“Breakfast of Champion” by Ryan Alexiev & Hank Willis Thomas

In Breakfast of Champion Thomas and Alexiev are commenting on the iconization and consumerization of the President of the United States. The piece appropriates the religious imagery of Byzantine mosaics to create a sugar cereal image of President Obama. Does the election of Barack Obama symbolize a victory of substance over cynicism or of packaging over product? The mosaic proposes the question: Is Barack Obama a modern messiah in the world of politics or marketing? Perhaps he is both. Only time will tell. Underneath the glossy surface of the piece is the artists attempt to understand how to critique and question something they too are seduced by. “An idea we were trying to get at” – The sugary sweet mosaic, made of thousands of cereal bits, depicts idea of what a healthily balanced breakfast (democracy) might look like when considering the role that marketing plays in myth building around corporate and political brands.

Hank Willis Thomas’ work deals with complex issues of race, identity, class and history in the age of consumerism. He investigates how commercial marketing and branding is geared toward specific racial groups and raises questions about visual culture, the power of logos, and media representation of African Americans. Ryan Alexiev explores the history and social implications of consumerism through his art. Alexiev creatively uses different forms of media to illustrate his ideas.

Thomas and Alexiev collaborate frequently, and were recently commissioned along with the ause Collective to create a video installation for the Oakland International Airport which was also selected for inclusion into the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

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This is the second draft of the story for my creative non-fiction class.  The third and final revision will be the one which I will receive my grade.  This is worth 30% of my grade. Fuck.

              I am terrible at math and sciences.  I have tattoos and I used to have my labret, nose, and eyebrow pierced.  I can barely speak Cantonese.  I moved out when I turned eighteen.  As such, I am considered the black sheep of the family, and, at times, my own race.    There are times when I wonder whether or not I was accidently switched at birth, and am missing out on my real family; it is plausible, after all, don’t all Asians tend to look alike?  There is a small possibility that I could have parents who actually understand me and vice versa?  I could have a father that realizes that since he is living in Vancouver, Canada, he would come to expect that his daughter would ultimately adopt western ideas after being surrounded by it.  Wishful thinking.  I’m stuck with what I’ve got.

            At first glance, my father, Simon, is not an intimidating individual.  Standing 5’7” at best, the first thing one notices about him is his food belly (I often ask when the baby is due, to which he replies with a glare and a slap on the shoulder) and his limp while walking.  My mother told me that this was due to the fact that when my father was younger, he had a botched surgery, and the outcome had caused one of his legs to be shorter, giving him a permanent swagger.  A hard worker the minute he came to Canada, he has always maintained a strong work ethic with two full-time jobs (a banker and a blackjack dealer).  He has always expressed the importance of education and wanted the best for my sister and myself.

            My father wanted me to go to private school after kindergarten.  I recall waking up early in order to drive to Chinatown to take a placement test at St. Francis Xavier Elementary.  I never knew much about the school; except that the majority of the students there were Asian, and that my parents were constantly buying those chocolate covered almonds for whatever fundraiser the school would be holding at any given time.  My older sister went there, along with my god-brother, and a whole slew of family friends (all Asian).  Sister Leung (I later learned that there were three Sister Leungs at the school, all of them unrelated) handed me a booklet, to which I filled out the various questions asked.  It had your basic reading comprehension and arithmetic questions, to which I answered correctly (I think).  Then there came the last question:  Please draw your family and where you live.  Now, I never considered myself an artist; so, at five years old and under pressure to do well on this exam (so I could go to the same school as all the other Asian kids), I drew as best as I could, my family and the house we lived in, except I drew my family as stick figures with clothing and different hairstyles.  I never received praise for my excellent reading and writing skills, instead, forced to practice drawing every night before going to bed for the next year.  I was relieved that I didn’t have to go to the private school.  I couldn’t imagine myself wearing the same thing every day, and looking like every other girl on the playground!  So while my sister wore the same drab white blouse with the miserable starchy navy dress, complete with faded grey knee socks every morning, I wore whatever I felt like (which was often stirrup pants with an oversized t-shirt, both in various colours that suited my fancy) and made Canadian friends at Van Horne Elementary.

            My father is a man of few words, often choosing to yell or grunt, instead of speaking in what I would consider to be a normal voice.

            “Oh he’s not yelling at you!  That’s just how he is, Erika!” my mother, Serena, would always say, rolling her eyes at my sensitivity and tears – western traits she suspected that the public school system was injecting into me. 

