The Back Room


Future Past

The Editors

TBR is delighted to present “Future Past,” ten artists and writers in conversation with Into View: New Voices, New Stories, a group exhibit at the Asian Art Museum organized by Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art & Programs Naz Cuguoğlu.

Running through the fall, Into View features artists Koon Wai Bong, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Wu Chi-Tsung, Michael Jang & Barry McGee, Cathy Lu, Jiha Moon, Younhee Paik, Nicole Pun, Stephanie Syjuco, TT Takemoto, Wesley Tongson, Rupy C. Tut, and Jenifer K. Wofford. Naz was drawn to works of “speculative fabulation” (per scholar Donna Haraway) involving themes of cosmology, mythology, ecological concerns, and political uprisings.

TBR invited Sarah Cargill, .CHISARAOKWU., Heman Chong, River 瑩瑩 Dandelion, Priyanka D’Souza, Aidan Koch, Dong Li, Angie Sijun Lou, Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta, and Willa Smart to converse with Into View through short pieces of speculative fabulation that play with the concepts of invented mythologies and imagined futures. Rather than anything like straightforward criticism, we asked that each contributor create fragments of text or image — imagining that these fragments might be discovered by the future and only hint at their fantastical views.

“Future Past” is also a collaboration with Headlands Center for the Arts; five of our commissioned artists are spring 2024 residents Aidan, Angie, .CHISARAOKWU., Dong, and River.

We’re thrilled by the results of this partnership, and hope you will be, too. –clr


begin with portal:  mistake it for origin of origins.
bypass portal: death of inquiry, self. create an other.
split self. halved self. forgotten self. hyphen|self.

diasporic consequence of imperialist bent: portal
therefore, begin here. again & again.


easy to habit-form. to begin at portal. tunnel a way back

to the quiet blue of a colonial nester scavenging along the Mississippi’s troubled water;
a yellow sun setting on people cordoned off for death by starvation;
a red marked for terror instead of rose petals. a brown facing its reflection in a ship’s hull.

easy to once upon a time. to begin again. to color everything black.

here, from not here —
origin, from not origin

portal as emblem: of a suffering shame? a repeated error scarring coastline
again & again reshaped, recast — limb, mind, spirit through portal.  another form.


in the wake of portal

we retrieve what is left behind, what will be left behind
the not needed, not here, not now

we salvage the paper, rust, flesh, and stone of scattered selves

refashion us mosaic outside of portal. begin again.






Fixed Focus (Dead Center) (detail), 2021, Stephanie Syjuco © Asian Art Museum


This is a room within the Asian Art Museum. Artists, curators, thinkers, and writers enter this speculative space to come up with all kinds of imagined data about animals, art works, clothing, furniture, novels, performances, plants — all sorts of cultural artifacts that we have very little information about that have found their way into the collection over the years.

A species labeled “data deficient” (DD) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lacks the necessary information for a thorough assessment of its conservation status. This classification doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of extensive study on the species; rather, it signifies a shortage of information regarding the abundance and distribution of the species.

The Luzon Button quail is a bird species exclusive to Luzon in the Philippines, belonging to the Turnicidae family. Inhabiting subtropical or tropical high-altitude grasslands, this elusive bird is locally referred to as “Pugo” and has earned a“data deficient” status from the IUCN. It is also known as Worcester’s buttonquail or Turnix worcesteri, after Dean Conant Worcester, a US zoologist and openly corrupt politician infamous for his vehement opposition to the idea of Philippine independence.

These birds are known for their secretive nature. They create small pathways through rice fields, visiting rice paddies and scrublands near farms in search of seeds and insects. Although considered rare, their exceptional ability to remain concealed in their natural habitat raises questions about their actual population.

In 1911, while fulfilling the role of Secretary of the Interior in the Philippines, Worcester released a monograph titled Coconut Growing in the Philippine Islands. Within this publication, he delved into the technological and economic aspects of cultivating coconuts for copra and oil production. By 1914, this work had established itself as a standard reference for investors keen on coconut-related products.

