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Past INTERSECTIONS FESTIVAL / MYSEUM INTERSECTIONS: QUARANTINE EDITION / Imagining ChinaTOwn in 2050: Speculative Futures Storytelling


Imagining ChinaTOwn in 2050: Speculative Futures Storytelling

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic Is a Portal” in Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction.

Pandemics radically reshape the world. In fact, they can elicit new worlds. They have dramatically reshaped cities as we know them today. Historically, new sanitation needs have challenged questions of not only zoning, housing, industrialization and waste management practices in city planning but even produced radical breaks with longstanding societal rituals and cultural traditions. If COVID-19 has exacerbated and revealed the structural inequities and failures of the present, how could we radically break from this present condition to envision a brighter future?

In this storytelling event, attendees will learn about speculative fiction (a cousin of science fiction), hear short stories by participants from a previous workshop that reimagined how COVID-19 might radically reshape our world for the better, and take away a speculative fiction worksheet to reimagine the impact on their own communities.

The short stories are set in Toronto’s Chinatown(s) in 2050 and explore how (speculative and imagined) legislative reform and lessons learned from COVID-19 have taken root.

What did we as a society learn from 2020? What does the world look like now that these new systems have come into place? If all progress comes at a cost, what ways of living did we lose and, in its place, what did we gain? Our workshop is a space to collectively reimagine these possible parallel universes and futures.

Through speculative fiction writing, we will reimagine and articulate new possible future(s) for Toronto’s Chinatown(s) to:

– Practice individual storytelling/writing to counter visions of a dystopian future

– Collectively and collaboratively build a new world(s) of expansive optimism, generosity, and equality

– Create a world you want to live in!

Together we will imagine not only new futures for Toronto’s Chinatown(s) but also use those stories to spark a conversation on the impact of COVID-19 on Chinese communities in North America as well as the wider futures that we would like to see become reality—a world you want to live in. With your consent, the stories we generate will be published and shared to inspire visionary imagination across communities.

Arundhati Roy continues, “Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”….And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.”


Linda Zhang (Organizer and Facilitator) is a licensed architect, artist and educator. She is an assistant professor at Ryerson SID and a principal at Studio Pararaum. Her research areas include memory, cultural heritage, and identity as they indexically embodied through matter, material processes and reproduction technologies. She is a 2020 Artist in Residence at the European Ceramic Workcentre (EKWC) and was a recipient of the 2019 Multicultural Fellow at NCECA, the 2017-2018 Boghosian Fellow at Syracuse University SOA as well as a 2017 Fellow at the Berlin Center for Art and Urbanistics.

Friends of Chinatown (FOCT) (Facilitator) is a grassroots organization comprised of artists, architects, writers, journalists, business owners, residents and community activists fighting for community-controlled affordable housing, economic justice, and racial justice in Toronto’s downtown Chinatown. Our advocacy centres the needs and voices of working class, senior, and immigrant communities who rely on Toronto’s downtown Chinatown for cultural and economic resources that are unique to the neighbourhood. Our mission is to build community power and resist displacement through political education, intergenerational collaboration, coalition-building, and community-based art. We aim to represent, build, preserve and honour the memory and future of Chinatown and its community members as an integral piece of Toronto’s legacy.

Tyler Fox (Lead Facilitator) is a community services professional and social sector consultant with expertise spanning the design and delivery of frontline services, community engagement, facilitation and research. She has worked collaboratively and cross-culturally with various displaced communities in Canada, the UK and Germany, including as a welfare advocate, immigration adviser and head of refugee youth services. She is currently setting up a project that aims to democratize health research by training community members to design and carry out research and community interventions in partnership with public and charitable institutions. Tyler is the Founder of Springboard Youth Academy and was a 2017 Fellow at the Center for Art and Urbanistics (ZK/U) in Berlin, Germany

Biko Mandela Gray(Facilitator) is an assistant professor of religion at Syracuse University. His research areas include continental philosophy, history of African American religions, and affect theory. He is currently working on a book that explores the connection between race, matter and embodiment, religion, and subjectivity through the lens of the blacklivesmatter movement.

