Posts filed under ‘social practice’
Just got back from Intersection for the Arts, where I saw One Day: A Collective Narrative of Tehran, a brilliant group show organized by Iranian American, San Francisco-based Taraneh Hemami, and Ghazaleh Hedayat, an artist living in Iran. Taraneh is a visual artist and curator whose past work includes several projects dealing with her experiences as a diasporic Iranian woman.
Taraneh’s been creating a lot of work that utilizes images downloaded from the web, such as her mixed-media piece Women In Tehran (2007), in which she threaded together small cut-out pictures of downloaded images of women from the Iranian capital city. Her larger 2007 installation, Most Wanted, included a beaded curtain that replicated a poster of fugitive Islamic terrorists that she found on-line, its fuzzy and indistinct images suggesting a culturalist compositing of all Muslims into an overarcing mashup of conflated identity.
Her use of internet-based images reflects her own status as an exile far from her homeland as well as the ways in which diasporic peoples now retain contact with their countries of origin, through websites, social networks and other virtual spaces. By utilizing web-based imagery Tareneh’s work also mirrors the significant role that the internet played in this year’s presidential elections in Iran, during which opposition leaders and activists as well as everyday Iranian citizens communicated their concerns and bypassed the censorship of traditional media outlets through the use of twitter, facebook, youtube, and other net-based media. Without such social-networking sites the Iranian government would likely have been able to completely obfuscate reportage of the protests and demonstrations that took place in the days following the elections.
The current show at Intersection builds on some of these concerns in a complex and elegant presentation. The pieces work individually and as a unit, showcasing the mundanities of life in Tehran as well as the heightened tensions now present following the disputed presidential elections. Several of the projects also take on new meaning and significance after the elections and the crackdowns that followed it. Neva Razavipour’s two-channel video installation, Find The Lost One (2007), projects the same image twice, side by side, of passengers exiting a train station in Tehran. With one exception the projections are identical—-Razavipour has digitally erased one of the figures leaving the station. Text running at the bottom of the projection challenges the viewer to “find the lost one” in the right-hand image. As the artist’s statement notes, the piece was created in 2007, but following last summer’s elections the installation has now become a canny commentary on the increased repression of oppositional voices in Tehran.
Taxiography, Ghazaleh Heyadat’s processed-based pen-and-ink sketches, also take on additional resonance following the June 2009 elections. Each day Heyadat made a drawing by allowing her pen’s gyrations to trace a line based on the bumping and swaying of the bus or train she was riding through Tehran, with each small sketch reflecting the routes Heyadat followed in her sojourns across the sprawling city. Originally created as a means of passing time on Heyadat’s lengthy commute on Tehran’s public transit system, in the wake of last year’s crackdowns the drawings can also be read as records of the furtive travels of fugitive activists seeking refuge from the Basij and other military personnel.
Taraneh Hemami also has a couple pieces in the show, including Yekrooz, a green neon sign that spells out “one day” in Persian, and Turning Green, a large laser-cut green wool rug that traces a street map of Tehran. The rug’s central placement on the gallery’s floor unifies the exhibit while referencing Mir Hossein Mousavi’s oppositional Green Movement. It’s also a sly pun on Iran’s more Western-friendly name, Persia, and the ubiquitous carpets of the same name, reflecting the still-fraught relationship between Iran and U.S.
Interestingly enough, of the eight pieces included in the exhibition, only two were physically shipped from Iran. The rest were conceived in Iran, but fabricated in the U.S., from computer files and design plans sent over the web or email. Not only did this strategy save on freight but it also allowed the artists to circumvent censorship of their work by the Iranian government.
Not unlike the role that twitter et al played following the disputed elections, once again the web has aided Iranians in speaking out and voicing their concerns, despite their government’s best efforts to suppress them, and such dauntless determination speaks volumes about the urgent relevancy of this show. The risks that these artists take hopefully will make us here in the U.S. appreciate the casual ease with which we can tweet about our latest DVD purchases, what we had for lunch, or who we support for dogcatcher. With diligence we won’t let net neutrality and other civil rights erode in the U.S., and they’ll remain a given here as they are not in Iran.
One Day: A Collective Narrative of Tehran
Wed, Nov 4 – Sat, Jan 23, 2010 | 12pm – 5pm | FREE
Gallery closed December 20, 2009 – January 4, 2010
Sat. Jan. 16, 7 pm: Artists Talk
Intersection For The Arts
446 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94103-3415
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
mrpoopypants’ post (scroll down to the comments where an AAM employee defends the museum)
8asians post (wherein the bloggers confess to being pwned by the faux-site)
Interview with the anonymous creators of the site here.
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.
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.
“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).
And artist Michael Mandiberg sent me a further link to his flickr site, which contains all of the images from his series:
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.
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.
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.
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.