Posts filed under ‘interventionism’

Sign O’ The Times: BART police sticker intervention

Hit 'em where it hurts, BART sticker intervention, July 2010

On hemmed-in ground, use subterfuge.

–Sun Tzu

Just a quick shoutout regarding a nice little intervention that’s followed in the wake the Johannes Mehserle verdict a couple weeks ago. Short, sweet, and to the point, these little gems have apparently been popping up on BART trains throughout the Bay Area. I haven’t found images of any of them in situ so if you happen to see one pasted up somewhere on your next BART ride be sure to whip out your cameraphone & document it for me. If you send me a pic I’ll post it for sure.

The Mehserle verdict was frustrating in so many ways, but even more aggravating was the mainstream media’s utterly predictable and fairly irresponsible response to it. The day of the verdict you could almost smell the anticipation on the breath of the cable news networks’ spokesmodels as they hopefully waited on the streets of Oakland for a riot to break out. Oakland residents managed to defy expectations as hundreds of people peacefully rallied for several hours after the verdict was announced, and it was only after most of those folks had gone home that a few goons trashed some storefronts and stole some running shoes. I’m not discounting the idiocy of the vandalism that happened that night but for the most part damage was contained to about 5 blocks in downtown Oakland.

Exercising constitutional rights, Oakland, July 8, 2010

It’s telling that, of the 79 people arrested that night, prosecutors only filed charges against nine of them. Even more significantly, of those arrested 75% were not from Oakland and twelve of them weren’t even from the state of California. This reflects a common pattern of police repression that’s been honed in recent anti-capitalist demonstrations worldwide, most recently at the G-20 summit in Toronto.

As Loius Proyect, aka The Unrepentant Marxist, notes in his blog, what happened in Oakland followed a well-worn scenario:

There’s a mass demonstration. A layer of people do a split from that march and then some engage in expressing their rage against the system by smashing windows and other acts. Given the world we live in, it is surprising that more of this doesn’t happen more often.
In response, the police hold back until the main march disperses. They wait for some damage to be done, and then they go on the offensive. They round-up and brutalize everyone left on the streets, including passers-by, peaceful protesters and those engaged in property damage. In Seattle, Quebec, Genoa, etc. this script has played out over and over again. The police wait until the mass organisations leave, then go after the rest. This strategy suggests that the police and the state are keenly aware of who they want—and don’t want—to provoke.

The events in Oakland suggest that, onced again, we were played both by the police and by the complicity of the mass media. If the powers-that-be have perfected the art of misrepresenting peaceful protests as riots and discouraging the average citizen from any form of dissent, then continuing to utilize creative interventionism as a revolutionary tactic is an absolute must. As 19th-century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz famously stated, “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Street protest is a venerable form of dissent, but if properly done, small, sneaky activist artworks like the BART sticker above can also pack a mighty wallop.

For a more detailed analysis of the Mehserle verdict and aftermath, go to Davey D’s blog here.

UPDATE: Nov. 5, 2010. Johannes Mehserle’s sentence has just been announced–he got 2 years, which was the minimum about of jail time he could have received. The gun enhancement charge, which could have added up to 10 years to Mehserle’s sentence, was thrown out by Judge Robert Perry. With time served, Mehserle could be released as early as February 2011, or in about three months. In my opinion there are no words to describe how stunningly wrong this is.

July 22, 2010 at 5:38 am 6 comments

Have You Heard The News? Recent Updates

Nick Cheung Ka-Fei shoots straight, The Beast Stalker, 2009

A few quick updates to some previous posts. Nick Cheung Ka-Fei has just won another Best Actor statue (along with co-winner Huang Bo) for his role in The Beast Stalker, this time at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, which is the fancy-schmancy Chinese-language equivalent of the Oscars. Nick’s been cleaning up lately, award-wise, and can add his latest accolade to the Best Actor trophies he garnered at the 2009 Hong Kong Film Awards and the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Society Awards, as well as nods at a bunch of film festivals.

