For Scratching at the Moon, Amy Yao has reconfigured her 2017 sculpture Foreign Investments (Bottarga in Costa Mesa) into a new site-specific version adapted for ICA LA’s outdoor courtyard space. Wrapping around the exterior façade of the museum, the sculpture features a chain-link fence overlaid with what appears to be standard orange safety netting. Upon closer inspection, this material is revealed to be laser-cut Chinese faux-silk brocade. With its bright pop of color and cheap quality, the fabric recalls kitschy renditions of Chinese clothing more than the original Cantonese cheongsam or Mandarin qipao. Commonly worn as souvenirs or costumes, these garments have become a caricatured symbol of Asian-ness—as much a fantasy of the Orient as imagined by the West as a reclamation and celebration of Chinese culture.
The work’s title, in contrast, suggests another kind of Asian-ness—that of Asian-American-ness, which may not always be immediately legible as “Asian.” Bottarga is a kind of fish roe sac, considered a culinary delicacy, and Costa Mesa refers to the city in Orange County known for South Coast Plaza, a luxury shopping mall. These references hint at themes of status and suburbia amid an increasingly globalized landscape and allude to Asian American communities in Southern California. In combining such disparate sources, Yao points to how symbols—whether cultural, linguistic, or political—are flattened as indiscriminate aesthetic material under the indifferent logic of consumer culture. With one version of Asian-ness juxtaposed against another, the fence serves as an explicit embodiment of the contested lines drawn around representation, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of attempting to draw such boundaries in the first place.