John Chan Artistic Profile Research
“From Mass Movement to Art Processes: Telling the lived experiences of struggles in public arenas”

A look into how personal experiences in mass movements during social activisms across the globe on various issues contribute to inter-disciplinary artistic processes, and that as a strategy to foster intercultural solidarity through the making of art.

It is a project built on my MA thesis, “The Space Between: An Investigation into the reception and societal efficacy of art at times of social crisis”. It explores Stuart Hall’s (1980) and Randy Martin’s (1998) writings regarding the reception of art and the details in the participation of the audience involved in the made works. With reference to Douglas Crimp’s (1987) and Susan Leigh Foster’s (2003) writings on cultural activism, the social efficacy of these works originates from the historical context and the interweaving of past and present through the action of the performing and spectating bodies.

I am greatly motivated by my personal activist and migrant identity as a queer person of East Asian heritage. I am interested in drawing new ways for us to collectivise where we do not just ask how society progresses, but also see who is left behind. I see the need for us to wildly imagine new possibilities to prepare for our common future. I constantly look at what structures and infrastructure we need for everyone to play on an even field. I ask how can grassroots organisations, corporates and governments can join hands in building these structures. I aim at activating public spaces with decolonised gestures to open up safe and brave spaces for everyone's voices to be heard, especially those from marginalised communities.

This research, hence, takes multiple perspectives and approaches in understanding how performance/ art events/ dance spaces, can be spaces for people’s lived experiences and struggles to be heard and known. These include workshops, conversations, reading, reviewing and more.

One of the key processes I will devote my time to is a focused investigation on the employment of tear gas in civic scenes. I am studying the legacy of the British Empire in contemporary society by investigating the use of tear gas in military environments and civil spaces. This learning process will be presented in form of creative productions, aiming at surfacing post-colonial trauma all over the world. I am visiting archives in London, including National Archive and Wellcome Collection, to look at documents relevant to the colonial history of the country, from government memorandums to newspaper clippings.

My goal is to see how tear gas is a materialised symbol of imperialism/ colonialism legacy and to devise tools for an immersive public event. The significance of having tear gas as the key subject is the universality of this object. It has been thrown all across the world in various movements, including Black Lives Matter. I am hugely intrigued to look at the potentiality of cross-cultural conversation through an in-depth investigation.

Through intimate conversations with political performance artists from different cultural backgrounds, I wish to understand and record how their lived experiences of participating in protests contribute to their current artmaking methodologies. It is in my art practice to hold safe and brave spaces for fellow artmakers to boldly experiment and explore new means of presentation inspired by their personal experiences.

I am simultaneously analysing my previous productions and making archives on my workflow in making socially-pertinent works. I wish to then devise strategies for generating collectivity through the common physical and psychological understanding of being part of a mass movement. As migrant and queer artists, recurring themes in our works focus on explorations of social injustice, including political suppression, racism and homophobia; and fragmented memories of traumatic experiences related to the displacement of home, relationships, activism and technological interactions. My current and previous artistic projects have scratches and marks of unfolding, collectivising, and activating.

John Chan
I am an artist, activist, researcher and social entrepreneur working in the art and cultural sector. My focus is on developing strategies for decolonising mainstream narratives through delivering cultural programmes telling
Ghost and John are a Hong Kong multidisciplinary art duo who are best known for our innovative integration of performance and contemporary technologies; and collaborative approach to making socio-politically pertinent artworks. Drawing from our experiences working in biology and computer science, we have developed a dynamic artistic practice that examines the intricacies of the body and nature, technological advances and folklore that accompany history.

Our embrace of digital technology allows us to create extended choreographic experiences beyond theatre and dance, and broadcast our arts to wider audiences. Working across video, installation and performance, we create unique spectator encounters from scientific to spiritual, and from historical to mythical. Through complex investigations of social, historical, and cultural differences across the globe, we constantly explore the post-colonial trauma of Hong Kong, the use of technology in democratic societies and new forms of art presentation.
"Thousand Papers" at CCA Goldsmiths, photo by Jeffrey Choy

"Air Mattress Sequence" at Chisenhale Dance Space, photo by Jane Lam

"Meniscus" at The Place London, photo by Dominic Farlam 

Moving Margins Chapter II
moving arti|facts from the margins of dance archives
into accessible scores and formats

- STEPPING OUT, funded by the Federal Government
Commissioner for Culture and Media with
in the
framework of the initiative NEUSTART KULTUR.
Assistance Program for Dance.