Walker Art Center
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Globalization from the Rear: "Would You Care to Dance, Mr. Malevich?"


Arima expresses a comparable demeanor in his fragile drawings (pp. 165-167). They are executed on a variety of paper supports--notebooks, newspapers, etc.--and are outgrowths of an iconography drawn from traditional Japanese iconography[34] as well as from an underground, highly subjective and sexualized, strangely na´ve and familiar realm of images. All of these drawings share a haiku[35] quality that reflects the world through Arima's own cultural referents, and they focus on the moment when meaning is suspended between sense and nonsense.

A similar critical absurdity can be found in Song Dong's work (pp. 237-239). When he decides to jump endlessly in the middle of a crowd in Beijing's Tiananmen Square--completely indifferent to his surroundings--his absurd action becomes, if not a cry for attention, then a bittersweet comment on both the status of the artist in society and his relationship to his audience. His concern relates to public discourse, or more accurately to the lack thereof. His work relies on the identification of a poetic language made up of small gestures or everyday rituals. When he writes his diary using only water on a stone, Song not only questions the evaporating nature of memory, but he also attempts to establish a language of forms that lies in between the contemplative Zen Buddhist tradition and contemporary conceptual art issues such as the acceleration of time.

The impulse to slow things down, rather than speed them up toward a "better future," is just one aspect of abroad spectrum of strategies that aim to reconsider critical practices no longer from beyond, from above, or from within, but from the rear--from a neglected location. We are talking here about practices comparable to those of a guard that operates from off center in an attempt to slow down, to disturb, a dominant model with which they disagree. Such an aesthetics of the maquis, of the underground, strives to prevent, through a quiet but abrasive subversion, the avant-garde from falling into a consensual mainstream culture. It is paradoxical and striking to note that after at least two decades dominated by "glorious" and "progressive" internationalism, a reinvention of difference is being realized through practices that fold together notions of tradition, modesty, the local, and the quotidian.

The work of Japanese filmmaker Hiroyuki Oki is a precise embodiment of such a reinvention. In Heaven-6-Box (1995; pp. 215-217), a moving journey through small-town Japan, Oki unfolds what he identifies as a "queer" film--somewhere between documentary and fiction--that brings together, with no visible premeditation, the everyday experiences of his encounters. He focuses his attention on the periphery of the mainstream, the seemingly irrelevant stuff of life. These are the moments that never make it into history books, that never become the subject of monuments.

In looking at the practices we are considering here, the word queer is a very useful descriptor for understanding their status. The local, the frail, the everyday stand as anomalies. They appear as strategies of resistance. Notan explicitly oppositional resistance, but one that is rooted in the desire to be slightly "off" center and that allows for an alternative location of the self. It must be stressed that such an aesthetic is not the monopoly of distant locations or distant artists--the so-called global ones (as opposed to European or American ones). In different guises, these same concerns can be found within Western practices. For instance, American artist Cameron Jamie provides a spooky analysis of the "other" through his films, which focus on the dysfunction of American suburbs and their everyday rituals and cultural constructs (pp. 201-203). And such an aesthetic arises in other cultural phenomena as well. For example, the "social engineers" of the Imitation of Christ design label create one-of-a-kind remakes of thrift-store clothing and blend performance art, design, and social activism in their runway shows, which broach such issues as death, suicide, and child labor. Musician Daniel Johnston, who performs using only a modest acoustic guitar--no fancy digital sampling here--is a conduit, in terms of content, for achieving greater awareness of cultural alienation. His voice is off, his topics are off, but he is the center, the cult figure of a possible and viable alternative.

34 For instance, Arima's drawings often are formally close to the tradition of Hungry Ghost or Gaki scroll painting in medieval Japan. Their absurdity, their nonrational nature, seems to reinforce this similarity, as does their role as critical visions of and cognitive comments on a pedestrian "everyday." For more information about this tradition, see William R. Lafleur, "Hungry Ghosts and Hungry People: Somaticity and Rationality in Medieval Japan," in Zone 3-5: Fragments for a History of the Human Body, vol. 1 (New York: Urzone, 1989).

35 As practiced in Japan, haiku poetry consists of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively. The images in haiku should be concrete, leaving profound concepts unsaid but perhaps somehow evident to the reader in a nonverbal way.