Nick Cheung & Huang Bo, co-Best Actors, Golden Horse Awards, 2009

Nick is a long-time Hong Kong movie vet who started out as a Stephen Chow Sing-Chi wannabe back in the 90s and who has since evolved into an intense and serious actor, most notably in Johnnie To’s crime dramas Exiled and Election 1 & 2. An interesting sidenote: Nick’s been very up front about his struggle with clinical depression, which is kinda cool in the ultra-image-conscious world of Hong Kong cinema.

Pahole Sookkasikon, Mr. Hyphen 2009

As of a couple weeks ago, my homeboy Pahole Sookkasikon is the newly crowned Mr. Hyphen 2009. Sponsored by Hyphen Magazine, the Asian American publication and website, the competition is more than just a beauty pageant—judges look at the entrants’ commitment to community service and dedication to la causa. However, the contest also includes a talent portion and a sleepwear competition, so it’s not only about righteous public service. Pahole left the opposition in the dust with his awesome talent presentation, a mind-blowing Muy Thai/disco diva mashup. He also nailed the Q&A section, giving props to the Asian American sistas who have inspired him as an Asian American male.

In addition to being an activist and artist, Pahole’s a grad student (and my former TA) in SF State’s Asian American Studies Department. This year’s first runner-up, Tony Douangviseth, is also a former SFSU AAS student, so AAS now has official bragging rights to the two smartest, slickest, most dedicated Asian American males in the Bay Area.

Detail of large poster

Detail of text overlay on poster (concept), Lord, It’s The Samurai, 2009

And asiansart.org, the collective responsible for this summer’s smash hit intervention, Lord, It’s The Samurai, had a little dustup at the deYoung Museum last Friday when they attempted to show artifacts from the project at the museum’s latest Friday night event. Apparently after the group spent most of the afternoon installing its exhibit, at the last minute functionaries from the deYoung severely censored asiansart’s presentation. This took place while the deYoung people were in phone consultation with their counterparts at the Asian Art Museum, which was the hapless target of the original intervention this summer. More details to be found here on their blog, but it sounds like the cabal of museum administrators protected their own interests at the expense of freedom of expression. Not a pretty thing to do to working Asian American artists, especially by an institution that mounted last year’s outstanding show, Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents. Shame on the deYoung for caving to peer pressure at the expense of provocative and important art—I expected better.

Francis Ng’s jawline, with gun, Fierce West Wind

And once again, just because I can, here’s a picture of Francis Ng looking coy, from his upcoming new cowboy flick, Fierce West Wind (aka Four Fantastic Detectives), directed by Gao Qunshu, which is expected to hit screens all over Asia in spring 2010. Gao’s last effort, The Message, was the box office champ over the National Day weekend in China this past October, and one of its stars, Li Bing Bing, took home the Best Actress crown at this weekend’s Golden Horse Awards. An intense little slice of World War II espionage, The Message features patriotism, backstabbing, intrigue, and a healthy dollop of psychosexual torture, including a couple of excruciating scenes of forceful coercion with a smiling and sinister acupuncturist named Mr. Six. It also introduced me to a new favorite actor, the smoking hot Zhang Hanyu, who plays a soldier turned spy. Looking forward to seeing his award-winning turn in Assembly, which should arrive on my doorstep any day now.

Zhang Hanyu burns it up

UPDATE: Pahole Sookkasikon has gone viral in an interview published by the Associated Press about Mr. Hyphen, community service, and Asian American masculinity. Go Pahi!



UPDATE 2: Here’s a video of Pahole’s talent presentation at Mr. Hyphen, which combines Thai martial arts, disco disco, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. To see Pahole’s amusing introduction go here.

November 29, 2009 at 7:36 am 7 comments

That’s Not My Name: Lord, It’s The Samurai! intervention

altered poster, Lord, It's the Samurai, intervention, 2009

Altered poster, Lord, It's the Samurai!, 2009

Just got tipped to an excellent new intervention critiquing the San Francisco Asian Art Museum’s latest orientalist extravaganza, Lords of the Samurai. My anonymous source sent me the link to Lord, it’s the Samurai!, a brilliant goof on this year’s summer blockbuster which replicates the show’s official website with a twist—it offers a detailed, pointed, and well-researched deconstruction of the problematic exhibition. The faux-site points out the less-than-savory aspects of samurai culture that the AAM conveniently glosses over, including the militarism, slavery, pederasty and misogyny inherent in the “code of the warrior.”