Erica Allen-Kim(Facilitator) is an architectural historian who studies built landscapes of migration. Her forthcoming book, Building Saigon: Refugee urbanism in American cities and suburbs, is the first in-depth examination of the visual and material culture of Vietnamese resettlement. Her SSHRC funded research, in partnership with the Chinatown West BIA, seeks to understand the legacy of racialized architectural and planning strategies for Chinatown residents, institutions, and businesses facing unprecedented development pressures in Toronto.

Morris Lum (Facilitator) is a Trinidadian born photographer/artist whose work explores the hybrid nature of the Chinese-Canadian community through photography, form and documentary practices. His work also examines the ways in which the Chinese history is represented in the media and archival material. Morris’ work has been exhibited and screened across Canada, the United States. Morris is currently working on a cross North America project that looks specifically at the transformation of the Chinatown.

Philip Poon (Facilitator) is an architect based in New York City. After studying architecture and English Literature, Philip worked as an architect in Japan, Holland, and Switzerland before completing his Masters of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2018, where his design thesis was “The New Chinese-American restaurant.” His current interest is finding an architecture that can represent minority cultures in an increasingly polarized America.

Portrait of Howard Tam

Howard Tam, MSc., BASc. (Facilitator) is a Strategic Designer and Urban Planner. He is the founder of ThinkFresh Group, a City Building consultancy based in Toronto responsible for such projects as the Dragon Centre Stories Commemoration Project and the upcoming Honest Ed’s Alley Micro-Retail Market. Howard has worked with government and private sector clients in Canada to facilitate and design strategies that create urban spaces with amazing human experiences. He has lectured about city building and design at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Lexi Tsien (Facilitator) is a founding principal of Soft-Firm, based in New York City. Her work takes a playful approach to visual perception, elemental form, and program in various cultural contexts. Her ongoing research examines the everyday vernacular in the Chinese and Chinese-American diaspora, including a piece for the exhibition It’s A Problem Of Perception in Buenos Aires. Her work is speculative and concrete – it includes an exhibition at A/D/O called Out Of Office: Evolving the 9-5, design of a virtual reality studio, a coconut-centric social club, and a landmark brownstone renovation. She recently delivered a talk about her practice at DesignTO’s Symposium A Future without Work. She has taught as an architectural critic at Yale School of Architecture, Cooper Union, Parsons, and RISD. She is currently teaching drawing and representation at Columbia GSAPP.

Shellie Zhang (b. 1991, Beijing, China) (Facilitator) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Tkaronto/Toronto, Canada. She is interested in exploring how integration, diversity and assimilation is implemented and negotiated, how this relates to lived experiences, how culture is learned, relearned and sustained, and how things are remembered and preserved. Upcoming projects include solo exhibitions at Artspace (Peterbrough), Patel Gallery (Toronto) and AKA Artist-Run (Saskatoon).

Maxim Gertler-Jaffe is a filmmaker and artist/researcher currently based in London, UK. His focuses include social/political documentaries and participatory, inventive, and speculative methods. Maxim was line producer on the Emmy-nominated ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE, which screened at film festivals including TIFF and IDFA, had a North American theatrical run, and was broadcast worldwide. He was also assistant producer on THE TRUTH IS IN THE STARS, a Netflix-acquired documentary hosted by William Shatner and featuring Stephen Hawking, Ben Stiller, and Whoopi Goldberg. Maxim worked for several years for White Pine Pictures where he contributed to the successful development and production of several feature documentaries. He co-created the award-winning short scripted series WORLD AWAY and has produced, directed and edited numerous short videos for promotions, campaigns, and events for clients such as the Writers’ Trust of Canada and the National Education Union (with Small Axe Communications). He holds an MA in Visual Sociology from Goldsmiths.

Imagining ChinaTOwn in 2050: Speculative Futures Storytelling

25 Apr 2020

Filed under:
Chinatown,Future Visions

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