I propose that we name this room “PUGO” and allow it to function independently from the museum as an artist-run space, with funding sourced specifically from agricultural industrialist families who have profited from the enactment of the Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act in 1909 and the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, which facilitated the importation of Philippine goods, including coconut oil, to the industrial centers on the East Coast of the United States.

Heman Chong



eau, ile, pierre, 1981, Theresa Hyak Kyung Cha © Asian Art Museum 2023


Eros sounds like arrows, which are what strike me, making me alternately tilted to or away from my pursuit of the former. Daphne in her flight from Apollo turns herself into a laurel, the name of the girl who teaches me how to braid as an adolescent. The mentholated smell of laurel, also called bay, either produces or removes my headache. Now of course I apply this technique on my own. I let myself drift from the book, slipping into the daydream where I’m dragged across the floor, hand tight on the tail of my hair. The background of a fantasy or a daydream is dark, both in the sense of the studio lighting that forwards the hand’s form, and in a more foreboding sense. Whatever flex of the finger that sets the bow in its tension might well be made to serve some other genre of release, depending on my patience and the hand’s smallness. Under a certain gaze the hand turns to stone, and in a more everyday manner, too, either rock or scissors or paper, which was once pulp, meaning once wet. Hence it encloses and softens the corners of the stone and so it wins. What would trump stone, also scissors, is fire, and so for the sake of the game’s viability the hand cannot be fire. Fire does not discriminate. At first the frame of the window showed us orange and we were worried and then the arrangement of light inverted and we were worried still. Hand jets into the carcass of the fish, showing something soft that might be spread among us, set us in motion — except not as would an arrow, all of us in tandem on the beach at dusk.

Willa Smart


Aidan Koch



On October 14, 2023, it was raining lightly at the protest for Gaza. We stood below the financial building emitting its aquarium glow. Someone led us in a chant cursing at the people inside the building. The chant had a slant rhyme I was familiar with, since I had repeated variations of it year after year. We thought it was important we keep repeating it to spread awareness. I imagined our awareness slicing through the building’s concrete, glass, and metal exteriors, awareness slipping into their food and their dreams. When their children cried, traces of awareness would be found in those tears. I lacked awareness of my surroundings when I rushed through my life in a neurochemical haze. My mother lacked awareness of my childhood because, for several years, she was busy completing tasks like someone on fire. Everything and nothing suddenly felt reducible to our awareness of one another. I felt some awareness crystallizing in me — until someone pointed out it was a Saturday, which meant there was no one inside the offices, which meant we were standing outside an empty building, cursing at its symbolism.


Angie Sijun Lou


Fire Season (detail), 2021, Jenifer K. Wofford © Asian Art Museum


i didn’t come here by choice. i came from necessity. how could it be all these lights were distilled to a name, string of years inscribed on headstone after death? how could you tell me it would be inside swallowed stories, families forgetting daughters, that i was supposed to find me? when children are treated like rattlesnakes, recoiled into corners to shape coils, was i to sit idly by? while hands wavered and breath vanished into dissipated fog of mountains, how many centuries of colonial collusions was i to sift before i could find my name?

i was asked over and over to quell my sorrows. i learned to use my hands. my legs grew sheaths to cut pantsuit. i brushed seafloor while swimming. i couldn’t stand to think all there would be for me was paper, joss. translated and distilled for future ghosts, holiday and tradition diluted. my pen became my refusal. there wasn’t time to sink. too many generations had passed for that. and so i treaded. and then i sailed. in waters chartered but better left untouched. and this mast with windswept sail is what i have to show for it. i lived long enough.

one day, i looked up. and there i was. sitting at an orange sturdy table with fledglings i could now call contemporaries. i looked over and whispered, yes, this life can be sweet, can’t it? i wrote it. i became it. i felt it. i became it. then i never looked back. behind me, floating mimesis of light. barricades now dust. i took out my drum. at the top of the mountain, surrounded by soil that once knew life as sea, i took a breath. and i kept breathing. i aged. and i kept aging. and the rest was history. not because anyone else wrote it, but because i did. ink and papyrus, old as time, i wrote it. i wrote it. i wrote it. oh i did, i did, i did. i did, i did, i did. oh i did, i did, i did. i did, i did, i did.