The ersatz site also recognizes the dangers of the exhibit’s glamorization of violence, noting,

No myth here, and it hasn’t changed since the times of the samurai: it’s universal and real, how war dehumanizes everyone.
Aestheticizing violence, normalizing war.
The museum may not want you to see it, but there is blood on those swords.

The faux-site also calls out the AAM’s ongoing Asian fetish with its hilarious tagline (Where Asian Still Means Oriental) and a fun little word-scramble that mixes up past titles from AAM exhibits to form an amalgamation of exotic Asiaphilic fantasies.

The imitation site also makes a cogent connection between the Museum’s soft-peddling of Japanese nationalism and the U.S. government’s interest in remilitarizing Japan, which would aid the U.S. in maintaining the upper hand in Asia. The faux-site also notes that it’s not the first time the AAM has backed up a superpower’s questionable point of view, as seen in Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World, the 2005 show that gave credence to the PRC’s claim that Tibet is really just the back door of China.

Hard-copy flyers, Lord, It's the Samurai!, invention, 2009

Hard-copy flyers, Lord, It's the Samurai!, 2009

All told, this little fakey website is a fine, funny, and extremely effective critique that packs in a copious number of links and information. It’s a companion piece to hard-copy flyers that have been distributed in public brochure racks in San Francisco’s Japantown. Someone upstairs at the AAM must have twigged to the switch since, as noted in the site, the counterfeit flyers have been systematically removed and replaced with the AAM’s own brochures almost as soon as they’ve been distributed. The fake site’s gmail address was also disabled shortly after sending out its first email blast. If the museum’s functionaries are so freaked out that they’re furiously trying to eradicate it, then I’d have to say that the intervention is working.

UPDATE: After just a couple days it appears that Lord, It’s The Samurai! has gone viral. This very blog entry has outstripped the site’s previous champion Shah Rukh Khan (and his six-pack) as the top post of the week and news of the faux-site has travelled far and wide around the blogosphere. Here are a few links:

CBS5′s post

mrpoopypants’ post (scroll down to the comments where an AAM employee defends the museum)

sfist post

8asians post (wherein the bloggers confess to being pwned by the faux-site)

Interview with the anonymous creators of the site here.

sfmike’s post

digdug’s post

UPDATE 2: The Asian Art Museum itself has posted an entry on its blog about the intervention. I’m de-linking it, though, since they’ve selectively refused trackbacks (including mine) from sites critical of their position. Another example of systematic exclusion on their part.

And Japanese history scholars weigh in with their approval of the site, calling it “an instant classic.” There are also some great observations on the significance of museum shows as well as a shout-out to the scholarly rigor of  Lord, It’s The Samurai!

UPDATE 3: Found this nice manifesto about social art intervention on John Jota Leanos’ site and thought I’d toss it out there, since it’s relevant to the conversation at hand. You can check out his art and other relevant information there, too. Plus his significant other was my kid’s kindergarten teacher.

UPDATE 3: Myself and a representative from asiansart.org, the folks who put together the parody website, were on Hard Knock Radio on KPFA-FM this week talking about the intervention. Go here for the stream, or download the interview here.

UPDATE 4: Ken Baker, art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, weighs in here. Mostly positive, with some great dialogue in the user comments (aside from some obvious cluelessness). Viraling!

UPDATE 5: Continued fallout some nine months later as Asian Art Museum director Jay Xu talks in the LA Times about how “painful” it was to be pwned by asiansart.org’s intervention. Maybe getting a clue would ease some of the pain, Jay. asianarts.org talks back here.

