Walker Art Center
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Musings on Globalism and Institutional Change


of dissident art, which fits nicely into our notions of the avant-garde. But knowledge of contemporary practices in Southeast Asia or India is pretty nonexistent in this part of the world.

I would like to go back to the issue of globalization as interconnectivity. People are now beginning to examine where the intersection lies between connectivity and specificity, and how we can understand the nuances of that intersection.

KH: This is a really vital question, not only for those of us in the arts but for those in business as well. For example, it's fine to be connected at some practical level, but what happens, in these intersections, to differing codes of ethics, codes of values, ways of doing business? Are those cultural specificities being erased or are they becoming even more specific? What are the politicians, economists, sociologists, business people saying about that when they're at the Asia Society's podium?

VND: We recently had a presentation by one of our board members, Jack Wadsworth, honorary chairman of Morgan-Stanley, Asia, who is also, incidentally, a big champion of contemporary art. He just retired and returned to the United States after more than a decade in Asia. He did a comparison of India, China, and Japan, focusing on values and modes of leadership. For example, one could argue that centralization of leadership in China has made it possible for them to stay the course and create economic growth. Whereas, in India, the cacophony and diversity of voices, which makes a flourishing democracy possible, makes it more difficult sometimes for the country to move forward at the same pace as China.

Amartya Sen, an economist, philosopher, and Nobel laureate, has written a wonderful paper called "Culture and Development," which I found very enlightening.[2] He talks about culturally specific values and how they get interpreted in differing economic circumstances. For example, when Japan was rising, we often talked with admiration about the values that the Japanese brought to their business practice--consensus-building, loyalty, etc.--and considered them to be crucial to their success. But even as that economy fell, the same set of values remained in place. You have to realize that this set of values is constant, but at certain times they are useful and at other times they might be detrimental to the successful movement forward. It's not enough to understand what the values are; you need to understand their contextual placement, how they play out at a given time and in a given circumstance. They are not essentialist, they are contextual, and that has relevance for all of us in terms of how we deal with the values we bring to our own work and to our understanding of contemporary art.

KH: I'm fascinated by differences. I'm very interested in connections, but I'm more fascinated, in a way, by what I'm not. As I said to my son the other day: Life is a journey toward trying to realize who you are. Often that journey is shaped by who you're not, not as a way of separating yourself but as a way, actually, of seeing yourself. For example, I often wondered, when I spent some time in Japan beginning in the mid-1980s, why the pace of transacting business seemed so different there. Long conversations over tea resulted in contracts made without the benefit of lawyers. There were rituals to relationships that had to be followed; they forced me to take the time, which I might otherwise have been foolish enough to think I didn't need, to learn more about the people and the culture I was just beginning to understand. Considering the increasingly accelerated timeframe of communication, transactions, etc., it made me wonder how, in fact, this remarkable cultural difference--a slower, more deliberate and choreographed way of proceeding--was reconciled with the information age, the age of the instantaneous.

VND: There's an interesting story related to this. I was talking to someone who worked at UNICEF when the Internet revolution first began, and what they discovered was that people were really offended by this new code of communication, by how people wrote letters on the Internet. In the United States, we tend to treat e-mail as a very conversational, informal method--a quick two-line response and then it's done and gone. In many countries, they expected e-mail to follow the same rules as formal letter-writing, so if you didn't include some of the niceties that you would use to construct a formal letter, it was an insult to them. The use of e-mail was breaking down conversations rather than forging them.

2 Amartya Sen, "Culture and Development," paper delivered at the World Bank, Tokyo, December 13, 2000.