third - and that’s being generous considering I don’t know how far along the journey anything is. I’d always start with a wisp, and slowly thread it together in my head - a suggestion, perhaps, of a clivia ? I’d then think, ok, we’re doing a clivia now, and desperately try to hold onto that idea, but before I knew it, the leaves would always start to elongate, and coil, or curl into itself, and it’d always warp into some other plant, a cyclamen or a lucky bamboo, even.

This happened again, once, at Astro’s place. I sighed a little too heavily, so he asked what was on my mind.
“I don’t know,” I said, I didn’t really want to talk about it properly, “let’s say I cursed you right now, and you had to turn into a plant forever— which one ?” It was a bit of a stupid question, but he thought about it longer than I expected.

“I really like gum trees,” he said, “like, a lot. But, hmm, I don’t really think that’s me, it doesn’t sound right.”
But I did remember the fact that he liked these trees, and the reason he did. He liked them for their bends and curves; or “wibbly wobbly”, as he liked to say. Neither of us are much of plant people



The question is: what does Girlhood mean on my own terms.
My tentative proposition is: that it is the experience of always being on the verge of love.

It was important for me to word the question "what does Girlhood mean on my own terms". Growing up as a little girl in a deli meant I was surrounded by images and messages that I began to internalise and use to self-regulate. It is important to recognise this because you can begin to see how not only you follow the rules of others, but you embody them. Because doing away with all the rules, or "full escape" from what exists isn't possible -- following or not following isn't the point, because you are still defining yourself by whether you meet or do not meet others' expectations. What does Girlhood mean on my own terms, is the beginning of a process, almost, of becoming human, of believing in your own internal world, tempo, and your own rules -- which you can then extend towards others and believe in their own internal world, tempo and rules, rather than simply categorising them and acting on autopilot towards that.

Because the reality is that I had a lot of fun growing up in the deli. I loved looking at the designs of the chocolate bars, the drinks, the milk-bottles, the writing on the packagings, the goofy little fun facts that lollies and drinks included, the beauty products, I loved looking at the magazine covers with the beautiful white lades on them (sometimes a Beyonce, or an Oprah, and never anyone who looked like me or my mum) and I really liked the mystique behind the covered up porn magazines (they took up half the shelf), with their regulated mahogany cover-up slips over the women so I could only see their faces and maybe their shoulders sometimes. I was scared for pretty long of sneaking a look behind the cover-up slips.

I think the first time I actually saw an Asian woman on a magazine cover was in Northbridge, because I don't think the area was as regulated in the 2000s so I got to see my Asian sisters for the first time, on porn magazine covers there, full nude or very very skimpily clad. Of course it was a pretty confusing experience because the first time I got to see someone remotely like me on a cover, was also someone I felt very disconnected from and not really like me at all, again. You know, at this point you feel pretty confused about who you are and what you're supposed to be, or going to be.

So Girlhood to me, and I'm sure to a lot of people, was the experience of being on the verge of love. It is important for me to define it because I want it to make sense for the current world we live in. Girlhood cannot exist in a void, it exists within the context we live in: of products, of images.

Girlhood is a juncture for many points of experience that are important to me, femininity, Asian-ness, and queerness.
To me, yearning is quite a feminine quality, and it's ok if others disagree with that because really, it's a 'rule' I believe in.

I use "the experience of always on the verge of love" because that is what is always evoked in a combination of these experiences in the world we live in. It goes several ways, because for one -- in terms of looking at the magazine covers, one would always feel a step removed away from the beauty and love evoked from the covers; for another -- the way children interact and understand products is that they're liable to seeing it as the answer to their life at the moment, but the moment one eats the chocolate bar or finishes the ice-cream (I remember often feeling anxiety about finishing them) it is all over, disappointing, and it really wasn't the love that you were sold; and for another final and somewhat sad point -- not a lot of people in my generation acknowledge that as a child in this world, the real love of your parents never felt like enough compared to what was out there.

To put simply, four-dimensional experiences: time, the world, love, growth, being human -- are flattened.