August 26, 2009 at 5:21 am 11 comments

Blood Red and Going Down: Tank Man In Tiananmen Square, part 2

Tank Man - lone citizen vs. PLA tanks, Tiananmen Square, 1989, Jeff Widener

Tank Man - lone citizen vs. PLA tanks, Tiananmen Square, 1989, Jeff Widener

I confess to being taken by melancholy this week as I recalled the events on June 4, 1989 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. But it’s a good opportunity to think back on those fateful days from a perspective of twenty years later.

In the six weeks prior to when things all went to hell on  June 4  two decades ago, students and workers were peacefully occupying the Square and sympathy was growing across China for their demands for reforms to China’s political and economic systems. Sometime during those six weeks I remember talking on the phone with my friend Rebecca. We thought we were witnessing a revolution in the works and that the Chinese people’s voices would surely be heeded.

Terribly, things turned out differently than we’d hoped and the insurrection was violently crushed by the tanks and guns of the People’s Liberation Army. More horribly, the numbers of the dead were never confirmed, as many bodies were burned in mass cremations, and many other demonstrators were taken elsewhere for execution. China’s official tally of those killed was a ridiculously lowball count of 241 people, most of whom were deemed by the government to be “ruffians” and “armed thugs” who weren’t actually students. The government also claimed that no one was killed in the Square itself. Other estimates by NGOs on site range from 500 to 7,000 people killed that day.

This morning Rebecca forwarded me a link to a project by artist Michael Mandiberg that utilizes the famous image of the Tank Man, the anonymous protestor who blocked a column of tanks the day after the PLA cleared Tiananmen Square of demonstrators. Four years ago Mandiberg conducted an experiment in which he sent copies of the Tank Man image to a dozen commercial artists in China and asked them to paint a replica of the picture. The responses from the artists suggest that some if not all of them were unaware of the image and its historical context, and few knew its source.

Tiananmen Square: You can add the person to painting when you get it, 2005, Michael Mandiberg

Tiananmen Square: You can add the person to painting when you get it, 2005, Michael Mandiberg

Mandiberg notes:

“Of the dozen requests I sent, most were returned with a price and the universal salutation “it is a pleasure to do business with you.” A few painters suggested I just leave the man and the lamp post out, often for unclear reasons: political or aesthetic? One person outright declared that he could not paint the image.”

In the West the image of the Tank Man is well-known, as photographs and video footage of his actions that day were widely disseminated throughout the media at the time. However, in China the image is largely unrecognized, due to the government’s attempts to erase the June 4 events from public memory.

The government has achieved this in part through its severe restrictions on Internet access. In recent days, in an attempt to prevent the Chinese citizenry from getting to online discussions of the Tiananmen Square killings, the Chinese government blocked access to twitter, facebook, and other social networking sites, as well as blogging sites such as wordpress, xanga and blogspot.

But before we go too far in excoriating the Chinese government for its erasure of June 4, let’s remember that historical amnesia is not unique to China. Many World War II Nazi concentration camps sites in Europe have been razed or otherwise obliterated. The Japanese government still hasn’t acknowledged the Rape of Nanking. And lest we start to feel too pleased with ourselves here in the U.S. let’s not forget the Bush Administration’s multiple attempts to rewrite reality, from un-defining waterboarding as torture to linking Iraq to the destruction of the World Trade Center.

So on this grim anniversary it’s vitally important to remember the untold numbers of demonstrators who were silenced twenty years ago on Tiananmen Square. But it’s also significant to note that the Chinese government doesn’t stand alone in its disregard for facts and that our constant vigilance is required to keep ignorance and the obliteration of history at bay.

UPDATE: Thanks to dleedlee for sending along the following information, which fills in some of the backstory of the Tank Man photos and video.

FYI, Frontline is rebroadcasting its The Tank Man program this week.

Also, a New York Times blog posted this interesting piece on the various versions of the ‘tank man’ photo(s).
http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/behind-the-scenes-tank-man-of-tiananmen/

And artist Michael Mandiberg sent me a further link to his flickr site, which contains all of the images from his series:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/theredproject/sets/72157619172370116/

June 7, 2009 at 12:00 am 8 comments

Hawai’ian Eye: Asian American Studies conference

beach1

AAAS conference back porch, 2009

Just got back from the Association of Asian American Studies annual conference, which this year was held in Honolulu, HI. Needless to say it was a very well-attended event, taking place a block from the beach in Waikiki. I myself confess that the percentage of time I spent swimming in the ocean vs. attending panels and roundtables was pretty much skewed toward boogie boards and sandcastles, but I’d brought my kids along so I had an excuse.

