Double Witness (2020) is a series of 20 video letters by artist Meng-Yu Yan filmed during their three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in 2019. The videos follow the artist throughout Paris as they retrace the final steps of Qiu Miaojin, a Taiwanese author renowned in queer and lesbian subcultures. On June 25th 1995 Qiu took her own life, leaving behind her final novel Last Words From Montmartre. She was 26 years old, the same age as the artist when they created this work. The novel is a series of twenty letters which have been dated from April to June, ending a week before the author’s death. The letters record the breakdown of Qiu’s three year relationship with her girlfriend Xu, her thoughts, feelings and musings, her daily life, and her relationships with other women.
In this work the artist becomes a medium in both a psychic and artistic sense. Yan’s videos respond to Qiu’s letters through geographic and temporal connections. They reveal how the artist engages in a literary séance with the author, reading and retracing Qiu’s novel on the exact dates she details. From this Yan creates a video diary of dérives, directions, wanderings. The artist becomes Qiu’s double: mirroring her in age, ethnicity, sexuality, relationships, time, place and gender identity. It is an act of haunting and an attempt to re-animate the steps Qiu took throughout Paris in her final months.
During the course of this intensive endurance performance the artist experienced a blurring of boundaries between their own life and that of Qiu. The artist’s own relationship of three years broke down and feelings of heartbreak, guilt, betrayal, passion, and love begin to mirror those expressed in the novel.
These works meditate on ideas of serendipity, synchronicity, coincidence, and fate. As France is currently in lockdown due to COVID-19, and with Australia and much of the world in self-isolation, these works allow people to see Paris as it was exactly one year ago to the day. During these difficult times, temporality is what connects all people. This work uses temporal connections to engage with the lost histories of queer kin. It is part of greater research into Queer Spectrality: a term used to describe the ways queerness has been disavowed and rendered spectral throughout history and culture.
The artist would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation who are the traditional custodians of the land upon which the artist lives and works. They pay their deepest respects to the Gadigal Elders past, present, and emerging.
The artist would also like to thank and acknowledge the very talented writer and psychic bookseller Virginia Rowlands who first recommended the author Qiu Miaojin – without which this entire series would not be possible. Rowlands was also a camera assistant on several of the videos in the series.
This work was created with the support of Create NSW Small Project Grant.