YJ Zheng – Elaine (they/them)
Elaine YJ Zheng is a French-Canadian writer and artist who works across photography and text to document lived experience through the lens of recollection. Their work introduces a critical dimension to memoir writing by placing the reminiscing subject at the centre of its questioning and reconsidering the fallibility of memory. Scenes and images are intercepted as fragments blurred and disrupted through the passage of time and the experience of displacement. Passages come into conversation with one another across the margins, on opposing pages, building, expanding, negating existing statements.
Ideas raised across multiple pages offer both narrative for the reader and a sorting container for the writer that can be discarded upon completion. Like Wittgenstein’s ladder, pages serve their function once the memory is extracted and repositioned, and the writer is returned to their initial condition, alleviated from the weight of reminiscence.
YJ holds a B.A in Philosophy from the University of Toronto. Currently, they are looking for a publisher for No Nation, a critical memoir on identity formation, national identities, cultural dissolution, and the language of difference.
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Fragments on Rupture, Displacement, & the Erasure of Place.
Neither Nor documents the loss and estrangement of continuous displacement through time and place. It follows my departure from Beijing in 2016 and the sixteen months moving from city to city writing and not writing about art. Structural erasure ties into psychological disruption and historical concealment. In the partial recovery of restored moment, we ask:
What are the nuances of remembrance? When it is better to forget? Who gets to write the history retained as archive and narrative?
1989 June: my father marches into Tian An Men Square at the grievance of his instructors who had formed a barricade of bodies by the University gates. They begged the students to reconsider, even just for today, but their warnings could not land nor break apart the formation. The sea of students flooded the streets to meet with rows of ammunition. Some noticed their arrival from a distance. Others chose to proceed regardless. Records show three hundred people were killed that day. The number intercepted from State Council unveiled a body count of ten thousand.
Kasia wants to know who you are and why you are in Poland. In the five hundred-word article she commissions, you omit the personal introduction and deliver a short monologue on the writing body’s need to move around unbothered. You call it: of the places that shape us. Kasia looks over the draft and reminds you to add your name at the bottom. You never really get to it. Kasia never brings up writing again.
When they came to collect they took everything in sight. By the family library, they became insistent. My grandfather does not watch and wait for them to deface his grandfather’s house. He leaves. He gathers a bag to cross the banks of Hangzhou and settles in a coal town to produce blueprints for mineral extraction. For his 90th birthday, he shows me a photo album gathered for the occasion. There are no pictures dating before his 25th year. He tells me about the faces. He has trouble remembering the places. When they ask him where he is from, he says here and there.
The following day, I pay a visit to Agatha at her small gallery tucked in the Embassy district. She tells me about Alicja’s return from the North Korean border, where the artist recovered a fragment of the border itself, now displayed behind us. The stone sat in a glass case covered in red paint and barbed wire. Alicja herself was nowhere to be found. We pace around the aerial prints spread along the walls. These are military map reductions detailing the most prominent geopolitical divisions in the last century: the Berlin Wall, the U.S Mexico division, and the North Korean border. Alicja has always been interest in fragmentation, Agatha says. Maybe it has to do with where we are from.
Shortly after recovering its Independence after 124 years of division, the Polish Republic was dissolved as German troops marched into the country.