Eye is the Most Naked Organ – Arthur Danto on Marina Abramovic

Marina Abramovic’s exhibition "The Artist is Present" at MoMA has received lots of attention. Everyone who saw this exhibition talks about the show, and all comments on this exhibitions are so personal, and also interesting.

I have written some articles on Marina, such as "Seven Easy Pieces" which was held in Guggenheim Museum, and also my MA thesis "The Influence of the Nation-State on Art - The Case of the Former Yugoslavian Countries".(the part on Marina is here) so I have a strong interest on her work, especially from historical perspectives.

The article on Abramovic's performance by Arthur Danto on NY Times
"Sitting With Marina" by ARTHUR C. DANTO
is quite well written, and I liked it, particularly the parts which he saw her performance through his filter of personal experience.

Until I read this article, I did not know that Mr. Danto was in Yugoslavia in the 1970s for teaching philosophical seminars as a Fulbright professor at the Inter-University Center of Postgraduate Studies in Dubrovnik.

Marina was born in 1946 between the parents of partisan heroes, but few years before Marina was born, Danto was in Italy as a young soldier, and sailed to the Dalmatian coast (currently called Croatia) with some partisans on dark night. It seems like that Danto has a lot to share with Marina.

In this article, Danto talks about the performance of Marina Abramovic, which is “eye-communication” between the two, and it seems quite personal, and touching. Also the photos of the person who sit in front of the artist have variety of faces, and most of them were crying.

Emmanuel Levinas says that eye is the most naked organ. As a performance, Marina Abramovic is doing the exchange only through her eye, most naked organ, without being naked as "usual".

As Japanese proverb says “目は口ほどにものを言う” (The eyes are eloquent as the tongue), Marina successfully convey her message through her naked eyes.


"Communicating the Nation" by communicating the nation

Yesterday, I received a book which was published by University of Gotenburg in Sweden. Edited by Anna Roosvall & Inka Salovaara-Moring, the book "Communicating the Nation" investigates the plural national logics of interpreting the politics, sports, cultural events and more.

Through her research on the issue of the nation-state, Anna visited my website “Another Expo – Beyond the Nation-States” which I curated 5 years ago. Then, Ana and Inka became interested in the art work “Remote Control”, and asked me who the artist is, and whether she can use this image for the upcoming publication or not. So I asked the permission to the artist Nebojsa Seric Shoba from Sarajevo, and then he kindly allowed them for the usage of his art work for the publication. This is, literally, such a good example of “Communicating the nation” between Sweden, Japan and Bosnia-Herzegovina/Yugoslavia.

I am simply happy that even 5 years after the exhibition, some people become aware of my curatorial exhibition and the art works which I exhibited. As long as the art work deals with some universal issues, if these art works get old, these conceptual works reach broader audience for a long period of time, I believe. I want to keep communicating the nation to find the new horizon of parrhesia.


Reflections - Hello Kitty and Noh Theater Mask

The symbol of “kawaii” aesthetic, Hello Kitty, a white cat born in 1974, is ending her career.

In Search of Adorable, as Hello Kitty Gets Closer to Goodbye

The sales of hello kitty goods reached $5 billion per year. The year 2002 was the zenith of her popularity, and has never recovered. Many of my friends in NY had Hello Kitty goods, and I have been interested in why she could gain such popularity in the global market.

One of the unique characteristics of Hello Kitty is the non-existence of mouth. (It made Sanrio difficult to make her into TV animation, one of the main source of the company's revenue.) Probably this characteristic of her is related to Hello Kitty's global popularity.

Since there is no mouth, Hello Kitty does not smile, laugh nor cry. The way of the interpretation of the doll is all depends on the viewers. When the viewer is depressed, the face of Hello Kitty might seems sad, or even cheerful. When the viewer feel happy, the facial expression of Hello Kitty may seems different.

In other word, by eliminating the mouth and facial expression, Hello Kitty invokes multitude of personalities by reflecting of viewer's inner self, from a singular source.

