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Artist Jennifer Chan is masterful at remixing images and video clips from pop culture, overlaying text with a ’90s special-effects aesthetic and often setting the carefully coordinated pieces to catchy pop songs. And so, when I first watched her video “P.A.U.L.” (2013), I thought she had re-cut clips from anime episodes to turn them into a gay love story, as a critique of dominant cultural narratives.
But the truth is even more fascinating: she actually pulled her clips from two episodes of Yaoi, or “boys love,” anime, which she describes as “a genre of gay anime that’s predominantly female-authored and female-oriented in interests.” She does so with incredible timing and rhythm, reworking the episodes into an explosive, high-stakes, four-minute love story — complete with flan, sexual innuendo, pictures of bears, a techno version of “My Heart Will Go On,” and so many feelings.
“P.A.U.L.” is an unabashed accumulation of clichés, walking a fine line between earnest and knowing. It lets you both see yourself and get totally lost in a genre that’s also riddled with contradictions: a branch of pop culture but a subcategory, about “boys love” but largely written by women. It’s these dissonances and distances that Chan is so good at exposing, so entertainingly.