Richard Fung, Video artist and cultural critic
“I first saw Toronto from the back seat of a station wagon where I’d fallen asleep on the long drive from New York. I opened my eyes and glimpsed the sky through a spider’s web of black lines. I now appreciate how our overhead cables give the city a unique texture while keeping us mobile and connected to each other and a wider world.”
Richard Fung is a Trinidad-born, Toronto-based video artist and cultural critic whose work deals with the intersection of race and queer sexuality, and with issues of post-colonialism, diaspora, and family. His award-winning tapes, which include My Mother’s Place (1990), Sea in the Blood (2000) and Islands (2002), have been widely screened and collected internationally, and broadcast across North America. His essays have been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including his famous “Looking for My Penis: The Eroticized Asian in Gay Video Porn,” in How Do I Look? ed. Bad Object-Choices (1991). A former Rockefeller Fellow at the Center for Media, Culture and History at New York University and winner of the Bell Canada Award for outstanding achievement in video art, he teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design.
“My videos arise from questions that tickle or irritate me. They are conceptual or aesthetic knots that I want to unravel. Making a video gives me the chance to better understand them. While there may be many questions, there are seldom conclusions in my work.
I got my first job after art school in community television. It was the golden era of that experiment and it shaped my orientation to the medium: giving voice to issues and ideas not in the mainstream of cinema or television; an attention to spectatorship and audience; and a partiality towards the interview. Being ethnically Chinese, from the Caribbean, and gay also induced a self-conscious relationship to the moving image-my reality was seldom reflected on screen.
Today I feel less of a burden to represent “my” communities, as the pool of film and videomakers is more diverse. But even so, commercial imperatives, creative myopia and political narrow-mindedness increasingly combine to limit the perspectives, stories and aesthetic forms available to us through mass media. And for a whole other set of reasons art galleries, where many exciting ideas find a home, are still not as culturally diverse as they might be.
Despite our obvious political and class hierarchies, Toronto is a pretty much a horizontal city: one of neighbourhoods and communities of affinity. Our art scene is characterized by cooperation rather than competition. This is in no small part due to peer-reviewed, arms-length public funding for the arts in Canada. This has been the best way to encourage a range of practices and practitioners. I would not have a career without it.”