Our little house on Victoria Drive was booming from the constant yelling.  For instance, if my sister received a call and I happened to pick up the phone, I would relay the message by practicing my vocal vibrato.

            “Hello?  Oh, you want to talk to Brandee?  Hold on, please.”
            “BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNDDDEEEEE!!! TELLLLEEEPHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONNNNEE!”

            “OOOOOOOOKKKKAAAYY!!!”  Click.

This was also the popular form of communication from my mother when wrangling the herd for dinner.  Regular communication and conversation between my father and I were far and few between, although I’m sure a part of it had to do with the fact that he was constantly working, and not home much.  Not much for feelings and emotions, my father generally chose to ignore his daughters, only pausing to acknowledge our presence whenever upset at our deviant western behaviour.  My father never spoke to me about guys and relationships so I never gave it much thought until I was twelve years old.

            I had my first and only Asian boyfriend to date when I was twelve.   Ivan would always speak to me in Cantonese and I would answer him in English.   Ivan liked basketball and was proficient in math.  In other words, he fit the mold of your stereotypical Asian kid.  He lived in a nice house near Queen Elizabeth Park and always had the newest pairs of Nike shoes whenever basketball season came around.  The duration of our tumultuous relationship lasted all of three weeks; its demise occurred when he called to ask me what my problem was.  I was sitting on the kitchen countertop one evening, staring at the giant red Chinese calendar hanging on the wall, my bare legs dangling as I played with the telephone cord in annoyance, trying to come up with excuses in order to get out of this tired conversation. 

            “Why don’t you ever speak Chinese?  You are Chinese, aren’t you?”   His voice was serious, although the Chinese language often comes across as pretty serious, even if the conversation is light hearted.  One can usually tell if it’s funny right away if laughing is involved; however, laughing was a rare occurrence for Ivan.  I was fuming.   

            “Why don’t you ever speak English?  We are in Canada.  I’m Canadian.  I was born here.  I go to school here.  I speak English.  I know how to speak English.  I don’t know how to speak Chinese properly!”

The kitchen light buzzed away and I held the phone tightly, angry with this boy for trying to change me in order to fit his mold of an ideal Asian girlfriend – quiet, submissive, and, in my eyes, boring.  Yes, I realize that I am of Asian descent; however, I was born and raised in Vancouver and considered myself Canadian more than I did Chinese.  I was not going to take this sitting down.  The line was silent, but I was on a roll.  I jumped from the countertop, my little duck feet slapping the cold, white marble tiles, as I raised my fist while yelling into the telephone. 

            “I don’t even like you!  You remind me of my dad!”

Click.  Like my father, I didn’t understand Ivan at all and realized at that moment that my now ex-boyfriend and my father had more in common than I ever did with Ivan, and that my father would’ve considered Ivan to be a perfect match for me.  Did my father really want me to be the stereotypical Asian girl, a future slave to her husband, eventually marrying the stereotypical Asian male, living the life of the stereotypical Asian family?  Did my father really wish for me to become an accountant or a nurse, even though he knew that either profession was not for me?  Oh God.  I couldn’t fathom the possibility of this realization actually coming true, so I took great measures to make sure he understood that I was not going to be following that route.  I figured the easiest way to go about this was with boys.

            The first boy that I actually introduced to my father was Rob.  He was 6’3”, an artist, and white.   It took my father three years before he actually acknowledged Rob by his name.  I remember giving Rob warning about my father’s behaviour.

            “Listen, my dad is mean.  He probably won’t talk to you but don’t worry about it – he doesn’t talk kindly to anyone, really.”

I had been lying stretched out across the couch, my head resting on Rob’s legs.

            “No way!  It can’t be that bad…”

Oh, if only he knew!  Right at 5:45pm my dad opened the front door, with only twenty minutes of relaxation before having to motor off to his evening job.   The minute Rob had heard the keys jingle and slide into the lock, he pushed my head off of his lap and sat straight up, hands on his lap, eyes wild with fear.

            “Hi, dad.  This is Rob.”

My father looked up at his eighteen year old daughter with this tall gwai lo (ghost man), in his house, sitting on his couch and watching his television, sighed heavily while shaking his head in what seemed to be disgust, and tromped off into his bedroom.  Not even a hello.  Awkward silence filled the living room and I turned to look at my devastated boyfriend. 

            “See, I warned you.”

