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Indian Summer Festival: With Union, media artists Nancy Lee and Kiran Bhumber set a queer intercultural story in the Year 3000

Union
Kiran Bhumber and Nancy Lee play two characters in Union. Photo by Jenn Xu / Nancy Lee.

People don’t ordinarily associate ancestral memories with speculative science fiction. However, that’s at the heart of a transdisciplinary collaboration between Vancouver media artists Kiran Bhumber ਿਕਰਨਦੀਪ ਕੌਰ ਭੰਬਰ and Nancy Lee 李南屏. In Union, Bhumber and Lee play two characters in an interactive narrative that unfolds in four interconnected realms.

“It’s set in Year 3000 after an air-apocalypse has happened in the world,” Lee tells Pancouver by phone. “Humans are no longer able to touch each other and have to stay indoors and isolated.”

In this tale, cyberwarfare has wiped out memory on every hard drive and electronic device. As one can imagine, this creates real problems for human beings.

“They have to access experiences through mediated technologies in the cyberworld, where they can purchase experiences by selling memories that they have,” Lee explains.

“We join the resistance in this particular world—resisting against this corporation called Gaea,” the artist continues. “We join the resistance in order for us to discover our ancestral memories by performing and enacting a wedding ritual, which is considered forbidden within this world.”

Indian Summer Festival will present Union from July 9 to 14. According to the festival website, this immersive installation incorporates performance, sculpture, and extended reality. Moreover, audiences can experience Union through WebXR, which is accessible through Firefox and Chrome.

Union premiered at the Richmond Art Gallery in 2021. It has since been presented in different iterations. That included a dome performance last year at La Société des arts technologiques in Montreal.

Nancy Lee and Kiran Bhumber spoke about Union before the 2021 premiere.

Union remounted as a physical exhibition

“The birth of Union came from Nancy and I fantasizing specifically about wearing wedding gowns belonging to our respective cultures: mine being Sikh-Punjabi and [theirs] being Han-Taiwanese,” Bhumber said in an interview last year. “We reflected on how our familial upbringing and how identifying with queer and diasporic identity complicate the notion of fitting within traditional norms.”

In 2018, the two artists decided to learn more about wedding culture. According to Lee, who was born in Taiwan, weddings provide a window to accessing cultures of diasporic Asian communities.

“We started just interrogating consumer culture around wedding and identity that’s tied the performance of a wedding,” Lee states. “And then through that, we also started interrogating our current relation with mediated technology and surveillance capitalism.”

At the Indian Summer Festival, Lee and Bhumber will remount the physical exhibition. Back in 2021 at the Richmond Art Gallery, they included a 3-D printed, life-sized sculpture of them embracing.

Lee points out that in their narrative, gender actually isn’t that important in the Year 3000.

“It’s an intercultural queer story that we’re trying to imagine in a speculative future.”

Indian Summer Festival will present Union from Tuesday (July 9) until Sunday (July 14) at the Fei and Milton Wong Theatre at SFU Woodward’s. For tickets and more information, visit the festival website. It’s open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. from July 9 to 12, and from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on July 13 and 14.

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Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.