I did manage to tear myself away from skimming stones and walking in the sea foam to attend a few presentations, however, and participated in a couple as well. UC Berkeley’s Elaine Kim organized a great panel, Bollywood, Believing Women, and the Female Bin-Laden, which included Huma Dar’s pointed critique of Hindi-language films that demonize Muslim men and exoticize Muslim women. Filmmaker and scholar Irum Sheikh displayed several images of “disappeared” individuals who have been detained by the U.S. government, many held for years on flimsy or nonexistent charges in the “war on terror” perpetuated by the Bush regime. Her straightforward and unvarnished presentation made an unimpeachable case against a foreign policy gone horribly awry.

Dawn Mabalon & Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, porkpie-ing

Dawn Mabalon & Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, fedora'ing

I also ran into several former students, now all grown up, including Sudarat Musikawong, who’s a prof at Willamette University, Mitch Wu, now teaching at SUNY Hunter, Carolyn Tran, about to enter grad school at the New School for Social Research, Margaret Rhee, poet & PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, and Celine Parrenas-Shimizu, who’s a superstar professor at UC Santa Barbara and whose latest tome, The Hypersexuality of Race, won one of conference’s book awards this year. Plus, as at any good Asian American gathering, I spotted several people in felted hats, further supporting my contention that Asian Americans love stylish headwear.

Lawrence Hashima, Pahole Sookkasikon, Kevin Lim & RJ Quiambao rock the house, AAAS 2009

Lawrence Hashima, Pahole Sookkasikon, Kevin Lim & RJ Quiambao rock the house, AAAS 2009

I also took along a couple grad students from SFSU to present their research on a panel called Assimilation, Rice Queens, Porn, and the Mainstream: Constructing Media Images, which, in keeping with scholarly tradition, wordily includes a term from all of the panelists’ papers in its title. Pahole and RJ from SFSU and Kevin from UH Manoa rocked their presentations and made me feel like a proud mother fawning over her young. It ain’t easy covering topics ranging from “The King and I,” Asian & Hawai’ian women in online porn, and a new framework for Asian American cinema, but the guys pulled it off with flair. Larry Hashima provided excellent feedback and tied together the panel in style.

I also organized a panel called Art and the Academy: Working Artists In Asian American Studies wherein I talked about the legacy of creative work in SFSU’s Asian American Studies Department and outlined the production of POP! Producing Our Power: Presenting Asian American Culture, a student-run show at SFSU that asks the age-old question, “What is Asian American culture and how can we express it on stage?”  Also presenting their awesome social practice projects were brilliant artist-scholars Ming-Yuen S. Ma, who talked about his amazing video art bus tours through Los Angeles, and Gaye Chan, chair of the Art Dept. at UH Manoa, who described her guerilla gardening project, Eating In Public. Both projects are unapologetic blows against the empire that conclusively prove that artists are indispensible in the battle against tyranny and injustice.

Sliders, Hawai'ian style, Sidestreet Inn, Honolulu

Sliders, Hawai'ian style, Sidestreet Inn, Honolulu

On the recreational tip, I managed to have shave ice nearly every day, though the Waikiki version is pretty tepid. The killer stuff is found on the North Shore in Haleiwa, at Matsumoto’s, where the sour lemon, lilekoi, and coconut combo I tried was stunning. Back in Honolulu, good eats were to be had at Sidestreet Inn, a formica-table sports/karaoke bar that serves up some of the best Hawai’ian food around, including excellent ahi poke, kahlua pig sliders, and fried chicken wings.

So despite my struggle to resist the lure of the beach and do my academic duty, the trip was pretty fun. I’m glad to be back in my cool grey city of love, but I sure do miss swimming in the tropical sea every day.

April 30, 2009 at 5:05 am Leave a comment


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