            “Is it going to get better?”  He looked like he was going to throw up.   “My hands are sweaty already!  He hates me.”
            “Here’s hoping,” I muttered under my breath.

The subject of racism came up numerous times.  Neither Rob nor myself could pinpoint what exactly it was that Rob did that caused my dad to dislike him so much.  He was always so nice to Brandee’s boyfriend, Daniel; Daniel was Asian and in school to become a nurse, like my sister.  Had I been right all along?  Did dad hate Rob just because he was white?  The Canadian in me had to investigate.  So I did what anyone would do: I asked my mother.

            “Does dad hate Rob because he’s white?”

My mother came to Canada when she was nine years old, so she isn’t as traditional as my father is.  On the other hand, she tends to side with my father on the majority of issues, as she adopted the traditional Asian female role once married.

My mother looked a little bewildered at my question.  We were in the silver Honda Accord on our way home, and for a split second I thought she was actually going to drive into oncoming traffic.  I generally ask uncomfortable questions while my mother is driving for two reasons: first, she won’t yell at me because she has to concentrate on the road (you know Asian women and their poor driving skills!  My mother is no exception to this stereotype); and second, the discussion will likely end by the time we arrive at our destination and will not get brought up again.

My mother paused for a moment, stumbling at her right hand turn, and then said in a surprisingly calm manner, “Erika.  You know your dad is not racist.  Why would you say that?”

            “Well.  He doesn’t even acknowledge Rob.  Rob is so scared of dad!  He’s nice to Daniel.  He calls Daniel by his name, not just through grunts.”

            “He just doesn’t know Rob or understand him.  He doesn’t hate Rob (but she didn’t say he didn’t like him, either).  I’ll speak to him.”

That was that.  And so it did get better between them.  By the time Rob and I were in the fifth and final year of our relationship, my dad had moved from the disappointed sigh to the grunts of recognition, and finally managed to utter “Rob” without having to gag or roll his eyes.  It might not seem like much, but even Rob recognized the great leaps and bounds their relationship grew in the five years; and although I’m sure he won’t admit it, my father probably misses Rob a little – who is going to mow his lawn and shovel the snow now without putting up a fight? 

            Asian fathers are pretty stoic, and my father is no different.   My father always claimed that he was allergic to animals, and that was the main reason why my sister and I were not allowed to have pets in the house.  I had a rabbit named Lucky for a while, but never considered him to be lucky.  A birthday present from my godparents (I did not wish for a rabbit, asking specifically for a Super Nintendo instead, but received this mangled creature in a cardboard box, as if they had bought it in an attempt to save it from becoming someone’s dinner), Lucky was not an affectionate animal, choosing to sit in the corner of the cage even when the door was opened, and nipping my fingers whenever I tried to pet him and always smelled, even though we all kept the cage pretty clean.  I didn’t like him, but I never wished for death on an animal.  My dad always threatened to stew the rabbit, commenting about how one day “Lucky won’t be so lucky”, laughing at his attempt at a joke.  Then one day I came home to find the cage and its contents missing.  When I interrogated my dad, he told me he took Lucky out for a drive.

            “Where?  To the 7-11 garbage dump?”

I could picture my father driving in his silver BMW, down our alley, headed straight for the black garbage bins located behind the Victoria Drive and 53rd convenience store.  Convenience, indeed!  7-11: your one stop pet drop.

I caught him.  He started laughing, his shoulders shaking wildly.  He claimed that Lucky was already dead when he got home, but the truth remains solely between my father and the rabbit.  I guess the only bright side to the situation was the fact that we weren’t having rabbit stew for dinner.

            Then, Casey came into our lives.  This fat, needy, scaredy-cat was now in our possession, much to my dad’s dismay.  My aunt couldn’t keep him anymore because Casey had gotten jealous of her newborn baby and attempted several times to murder both mother and child, trying to trip them while walking up or down the stairs.  But I wanted a cat desperately, as most of my Caucasian friends owned cats of their own.  All I ever heard from my dad was how much of a nuisance the chubby feline was to him. 

“He is too messy with his food!” my dad would exclaim, staring hard as Casey would meekly crunch on his kibble, ashamed, knowing full on what the conversation was about.  I always envisioned horrible thoughts of coming home from school, only to discover Casey missing and my father later telling me that he went for a quick drive to 7-11.  To my surprise, one afternoon after school, I walked through the front door and discovered my dad taking a nap on the couch, his arms stretched out and head slumped to one side, sawing logs, with the cat acting as a footstool for him.  They both looked eerily relaxed and content.  I tried to sneak by without being noticed, but the slight creak in the hardwood floor woke my dad, who was embarrassed to have the stereotype of the heartless Asian man shattered by a little cat nap.  Since then, I have also caught him speaking to Casey affectionately.

