Falling Leaf Returns to its Roots / 落葉歸根

HD video
Edition of 5 + 2 AP


Falling Leaf Returns to its Roots is a performative video responding to the iconic image Sunbaker (1937) by Max Dupain. Adapting the iconic ‘Australian’ image, the work questions the enduring process of becoming, the limits and absurdity it entails, as well as the never-ending cycle of our quest to belong.

Falling Leaf Returns to Its Roots 落葉歸根 is a Chinese analogy of life. It signifies the ecology of life and the circulation of knowledge, philosophy, and belonging. Often used to describe a person who leaves home to experience life, who will always return by the end of his journey, in order to fulfil the circle of life, through death or reconnections with his family, his heritage, his roots. Through this process of returning, it is essential for one to let go of personal ventures in order to fulfil a collective, greater goal, one that is not only bounded by its cultural context, but the ecology of life, of nature, to belong.

This project embraces such analogy by weaving in my personal experience with the questions of Australian identity. By comparing myself to an iconic Australian image, I am claiming that the idea of citizenship or belonging is although realised through acceptance, it can also take a fluid, progressive, unexpected turn and foster into something completely different, hybrid and continuous. In this performative still video, I re-enacted the iconic Sunbaker image as the sun subtly shifted and the shadows changed. As the video loops, it is through the repetition that (my) identity is enforced (or questioned). It unsettlingly lingers in the form of a video portrait. Never stable, Stuart Hall suggests that identity is not about being but becoming.[1] It is through the process of becoming that an identity is formed, and is continuously forming. Given that the notion of identity is both retrospective and contemporary, this project is an attempt to reference the past while reinterpreting the present through the reinvention of an iconic Australian identity.

Both personal and political, not only does this project aim to satisfy my personal desire to transiently belong, but also to explore the impacts of the constant transformation and mobilisation of knowledge, philosophy and tradition on this land of immigration. How this land is divided in many ‘us and them’, which in the end, these divides are driven by the never-ending quest to belong. We are the falling leaves, with nowhere to return to. In search for our roots, this project suggests that perhaps, transformation and reinvention is the only way for us, them and everyone to belong. 

Such is the circle of life.

[1] Stuart Hall,Questions of Cultural Identity (1996)

Production Credit: Scott Heinrich