I find this formation similar to Japanese traditional Noh theater mask.

The Noh mask is worn by the main actor, called “Site,” who expresses the features of gods and souls of the dead with magnificent naturalism. Noh mask itself does not contain any facial expression, but the actor expresses joy, by tilting the mask upwards (terasu = shine), and expresses sorrow, by drawn downwards, (kumorasu = cloudy). The slightest movements from side to side project a bewitching effect (furu = swing). Furthermore, the Noh masks themselves are smaller than the face of the actor, and delineating a boundary that traces the pretenses of reality (= nothingness).

I think these are all related to the historical structure of Japanese society. Since Japan did not create its own history of monotheism but maintained strong influence of animism, the idea of “subject”, or “self” could not be identified till the Meiji Restoration. Switching the “subject” or the “self” became possible in both Japanese language structure and social communication in many different ways, which is the uniqueness of Japanese modernity.

Hello Kitty is remarkably "Japanese" character. Let’s say “goodbye” to the kitty, and let’s say “Hello” to the world, by our own way.


Japan as a big “Stamp Rally” country

For the payment of national pension of Japan, I visited my primary bank in Tokyo, with the transaction document and my stamp, says “Watanabe” in Chinese character.

While completing the transaction, the operator of the bank pointed out that the stamp which I carried today is not the one which I used for opening the account.

In Japan, most of the people maintain plural number of stamps, and keep these at their office, house and other places for their convenience. They have to remember which stamp is used for which transaction, but if you have more than two bank accounts and other transactions, it becomes hard to memorize each of these combinations. It is such as the management of password, if you have more than two e-mail accounts.

I replied to the operator, and said that I have that particular stamp at the office, and I did not bring that exact stamp with me today. Then, the operator asked me to come back to the bank again with the right stamp. Then, I said that I, Shinya Watanabe, is present with my proofs of document including my bank card, drivers license and some others, and I can “sign” my family name as a proof of this transaction, instead of the conventional stamp.

The operator made face, and says that I understand that you are the person who maintains this bank account, but the operator cannot complete the transaction without the exact stamp which I used for opening the account. I was just curious, and kept asking if non-Japanese person tries to open the bank account, what they need to do? The operator reply, “they need to have a stamp which declares his or her own family name in Japanese character.” It means that this Japanese bank applies its own rule to the non-Japanese clients.

For these people who are working for the larger institution, their priority is just to follow the rule, but they could not made a rational, or even creative judgment. For this institution, the ownership of the right stamp is the proof more than the presence of the exact person in front of them. If so, what will happen if someone carry my stamp and go to the bank? I think, they might follow the rule, and accept this transaction, and if some problem happens, they claim that they followed the rule, and it was no way to avoid this.

About the transaction of the bank in Japan, I have one more interesting story. I have a Citibank account in Japan, and I need to complete one deposit, while I was in the United States. To complete the transaction via snail mail, the Citibank required a proof of agreement, which could be the signature or stamp, and this proof is determined when the person opens the account. In my case, I use my signature as a proof, not my stamps.

Before I sent the snail mail to complete this transaction, I suddenly felt uncertain whether I did a signature in English or Japanese, since I opened the account years ago. I made a phone call to Citibank in Japan, and confirmed whether my signature was in English or Japanese. Then, the operator replied that they cannot tell that to me, because of the security reason.

I had no option to do, so I sent the letter with my English signature. Then, the bank sent me a letter via air mail, says, “Your signature supposed to be in Japanese. Please send that back to us again.” By doing this, the transaction takes extra 2 weeks. It was just my own mistake, but since then, I became extremely careful about my own signature.

Everyone knows that Japanese culture of using stamp as a proof became only a convention, and no one believes that this is the actual proof of the agreement completed by the stamp holder. To copy the stamp is quite easy, and any person can make the fake one, if they want. As a proof of the agreement, theoretically, the credibility of stamp is quite low. Only the “trust”, that people expect each other that no one uses any other persons’ stamp, has been the proof of this convention.