A final point: This definition may make you think 'why May, then by this definition, anyone can experience Girlhood.' And that is true, Girlhood is actually experienced by everyone. A grown man can experience feelings of girlhood, but I garner that the feelings it transpires would be very shameful and emasculating -- resulting in a lot of confusing cycles, burying of feelings, self-hatred, etc. The reason I say this, but won't go too far into it, is because I see the experience of Manhood as the supposed ideal of being able to receive and harvest love indefinitely.

It is this unreal, un-human binaries -- of no love, and all the love -- that create pain and imbalances in this world.


'In trying to become "objective," Western culture made "objects" of things and people when it distanced itself from them, thereby losing "touch" with them. This dichotomy is the root of all violence.'
(Anzaldúa, Gloria. "Entering into the Serpent", in Borderlands/La Frontera. (Aunt Lute Books: San Francisco, 1987): 59)

I remember someone had asked me what the difference between mainland Chinese girls and Australian Chinese girls were. Of course, unsurprisingly -- or very in character of me -- I didn't really trust my own observations, or what I had to say, so I went to the internet to look up what people's perspectives were. I remember reading some scuffed Quora Q A article where one of the answers said that Australian Chinese girls tended to have a "chip on their shoulder". I wanted to deny it, maybe other Asian Australians had a chip on their shoulder - but me, surely no, not, I am a very happy and likeable person. Obviously, at the time, I was trying to protect myself from feeling the hurt from the truth of the words, but it's hard to be conscious of stuff like that in the moment.

It took a lot of time, learning, and growth since then to come back to this memory and realise it wasn't my fault, and nor was it the truth. The only truth was the revelation of his perspective. For this, I want to be conscious of and point out the usage of the words "chip on their shoulder." Because, to me, these words reveal more about how this guy perceives things, than anything about us. In order to perceive a whole group of people like this, the group must be separate to the viewer: manufactured, unvarying, and unchanging. Influenced especially by the wording "chip", I imagine a pile of chipped Kmart mugs or crockery.
(Now, having looked up the idiom for this writing, I am aware that "chip on their shoulder" originates from wooden chips being placed on two churlish boys in Old England, not chipped crockery or the like. However, language is fluid - meaning can be interpreted and evolved - and can change. That is even part of the point of what I'm getting to here -- it does not matter whether this guy knew the history or real meaning of the phrase or not. He did not mean all of us Chinese Australian girls were walking around with a literal wooden chip on our shoulder waiting for it to be batted off and looking for an Old English fight. No, like most language, he was using it in an impressionistic sense, and I read it in an impressionistic sense, and society reacts to all these interactions, and swallows and digests them and lives on like such. Because of my interactions with such people like this guy in the world, and because of his impression of us 'Chinese Australian girls', he put out the descriptor "chip on their shoulder", and I thought of us girls as chipped porcelain cups and vases - that was the meaning created, and to be broken down here.)

Because in order to have a "chip on my shoulder", I must be a thing not capable of experience, of growth, or thinking -- and I must not be capable of healing wounds. A plant can grow, change, and heal wounds; and I can grow, change, and heal wounds. I am doing it now, right here.

The reason it took a lot of time to come here, is because I want to believe in other people's truths. I want to be gentle, I want to believe in other people's abilities for empathy, compassion, and change. Even now, while writing this, I've been plaguing myself with self-doubt, and using different forms of logic to counter my experience for the guy's sake -- "chip on their shoulder" can be used to refer to anyone, for example. However, I came to the realisation that -- would I ever actually use such terminology to refer to a whole identity group ? Simply, no, that is not my way.

I came to the realisation that the way we see others, of creatures, of the world, is at a total split. People like this man, of a western and masculine world, define things through "object" truths, objective, distanced and unlike them. Such things betray the sterility of their vision. This guy was not using "chip on their shoulder" for its original meaning, which was for men with anger daring others to 'knock off the chip on their shoulder' in order to start their Old English fight. I don't think he thinks of us Chinese Australian girls as people looking for fights. He obviously went for its informal meaning, which is 'an ingrained feeling of resentment deriving from a sense of inferiority and sometimes marked by aggressive behaviour.' The key I want to point out is the word 'inferiority'. To create "object" truths, distancing us, and making us unlike them, we are naturally "inferior" to them on an unspoken level. Why would we have feelings of inferiority? Because we are inferior, according to them.