River 瑩瑩 Dandelion



Mountains of Heaven 1, 1998, Wesly Tongson © Asian Art Museum, 2023



Are you okay as you wake to a fog that forces you to remember

Are you okay as you feel your way in a white expanse toward words

Are you okay as you fill in the syntax that slips into little soft nothings

Are you okay as your precious self folds into wrinkles of a paper mountain

Are you okay as the mountain becomes another mountain and an other

Are you okay as your mind mindfully faces its own empty mind

Are you okay as the wind blows you away and catches me off guard

Are you okay as the wind that blows me away catches you off guard 

Are you okay with all that screaming in the forgotten fog that follows


Dong Li




“All the waves here…” from Sohni Mehar — a tragic folk romance from the Punjab-Sindh region — as it appears in Shah Jo Risalo by Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif (1690-1752); the Urdu/Arabic مدد madad, translates to help, succor, aid, relief.

Priyanka D’Souza


Tucked somewhere between memory and imagination, a dream and a gut feeling, I had, somehow, managed to smuggle a keepsake from the other side of the veil. That is to say, moments before I lost consciousness under the watchful eyes of my surgical team, halfway through an odd joke while slowly succumbing to the growing haze of anesthesia, I asked my Spirits for a sign. Evidence. “If we meet on the other side, wherever that is, please give me a sign. Let me bring something back. I want to remember. Something. Anything. Please. Amen.” 

The night before, a secret hope — the possibility of a rendezvous with my Ancestors — kept me awake well past the witching hour. “I mean,” I bargained in bed, staring at the ceiling, “if I have to be unconscious, we may as well link up, right? We could go to a river and y’all can take shifts monitoring my body on the other side — make sure they cut me open like someone’s watching, you know? Let’s all wear our whites — we can have a cookout! Let’s. Okay?” (Amen.)

I remember waking up somewhere between the O.R. and the recovery room. It was too bright for me to open my eyes, but as they carted me over, the nurse’s brisk pace picked up a breeze and I could feel that my face was wet. I listened for people to vacate before opening my eyes and, when I did, I realized that my face was streaked with my own tears. As I touched the side of my cheek and grazed my damp surgical mask, I saw us, dancing in our whites by a river in the woods. I smiled, tracing the souvenir before it dried. I had brought the river with me, and that was all the evidence I needed.


Sarah Cargill



Lucky Face, 2021; Three Mask Face Jug, 2021, Jiha Moon © Asian Art Museum



SPEAKER 1: [[??]] A museum, one you entered through a long dark tunnel, passing these dioramas depicting different scenes of [[??]] life along its sides, until [[audio cuts out]]

[[static hissing]]

SPEAKER 1: Do you know what a museum is?

SPEAKER 2: [[negative]]

SPEAKER 1: [[laughter]] A museum was, well. It depends, but they were necropolises, necropolises of objects.

SPEAKER 1: Typically from the past or cultures deemed, hm, how do I say this, dominated?

SPEAKER 1: In these museums, there were objects presented as whole, but some were composed of fragments of other objects.

SPEAKER 1: If you think about it, removing an object from its context, placing it out of use and into a display case, is a kind of fragmentation — & I guess, could be understood as a form of preservation, at least, that was the settler-colonialist argument for these — [[audio cuts out]]

[[static hissing]]

SPEAKER 1: Lying is also a form of preservation — [[audio cuts out]]

[[static hissing]]

SPEAKER 1: I am unsure if this story is true or not.

SPEAKER 1: I have confused a story for a memory, or an out-of-context fragment of a conversation as an origin story.  

SPEAKER 1: And I’ve had to be an archeologist of my own story, but again, I am not really a liar.

SPEAKER 1: [[laughter]] — not anymore.

SPEAKERS 1 & 2: [[laughter]]

SPEAKER 1: I think I just have a fear of — [[??]]

SPEAKER 1: This fear is quite possibly the most settler-colonialist thing about me.

SPEAKER 2: I think my fear of lacunae while experiencing a circular temporality within a rigid linear structure has created in me a desire for context, for that linea— [[audio cuts out]]


Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta


Lead Image: Self Portrait San Francisco Financial District 1973, 2019, Michael Jang, Barry McGee © Asian Art Museum

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