RIMLANDIA: Mythological network bridging the margins of East Asia
Homo sapiens sapiens, a common ancestor of modern humans, originated in the continent of Africa about 200 thousand years ago from now and spread to various parts of Eurasia about 70 thousand years ago. Humans who leave “Out of Africa” have formed a number of small groups, spreading all over the Eurasian continent with surprising speed. Some groups that crossed West Asia from North Africa, headed to Southeast Asia bypassing the southern foot of Himalayas, went further to Oceania by sea via Sundaland. Likewise, the groups beyond the northern side of the Himalayas reached Siberia from there, and later reached the Americas by walking beyond the Bering Strait, which was still land. On this global journey, the modern humans, has entered East Asia with a rich ocean and fertile grounds about 40,000 years ago. They are the oldest ancestors of contemporary East Asians.
Several groups of Homo sapiens sapiens, who broke up to the north and south of the Himalayas met again in this distant place far from Africa and soon settled on the continent, the peninsula and the islands, and made a number of communities. In the Neolithic era, technologies such as fishery, agriculture, pastoralism, pottery making, and lacquer use supported the development of these societies. After a while, cities were born in various places, letters were invented, philosophy and religion thrived. The societies of East Asia passed on the myths and history of each ethnic group, and established large and small nations. These nations sometimes fought supremacy through war and suffered others by aggression. After contacting the European world, these societies have been forced to control unreasonable colonial rule. There used to be an era when Japan once pressed the national myth called the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere over East Asia.
While walking through Hong Kong in the 21st century, or shipping around the islands around it, which passed twenty years after returning from the UK to China, I have been thinking about East Asian history. Skyscrapers forested in limited land and a vast sea world spreading beyond the horizontal line. High-rise apartment houses of old concrete and complicated transportation network controlled by the latest computer technology. I felt familiar with that, I grew up in the suburbs of Tokyo in the urban environment of Hong Kong where the reality of both extremes co-existed together. Both Tokyo and Hong Kong developed from a small old fishing port town in the Middle Ages to a modern world city. Because of that, I wonder if Hong Kong’s landscape seen from the window of the high-rise hotel directly connected to the shopping mall would advance the urban plan of New Town which is spreading near my parent’s house in Tokyo more radically? There was something to make me think. The residential area of the city that is expanded to the limit has made us feel the dream of innocent economic development that Tokyo has lost. There were pieces of dreams common to us, East Asians, scattered around.
At the same time (as a matter of course), there was a reality that was definitely different from Tokyo in Hong Kong. In Japan, no matter what big city or remote countryside, various scales of “nature” will appear around the human settlement. And many of the houses are still made of fleeting wooden buildings, as if one day a big natural disaster came and was destroyed and waiting to be shattered. Besides that, even in Tokyo, high-rise buildings made of concrete and even huge radio towers look as if they are waiting for mythical monsters like Godzilla will come over someday and beat them. The Japanese archipelago is always exposed to the violent threat of nature and therefore it is immersed in the endless love of nature. However, Godzilla will never think to destroy the solid Hong Kong. Hong Kong, a multilayered city with living space in the vertical direction, has less chance of earthquake than the Japanese archipelago. However, there are always risks of pandemic such as SARS and avian flu, and while overcoming this threat, Hong Kong seems to keep its own barely identity. The exquisite sense of balance is reminiscent of a former Tanka people that lived in houses above swinging boats.
The society in Hong Kong is torn apart by the two great forces of globalism and localism, capitalism and socialism, cross border capital and enormous population of China, maintaining a dangerous balance. This city has always been exposed to the threat of history and I felt as immersed in history love at the same time. Its history is not closed in one area, but in reality in the various areas beyond the sea. Hong Kong is a bare “East Asian cape” that protrudes from the Chinese world of the Eurasian continent to the global world. This cape was surrounded by the memories of several islands where pirates and fishermen once lived, and in recent years they flourished in the industrialization of match factories and porcelain painting.
An experimental program that artists and curators get together from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and local Hong Kong to this city where the world’s cultures, currency, information and DNA interlace and are exchanged. While I was experiencing this rare event, I remembered the idea of geopolitics called “Rimland” while looking over the distant sea from a ship over Hong Kong. In geopolitics, the land and islands that follow the margin of the coastal area are called “Rimland ” by contrast with concept of “Heartland” located in the inner part of the continent. According to Japanese anthropologist Shinichi Nakazawa（中沢新一）, “Contrary to Heartland, which is the territory of the centralized nation, a flexible hybrid culture develops in the network-shaped Rimland civilization that connects the periphery.“ (『日本の大転換』”Great transformation in Japan“). On the final day of the ten-day program, I proposed one mythology called “Rimlandia” based on this concept. It is a vision for East Asian coastal societies that have an influence on each other to coexist while respecting their cultural differences and identity without denying the history of others.
If we truly understand the history of others, we must also understand the myths of others. In this case, the myth means not just a fiction that denies history but rather a leap using the imagination to understand the unknown reality that was not told in its history. Through the myths of others, we will be able to learn the deepest ideals and dreams of each other’s society and deepen their understanding of the history lying in their origins. At the very least, myths must be regarded as a key to understanding in a deeper dimension that should be treated with more consideration, rather than a dangerous error that keeps understanding away. I tried to put such implications into the concept of “Rimlandia“.
For the ten days when the program took place, we talked about myths and legends of the area of origin, the influence of colonization, the history of arts, the identity of ethnicity and cultures, political consciousness and language etc day and night. Through the program, I learned a concept of “co-variants”（「共異体」）proposed by Kizou Ogura（小倉紀蔵）, a Japanese philosopher. Interpreter Lee Jang-wook is the one who taught me this idea. Mr. Ogura clearly states that it is difficult to share the illusion that Japan, Korea, China, which have different histories from each other, will completely assimilate. Therefore, in order for these countries to understand each other, the conventional word of “Kyoudoutai“（「共同体」）which emphasizes the identity of the community in Japanese, is inadequate. Instead, He invented the concept recognizing each other’s differences, that is, a new understanding framework called “Kyouitai“（「共異体」）or “co-variants” which represents a heterogeneous coexistence system（『東アジアとは何か』“What is East Asia?”）. I would like to invite other local societies such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, or Ainu, Okinawa, and countless societies of the Pacific Rim to this thought experiment, if possible.
An artistic network of society connecting the margins of East Asia is working. This point where history becomes mythology and myths transform into history is by no means just a fiction. It is a “twist” that must be overcome, it has been generated many times in this program, and it is the reality I have certainly experienced. That must be the beginning of the dimension where art is born, reality takes on a new meaning. In 2017 Hong Kong had at least such a new meaning to me. The reality like this daydream was named “Rimlandia“.