Towards a practice of history going beyond politics

post: 2013/06/10

At first I was interested in how the goal of this project “to share awareness regarding the problems of society and art in East Asia” could trigger new perspectives through the participants confronting the concrete situations of their own countries. But, on the other hand, I was also a little concerned about how the history and political situation of East Asia, whose countries are interconnected through mutually complex relationships, would affect the platform of our dialogue. Once the system of “state” gets involved with this project’s aim of building up a platform, the participants must be aware of the relation to their nationality and state. In this situation, their subjective views are identified with those of the respective states and the dialogue between individuals quickly turns into a dialogue about the interests of states and an endless argument on “justice”. However, I think that the participants were – as these conflicts are comparatively intense right now – carefully exploring how they can act as one person engage with the cultural sector without being absorbed by the dynamics of politics.

The residency was divided into two periods of stay. First, we discussed the themes and interests that form the axis of every artist’s activities. Next, in various situations and through various approaches – presentations, film screenings, shared meals and train journeys – we shared the research that every participant was conducting in Tokyo. What was interesting about this process was that the shared experiences the participants had during their short stay in Japan came to be an occasion for relativizing one’s own interpretation of and internal response to Japan, and regard it from a more objective perspective. Of course, this held true as well for Meiro Koizumi and myself, who reside in Japan. I feel that, like Jinjoo said in the final presentation, the experience of how much you don’t know of the other, although you thought you knew him or her very well, generated a disparity throughout the process. Or rather, to pull out the discourse and feelings on Japan that oneself has internalized from my own subjectivity – they are one’s identity strongly connected to discourse, history patriotism, and democracy, and how this is all connected to exclusivity. This became an occasion to become aware of that.

During the research period, Meiro Koizumi conducted an experiment with film. He did interviews with people at various locations in Tokyo, asking them about Japanese wartime history. When they were speaking he filmed only their mouths. As the interviewees remained anonymous, we could see stories, information, beliefs and emotions, as well as “absence” like disinterest and ignorance – all told in an undisguised manner. While I watched this random manner of talking, I could not help but focus my thought on the question, “What is history?” There is intense controversy over historical issues between states, ranging from territorial questions to the content of school textbooks. In times of globalisation when it is necessary to maintain an imaginary collective of the state, this becomes an increasingly important tool, but on the other hand, it is fair to say that for the market-driven life of the individual, there is almost no necessity to confront the past in the shape of “history”. Nevertheless, in the midst of various history-related discourses rising and falling through the diversification of media, we should not overlook the fact that even if this history does not generate individual experience directly, it has the capability to stir up strong hate and exclusion of the “other”.

I believe that Meiro Koizumi’s experiment raises one important question this residency project will have to consider in the future. This is the question of whether, in order to create future connections in this area, sharing awareness of artistic and social problems in East Asia can provide a space for verifying the discourse and subjectivity of oneself and the other, directed towards history as a new practice of knowledge, such as moving beyond the scope of states and politics. Going forward, when not only East Asia but the entire world will probably be more mobile, the creation of a space where inner negotiations of oneself and the other become possible is an issue that not only this project but culture-makers in general will have to think about.