Where have all the garbage cans gone?

I live in the old “shitamachi (literally means “downtown”)” district of Tokyo, which attract lots of tourists from oversea. One day in my neighborhood, I saw a young tourist, wondering around with a vinyl bag in his hand which may contain some garbage. After looking all around, he threw away the vinyl bag on the corner of residential building, and ran away.

Probably he was looking for a garbage can to throw his garbage away. He thought that there must be garbage can on the street in central Tokyo, but he simply could not find one.

When I returned from NY to Tokyo, I also could not find the garbage can, and thought something is wrong. The disappearance of garbage can had been quietly progressed after the incident in 1995; the Sarin Gas Attack on the Tokyo Subway led by the religious group Aum Shinrikyo. First, only the garbage cans in the subway had been removed, and it has been slowly spread on the ground level, and today, I cannot locate any garbage can on the street of Tokyo.

15 years had been passed after that incident, and people do not wonder why there is no garbage can on the street. Furthermore, the worst thing is, by accepting the removal of these garbage cans, the citizens of Tokyo automatically accept the possibility that their neighbor could be a terrorist.

The possibility of terrorist attack on the old neighborhood of Tokyo can never be zero, but it is quite low. If we could share a community’s garbage can which everyone can use, the benefit is bigger than the one of avoiding possible terrorism. Furthermore, if the residents start to place garbage can in their own will and share the same garbage can, it could break the fear which comes from the result of common illusion, and will create the better community. However, the citizens stop their process of thinking, and just follow the decision of the government.

The history of democracy in Japan is quite new. Current democracy had been “given” by the U.S. during the occupation of Japan after 1945, so the Japanese people take democracy for granted, and does not think that they are the subjective decision makers. The subjective act is necessary, but if you act subjectively, the conservative society of Japan will attack you. Something is wrong in this country. We need to think through these problems, and we should solve it by subjective act.

Thinking "Parrhesia" from the East End of Eurasia

One year has been passed upon my return from NY, where I lived for 7 years, I suddenly started to feel to switch my writings, from my native tongue Japanese to English. Not only I afraid the fossilization of my English and losing my English writing skill (in Tokyo, I do not have any chance to communicate in English!), by writing this blog, I would like to open up, and promote the cultural communication, between Japan and oversea.

Lately, the discourses of culture in Japan had been extremely domestic, and had been quite difficult to share in any other languages. The context of Japanese culture is largely created by the zeitgeist of the nation, by placing the thinking “self” to the position of the 3rd person. This is related to the unique and crooked history of Japanese modernity. Japan could not create her own history of subjectivity; the base of subjectivity (originated by "cogito" by Descartes) is created in Europe on the extension of Roman Catholicism as a result of counter reformation, but Japan does not have a structure of monotheism itself (Except "State Shinto" which caused Japan's colonialism). The concepts of modernity which has been imported right after the Meiji Restoration is now melting down, and Japan became the showcase of the fastest and worst example of post-modernity in the world.

Since most of the discourse is created in a limitation of language, to export Japanese culture became quite difficult. Also most of the so-called "cultural persons (bunkajin)" in Japan do not try to explain, or export their own history and culture in foreign language, since Japanese local market has been enough large to sustain their activities and they had no need to do so, and furthermore, their language skills have never been enough. Therefore, most of the discourse in Japan became only for the Japanese audience, which create the vicious cycle of an autosuggestion of the nation in an unconscious level, and even worse, the Japanese people who cannot get an information from foreign language does not realize it. However, I would like to search my own way of communication, which is an area where my father haven’t seen, in a larger context and perspectives.

As a person who has a nationality of Japanese and speak Japanese, I would like to open up more possibilities of communication in various fields, in various cultures. That is my challenge for Parrhesia, to speak the truth freely, for the common good, even at personal risk.