I, however, do have a chip on my shoulder. It's been something I've been dealing with, and interpellated into my being since I've been here. I have a chip on my shoulder because I've been considered, treated as, and moulded into something as still, manufactured, and unmoving as cheap crockery and mass-produced china. So I've been chipped and mishandled. I, however, have also noticed that the sentence 'I have a chip on my shoulder', is rarely used this way. This phrase is not used to admit one's own weakness, girlishness, feelings of hurt -- to have 'a chip on one's shoulder' is always used to refer to others. From my end, if I am to refer to others, I would hopefully be connecting to their feelings of hurt, smallness, and their ability to get better - I am referring to many things, the wholeness of their humanity. I am one and the same: if someone has feelings of smallness and hurt and 'inferiority' - the proverbial 'chip on their shoulder' - then I am likewise able to experience that. I am this way because I am, but also because I have learnt from my mother, and my mother's mother, and her, her mother, and her mother before that, and her aunties, and sisters, and cousins. But the difference is that I have grown up in Australia. So I have a chip on my shoulder that my foremothers do not. I am able to understand the implications of this foreigner's language that has shaped me, and have been fired, manufactured, and mishandled into a being with sharp-toothed chips and resentment. But I am not an object. When I say I have a chip on my shoulder, I admit my feelings, and I am able to grow.

One of my favourite Chinese idioms is (Literally: chest becoming bamboo), which refers to when something is so thought-out and considered in your being it becomes intuitive. I enjoy it more so for its progenitive story: which includes , personality of the Song Dynasty, and his older cousin (of some sort) . was a famous painter obsessed with bamboo and planted a forest around his house, which always teased him about. It was a sad day when had to change post and leave his forest, falling ill during the move and passing away. was grief-stricken and wrote an eulogy to commemorate 's love and mastery of painting bamboo: "" (introduction to the essay: 's approach to painting was just like the growth of bamboo. In the inch of its first sprout, it possesses all the elements, leaves, and sections of a fully mature stalk of bamboo. So when prepares to paint bamboo, he will see the entirety of it in his chest, and when he lifts his brush, he will see what he wants to paint, and like a rabbit getting up and chasing after what it has seen, the pen will up and chase what is in his heart. We would pass away if we were less indulgent.)

I take hold of the mould I have been manufactured in, take the cracks and chips of hurt on my being and psyche, and use them to grow out of. The mould that I have become will be but a shell for me to sprout from.

'La mestiza constantly has to shift out of habitual formations; from convergent thinking, analytical reasoning that tends to use rationality to move toward a single goal (a Western mode), to divergent thinking, characterised by movement away from set patterns and goals and toward a more whole perspective, one that includes rather than excludes.'
(Anzaldúa, Gloria. "Entering into the Serpent", in Borderlands/La Frontera. (Aunt Lute Books: San Francisco, 1987): 101)

