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Understanding/Thinking through Encounters

post: 2013/06/10

I am very glad that I could participate in r:ead for two weeks in March 2013. I am always busy with preparing exhibitions so this was a rare opportunity for me. The small but precise and deliberate residency created – more than other residencies I knew of – the opportunity for an “encounter” that sticks in the memory, and for exchange in a true sense. Speaking from my ten years’ experience as a curator of contemporary art, there are many opportunities to get to know artists or other curators, but places where you can engage in exchange on a high level are less than you would think. This is even more due to the fact that our work becomes more and more stereotypical.

In general, the encounter between curator and artist often starts with a work. But r:ead consciously and purposefully turned around the model of the “curator-artist-artistic creation process”. This not only had a very special meaning to me, it also matches with the direction of the approach and development of the independent art space that I am currently running, The Cube Project Space. That is, the exploration of ways to develop long-term collaboration with artists.

Chia-En Jao and I participated in r:ead, which gave us this kind of opportunity. There was dialogue between the four Asian countries China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan – and in this frame I truly felt the uniqueness of interchange that went beyond existing geographic interpretations, and knowledge relating to history between neighboring countries and culture. In this process where persons who were strangers at the beginning gradually started to understand each other, we could further develop our cultural viewpoints through communication and debate. These viewpoints vitalized the perceptions and actions we usually take for granted.

This dialogue supplemented what is lacking most in our current work and production processes, the “real-experience”. Over the two weeks, from various perspectives we thought about the Second World War, the history of the Cold War in Asia and the present, where regional economies are globalizing. While this includes a countless number of historical memories, we shared our experiences as a single contemporary human being, from the experience and angle of one living individual. And through this special occasion we asked ourselves if in the so-called “era of globalization” the earth really has become flat, and by that we caught a glimpse of a different worldview.

I felt that the project Chia-En Jao worked on in Tokyo was also a concrete reaction to the experience and thoughts described above. Through observing Japanese history and democracy he confronted the questions the project participants raised through a kind of nonlinear interrelation and dialogue. (In the final presentation on March 11th, he let the participants select and read newspapers from March 11th five years ago, and through this exhibited his views on history and experience.) And with this methodology he also invited the non-Japanese participants to indirectly reflect on their own democratic experience and our relationship to other regions in Asia.

The theme of Chia-En Jao’s project was the re-rethinking of “democracy” and “history as repetition”, due to his observation of immanent changes in Japanese society following the 2012 general election and the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. But this actually is a topic that not only relates to Japan but also in a broader sense mirrors a common problem/crisis faced by contemporary society as a whole. Therefore we could see that our mutual “relationship” from first to last is interwoven. We learn how much we are depending on each other, not only in the past but also in the present capitalist economy.

For his project, Chia-En Jao’s strategy was the creation of a time process that emerges through displaying and enlarging a visualized material (past newspaper articles). By this he exposited his question. The result of his observations was that history repeated through democracy. Simultaneously, due to this inquiry Chia-En Jao confronted us with – that is, the topic of his re-thinking – he invited every single participant to think together with him, and thus initiated even deeper reflections and responses.

During the presentation the participants did not understand at first why they were holding newspapers from the past in their hands, but through the readings one after another and their mutual reflection, they became aware of Chia-En Jao’s intention of a “space for re-thinking”.

Chia-En Jao’s project is like a foreword. During the two weeks’ residency in Tokyo and through debate and exchange, we started to think latently about the changes to Japanese society after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Further, from what I saw and heard during short trips to Osaka, Kyoto and Yokohama, I understood that actively reflecting on society is increasing now in Japan. For example, Meiro Koizumi’s work shows that too. More and more people from the younger generation are connecting with artistic and cultural creativity, and engaging with social activities. We could say that this observation is the most important harvest for me following the residency. From r:ead I learned about the possible significance of a new model of artistic production and its praxis.