Wish You Weren’t Here (Mar 2020)

Wish You Weren’t Here, 2020, performance, Berlin, Germany, (16 – 22 Mar)

The I Wish You Weren’t Here series evokes the East Meets West self-portrait series of Chinese American artist Tseng Kwong Chi. Playfully and politically occupying the role of the Other and the perpetual foreigner, RHEE poses as a tourist in front of these iconic Berlin places of interest. However, there is more at stake performing Asian tourist during the time of the coronavirus. Dubbed the ‘Chinavirus’ by right wing media and the former president of the United States, the coronavirus continues to be associated with yellow peril, while anti-Asian hate crimes are increasing. Asians are facing discrimination in the art world, as well.

In addition, RHEE’s wearing of a N95 mask in a city where many of its inhabitants seemed oblivious to the danger of infection is akin to wearing a bullseye on her back; some laughed or stared uneasily, some even yelled racist insults. Wearing neon green rubber gloves while using a selfie stick to photograph herself alone, she looked serious and vulnerable. Contemporaneously, the city was still bustling with activity. Berliners are famous for their rebellious nature and many hadn’t heeded the social distancing advice, going to coronavirus parties and hanging out with crowds at the park. RHEE took her lone tour around to the city sights, curiously empty of tourists. Her selfies in front of well known landmarks seemed silly with an additional peace sign, which became popular all over East Asia in the 1980s; the videos in the series dealt more with the topic of xenophobia in an explicit manner. Both Turks and Jews, who have historically been seen as outsiders in Germany, played roles by their presence and absence in the backdrop of the artist’s video performances. In the video, Wish You Weren’t Here (Turkish Market), RHEE silently wandered through the entire Maybachufer open air market, unresponsive to several verbal interactions. The video Wish You Weren’t Here (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) feels dark, the artist walked completely alone from the depths of the installation, emerging until one sees all of the stone slabs behind her like tombstones.

The COVID-19 Diaries: Isolation,
2020, curated by Grace Noh and Yichen Zhou, MiA Collective, New York/Beijing