Neighbors, Ourselves

post: 2015/01/21

Generally, a country’s understanding of other countries is based on accumulation of personal and partial impressions. Therefore, misunderstanding is not a rare case, especially in the history of East Asia. We often mutually misunderstand each other, and tend to think we are superior to others. It is also common to maintain ties with each other via this “convenient misunderstanding.”
A History of “Convenient Misunderstanding”: The Transformation of Korea and China’s Impressions of Each Other; Young-Seo Baik

In this project of r:ead #3 “Asian City, Nomad People,” I have been thinking what is a “conversation.” Between artists of East Asia, obscure relationships were developed. We have different lives, experiences and backgrounds. But from aspects of geopolitics, geohistory and culture, relationships between East Asians are different from Asians and Europeans, Asians and Indians or even Asians and Southeast Asians. Therefore, conversations between East Asians need to find several predetermined shared conditions, and those are exactly the most important reason to carry on the conversations. But at the same time, because of these predetermined geographic conditions, it should be noticed that if we understand others with our own overactive imagination, as what Young-Seo Baik points out: a “convenient misunderstanding.”

Before r:ead #3, all participants must have drawn a map of East Asia in their minds to locate other participant and themselves to confirm their statuses and relationships with others in conversations. But after various conversations, presentations and visits, these predetermined conditions (“convenient misunderstandings”) were challenged obviously, and many mysteries, opinions, signs and differences were created for others to absorb. This was the most interesting part of conversations, and it was also the most difficult – yet the most essential part – to develop from these differences.

What I had been thinking was not hypothetical issues like “how to achieve true understandings.” Any understanding could have “discrimination” or “ambiguities” in it. If we think we are certain of some identities, then our so called understandings can be only reflections of false identities we have made of – the basic form of “convenient misunderstandings.” What the most difficult is that those “understandings” (or may be misunderstandings) are important preconditions to open conversations among East Asians. For instance, comparing Taiwan’s history with Okinawa’s or Korea’s, one can develop new perceptions of extended and expanded history of Taiwan, but weaken complexity and depth of history of countries in the comparison at the same time. It can easily lead to misunderstandings from one-sided perceptions. With that in mind, how can we develop our relationships in conversations with such “understandings” that seems to eventually fail?

In my opinion, a concept of “being creative” is more important in such a situation. How to create? Is there any further “opportunity of being creative” in conversations? Both of them are possible. When making conversations with others from our own grounds, we need to reveal our own “self-removed” parts in some aspects, which is important to achieve better mutual understandings. For example, in this project, Japanese artist Wen Yuju’s switches from nationalities and languages are her “self-removed” parts, which includes a “self” that obviously connects itself with ideas of “identity.” Such an “identity” with self-removed traditional concepts of nationalism, jus sanguins or jus soil may be the actual path to build communications among East Asian artists. Yet, it should be noted that “removed” is different from “sacrificed.” After a journey full of impact and significance, we will produce “foreign selves” of our own, especially when this journey is taken place in East Asia, a “neighboring” place that produces something not completely foreign and exotic to us.

Neighbors are different from far places. Luo Zhi-Cheng, a Taiwanese poet, said that far places are foreign places, but neighbors are people and places we are familiar with and foreign to at the same time. Some neighbors live beside us, maybe they share the same water tank or see us everyday, but we are often being unimpressed about them. Therefore, the most important thing in this r:ead #3 is to find our shared grounds from differences from a concept of neighbors, and find ourselves from the concept of “neighbors.” For instance, participants in r:ead #3 shared common concerns toward international workers, documentary shooting, nations, national identities and languages. When we shared our concerns of these issues, we could also find our obscure ties with each other. Keiko Okawa’s documentaries of Indonesian workers, Mix Rice’s participation in villages of Indonesian workers and Su Yu-Hsien’s project of Indonesian boat songs were good examples to show a status quo of globalized worker system in East Asia. In these common grounds, it is important for us to open more creative, more dynamic and more socially de-stratifying conversations.

In closing, I would like to quote Young-Seo Baik again with his theory of “East Asia as a perception” to be a reference to creative conversations. What East Asian artists are facing is from their own contexts of their works and contexts of society they are living in. This duality has a traditional aspect of a modernism interpretation of relationships and imaginations between individuals and the world. But such an interpretation is based on a traditional linear perspective of Descartes. If we see it from a perspective of “East Asia as a perception,” people, events and objects of East Asia themselves can be targets to be perceived. In such a way, we are not using Descartes’ linear perspective anymore, but finding another self in our “reflections.” Thus, taking “East Asia as a perception” as a proposition, we may be able to include our shared issues of people, events, objects, histories, times, economic situations and wars into our works, and start collaborative or cooperative works and conversations. This is my feedback and suggestion of r:ead #3 and following projects.