Deem guy lay gum fay ahh? (Why are you so fat?)  You are so lazy!  You are just like me!” he’d exclaim, his foot massaging the cat’s back wildly, with Casey purring and drooling in bliss.

            These days, my father is the only one in the family who is concerned about the well being of Casey, since I am not allowed to have pets in my apartment building.  When I drop by my parents’ house, he will yell, I mean speak in an excited, yet stern tone, asking in Chinglish which brand of pet food he ought to buy. 

Deem guy (How come) we have go all the way there for food? Gum gwaiy ah!! (It is too expensive!)  Ho chouw ahhh! (His food stinks)” 

“Well that’s the food he’ll eat and that’s the food that I buy him!  If you don’t like it, ask Casey what he wants to eat then.”

Casey and I both look up at my dad, my eyes egging him on to speak to his feline friend, who was mewing intermittently and pawing at my dad’s foot.  He doesn’t bite. 

“Ugh,” he grunts, trudging up the stairs one step at a time, his hand firmly planted on the stairwell’s handle, as to not trip and fall down the stairs.  The door slams shut.  Three minutes later I hear his car engine start.  I smile and look at Casey, as we both know exactly where my father was headed.


pop pop pop

21Feb09

We went to Spike & Mike’s Twisted Animation Festival tonight at the Rio Theatre.  There were a few stand outs – this one was one of my favourites…

Fantaisie in Bubblewrap by Jesse Metcalf

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “Video: Fantaisie in bubblewrap su QOOB“, posted with vodpod 
Made stops at Access and Plank Gallery – all that we came home by midnight! Wow. Friday nights.


bananas

10Feb09

            When I was seven years old I wished that I were white, or had white parents.  I would visit my Canadian friend’s place and study her family and the interactions between them, realizing my family was completely opposite.  I love you?  Hugging?  These signs of affection were utterly foreign to me.  Toys? Pets?  It all seemed like another world – a world that I longed to be a part of, yet could not understand why my family, specifically my father, wasn’t like the rest of my peers’ families.  Why was my dad so mean?  Not just to me, but everyone!  I did not know how to fix the situation that I was in, but I soon realized that dating outside my race was the closest thing to distancing myself from my own race.

            At age twelve I had my first and last Asian boyfriend.  His name was Ivan, and he would always speak to me in Cantonese, and I would answer him in English.   Ivan liked basketball and was proficient in math.  He always wore basketball jerseys with the matching shorts (all reversible).  The duration of our tumultuous relationship lasted all of three weeks; its demise occurred when he asked me what my problem was.  I was sitting on the kitchen countertop one evening, my bare legs dangling as I played with the telephone cord in annoyance, trying to come up with excuses in order to get out of this tired conversation. 

“Why don’t you ever speak Chinese?  You are Chinese, aren’t you?”   His voice was serious, although the Chinese language often comes across as pretty serious, even if the conversation is light hearted.  One can usually tell if it’s funny right away if laughing is involved; however, laughing was a rare occurrence for Ivan.

“Why don’t you ever speak English?  We are in Canada.  I’m Canadian.  I was born here.  I go to school here.  I speak English.  I know how to speak English.  I don’t know how to speak Chinese properly!”

The kitchen light buzzed away and I held the phone tightly, angry with this boy for trying to change me in order to fit his mould of an ideal Asian girlfriend.  I was not going to take this sitting down.  The line was silent, but I was on a roll.  I jumped from the countertop, my little duck feet slapping the cold, white marble tiles, as I raised my fist while yelling into the telephone. 

“I don’t even like you!  You remind me of my dad!”

Click.  It was at that moment when I realized why I was not attracted to my “own kind” and was a race traitor.  Who wants to be with someone who is a constant reminder of his or her father? 

            My father, Simon, is a man of few words who often chooses to yell or grunt instead of speaking in what I would consider to be a normal voice.

“Oh he’s not yelling at you!  That’s just how he is, Erika!” my mother, Serena, would always say, rolling her eyes at my sensitivity and tears – a western trait she suspected that the public school system was injecting into me. 

            The first boy that I introduced to my family was Rob.  He was 6’3”, an artist, and white.   It took my father three years before he actually acknowledged Rob by his name.  I remember giving Rob warning about my father’s behaviour.