My partner came home from work today and asked me how my day was, or what I had done with the day --- to which I replied that I had rested for the whole day. But the truth was, although I had spent the day basically laid unmoving in bed, it was not restful. It was, in fact, quite a restless day.
I realised.
I tried not to think about it, but I did happen to have work tomorrow and the whole weekend and the week after that, along with an assignment due amidst this time. None of these things I ever wished to put my heart, soul and body into. My usual response is to put these things in the back of my mind and continue on with life in my body --- as the Cartesian split of this society has taught me to do so well. But this Cartesian split is a lie: because now I have finally realised that you can train your mind to ignore the occupation of your future, but the debris of this occupation will build up, stuff, and decommission your body and soul, eventually. In this case today: it was remote arrest.
I've just noticed this in the change in my body depending on when I do or do not have to work. It's like the thought that 'everything has already ended so why bother' - which can eventually lead to depressive states.
And this takes me back to my childhood, and especially my Girlhood: where every second of my time was pre-planned and determined by someone else, but especially school. I remember feeling a lot of anxiety. A lot of yearning. A lot of inner sighing. Feeling remote. I remember girlhood a lot with waiting for church to end, of sitting through Chinese classes (things that are hard to feel grateful at the time because of such constraints) and knowing that sitting still would make the lesson end faster because you disrupted less. And a lot of looking at the clock. Everything was working towards an End, and everything was not recognised unless it was working towards this end. Everything was goal or end-oriented. As a girl, my time felt especially at the mercy of others.
It was until I fully skipped class --- an activity that the world associates with Boyhood (or at the very least I do, because my Dad skipped class a lot as a boy whereas my Mum never did) --- that I felt a rush of clarity of, or outside, the colonisation of my future --- if not for a simple moment. And then again, in adolescence with Surfing ((which this society associates quite strongly with with sensations of Boyhood)) because you feel quite free of such time constraints, you can leave when you want, other than being at the whims of Mother Nature and how generous she is with the weather - and yet with that, you feel your body, mind, and soul connected to the world with some glimmers, or waves even, of real meaning.
I will say, on a side-note, Manhood, in this societal structure, is the ability to occupy others' time and future --- and through this, generating and regulating your own time. Womanhood is the ability to control, create, summon, and occupy your own time, and through this, relate to the worlds of others. I feel this way because in Ballroom (especially Vogue Fem, which I associate with the expression of femininity that dares to occupy space), even though most people have similar enough amounts times/amount of beats for their 10s, its like they generate their own time. And I will say from my experience it is definitely very important to create your own time and world. Some people can make you feel transported to a place of high intensity and speed, and some take you into a world of languid sensuality.
With these observations I'm not saying, or even SUGGESTING any form of essentialism. These relations of time by such identity groups are NOT to be confused with even a suggestion of rigid, expected ROLES with time. THIS form of thinking is especially the issue I'm trying to get to at hand.
This end-result form of thinking --- to think these specific relationships to time is what OUGHT to be how they end up, is backwardly end-result oriented. I am calling out these observations because it is these specific experiences sculpted by the world around them, and of which society splits power between them, and splits apart the experience of Time, and even the experience of Love, dare I say. If you are a girl and your future is occupied, and you intuit that you will not really be able to 'naturally' gain, or be 'taught' the ability to control others' futures (on a large scale), then you will more so lean towards learning how to create your own pocket of time within the boundaries you are allowed. À la the Womanhood I associated with ballroom. If you were a boy, the experience would encourage you more 'naturally' to develop more so the skills to gain power by occupying others' time and future.
But I've gotten a little besides the point. I want to go back to what I was saying about end-results oriented thinking.
A 'Product' is the manifestation of end-results thinking. For example, mug made from a factory is solely made for the purpose of its end result as a drink-utility piece to be bought. Meanwhile, my Grandfather was a traditional Chinese furniture maker, but in his spare time he would carve ornamental wooden pieces, and sometimes a not very overly usable teacup. Very ornate, and of much growth and evolution during its lifetime ------ to the point where when you are part of the process you can't really inherently determine its genesis, because: was it from when its original block of wood was cut from the larger piece, and that piece from the log, or was it when the tree was first cut down, or when it was growing, germinating, being a seed in the wind ------ and even when the cup was being carved, and its designed evolved and developed, or even when it had finished being carved it’s like it dies but resurrects into new being in its life as an ornament or a cup, and it again lives on in my memory.
That's why I write this especially in my experience here as an Asian daughter of immigrant parents.

Forgive me if I am unclear,
for I am writing from the future
and the past.
If I were writing from the now.
I would be just a weed
on the verge of Love.

Because of our unique experience, carrying the endless history, gravitas, and stories of our parents, how our future is treated and constrained, and how adept we are at intuitively recognising the product-obsessed, sterilised culture of the now, which freezes our being into time. It is why I write this, but is hard to write about, because of our paradoxically vast yet tiny and confusing relationship with Time and Culture.
We are weeds. We are wildflower weeds. I think of dandelions. . I'd always hear my parents say that name at this time of year, and talk about their medicinal value and resilience. Dandelion is the name where I do not feel their value. I feel , because these plants hold vast heritage, meaning and culture, and their every fibre, every tooth a