“Listen, my dad is mean.  He probably won’t talk to you but don’t worry about it – he doesn’t talk kindly to anyone, really.”

I had been lying stretched out across the couch, my head resting on Rob’s legs.

“No way!  It can’t be that bad…”

Oh, if only he knew!  Right at 5:45pm my dad opened the front door, with only twenty minutes of relaxation before having to motor off to his evening job.   The minute Rob had heard the keys jingle and slide into the lock, he pushed my head off of his lap and sat straight up, hands on his lap, eyes wild with fear.

“Hi, dad.  This is Rob.”

My father looked up at his eighteen year old daughter with this tall gwai lo (ghost man), in his house, sitting on his couch and watching his television, sighed heavily while shaking his head in what seemed to be disgust, and tromped off into his bedroom.  Not even a hello. 

“See, I warned you.”

“Is it going to get better?”  He looked like he was going to throw up.   “My hands are sweaty already!  He hates me.”
“Here’s hoping,” I mutter under my breath.

It did get better though.  By the time Rob and I were in the fifth and final year of our relationship, my dad had moved from the disappointed sigh to the grunts of recognition, and finally managed to utter “Rob” without having to gag or roll his eyes.  Although I’m sure he won’t admit it, my father probably misses Rob a little – who is going to mow his lawn and shovel the snow now without putting up a fight?

            Asian fathers are pretty stoic, and my father is no different.   My father always claimed that he was allergic to animals, and that was the main reason why my sister and I were not allowed to have pets in the house.  I had a rabbit named Lucky for a while, but he never was really lucky.  A birthday present from my godparents (I did not wish for a rabbit, asking specifically for a Super Nintendo instead, but received this mangled creature in a cardboard box, as if they had bought it in an attempt to save it from becoming someone’s dinner), Lucky was not an affectionate animal, choosing to sit in the corner of the cage even when the door was opened, and nipping my fingers whenever I tried to pet him.  I didn’t like him, but I never wished for death on an animal.  I came home one day to find the cage and its contents missing.  When I interrogated my dad, he told me he took Lucky out for a drive.

“Where?  To the 7-11 garbage dump?”

I caught him.  He started laughing, his shoulders shaking wildly.  My dad was an asshole and he knew it too. 

            Then, Casey came into our lives.  This fat, needy, scaredy-cat was now in our possession, much to my dad’s dismay.  My aunt couldn’t keep him anymore because Casey had gotten jealous of the newborn and attempted several times to murder both mother and child, trying to trip them while walking up and down the stairs.  But I wanted a cat desperately, as most of my Caucasian friends owned cats of their own.  All I ever heard from my dad was how much of a nuisance the chubby feline was to him. 

“He is too messy with his food!” my dad would exclaim, staring hard as Casey would meekly crunch on his kibble, ashamed, knowing full on what the conversation was about.  I always envisioned horrible thoughts of coming home from school, only to discover Casey missing and my father later telling me that he went for a quick drive to 7-11.  To my surprise, one afternoon after school, I walked through the front door and discovered my dad taking a nap, with the cat acting as a footstool for him.  They both looked eerily relaxed and content.  I tried to sneak by without being noticed, but the slight creak in the hardwood floor woke my dad, who was embarrassed to have the stereotype of the heartless Asian man shattered by a little cat nap.  Since then, I have also caught him speaking to Casey in Chinese affectionately.

“Why are you so fat and lazy?  You are just like me!” he’d exclaim, his foot massaging the cat’s back wildly, with Casey purring and drooling in bliss.

            These days, my father is the only one in the family who is concerned about the well being of Casey, since I am not allowed to have pets in my apartment building.  When I drop by my parents’ house, he will yell, I mean speak in an excited, yet stern tone, asking in Chinglish which brand of pet food he ought to buy. 

“How come we have to go all the way there for cat food? It’s so expensive!”

“Well that’s the food he’ll eat and that’s the food that I buy him!  If you don’t like it, ask Casey what he wants to eat then.”

Casey and I both look up at my dad, my eyes egging him on to speak to his feline friend, who was mewing intermittently and pawing at my dad’s foot.  He doesn’t bite. 

“Ugh,” he grunts, trudging up the stairs, his hand firmly on the stairwell’s handle.  The door slams shut.  Three minutes later I hear his car engine start.  I smile, knowing exactly where my father was headed.