Saturday, December 26, 2009


Pharrell Williams recently collaborated with Takashi Murakami on a 6-foot sculpture called The Simple Things (2008-2009), featuring a black & rainbow DOB (Murakami's copyrighted character) jewel-encrusted objects the producer/rock star/designer can't live without (Doritos, Heinz ketchup, Pepsi, condom, sneaker, baby oil, cupcake). Also according to Michael Wilson's article "Frontin'" in Modern Painters (Dec 2009/Jan 2010), Pharrell admires and collects: Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and KAWS, because their work "isn't serious or snobby or stuffy." The Simple Things sold for $2.8 million.

Interview from here:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

the straight poop

Bert Rodriguez tells it like it is:

AND, he gives to charity.

Now if that's not a plus, I don't know what is.

I also don't know what his work (the blank freestanding wall above) currently on view in Seattle's about exactly, perhaps something to do with his daddy issues (consider that on his official website the title is "A Wall I Built With My Father" but the caption lists the wall as being built between the artist and his father. Check it out as part of Western Bridge's show Parenthesis. Picture by Mark Woods stolen from Jen Graves's review. Regina Hackett covers it too. THE SHOW ends next Saturday 12/19/09.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Japanese Artist Meiro Koizumi wants to remake The Last Samurai

During his lecture tonight, I had the privilege of seeing Meiro Koizumi's awesome new video, Works like a Dog (I think it's called that?), based on his and (Japanese)immigrant experiences in Bellevue, tonight. Apparently, "New York Times art critic Roberta Smith aptly noted, 'His videos are 'Punk’d' for intellectual sadists.'" See his work at Open Satellite in Bellevue or Hedreen Gallery on the Seattle U campus before it flies away on January 9th, 2010!

Lifted from Koizumi's site, a still from an older video Jap (2003)

He had some thoughtful things to say about nationalism, nationality, WWII losers vs. winners, and loyalty. Particularly interesting to me--speaking about the Western gaze at Japan, he concluded that while Kill Bill is a healthy image of the multicultural world, Last Samurai is a sick image of multiculturalism. But THEN he proceeded to say that when confronted with the choice of what kind of art he wanted to make, he concluded that he would much rather make a Last Samurai type of art than Kill Bill.

Perhaps he's ever the optimist I am not, but as I asked why he would choose the sick image over a healthy one, he responded that there are enough healthy images out there, and likened these two images of art as medicine or poison--Koizumi asserted he wants to make medicine, but then again, there are times when he wants to make poison. Smells like Derrida's pharmakon to me: "The beneficial essence or virtue of a pharmakon does not prevent it from hurting...Painful pleasure, linked as much to the malady as to its treatment, is a pharmakon in itself. It partakes of both good and ill, of the agreeable and the disagreeable. Or rather, it is within its mass that these oppositions are able to sketch themselves out."

What do you think?


p.s. You can find a WMV video of an adorably bumbling Koizumi, talking in more dualisms about his art, here from Mori art Museum.


Derrida, Jacques. Dissemination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, p. 99.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Woman on Women on Women

Check out film theorist Laura Mulvey on the streets of NYC in the exhibit The Female Gaze: Women Look at Women--

Cora Fisher of The Brooklyn Rail writes:
"Touting Laura Mulvey’s essay 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' as the curatorial premise of its group show, The Female Gaze: Women on Women, Cheim & Read promises a look into how women see themselves and other women, surveying self-portraits, portraits, and female nudes, all by women artists...

The contemporary viewer wonders, if we are really living in a so-called 'post' era—post-feminist, post-racial, post-gay— can the identity politics of its premise be truly invigorated by this survey? Does there exist an inter-female gaze purged of male scopophila?"

Well I don't know but I love this painting Big Blonde in the Weeds by Lisa Yuskavage (2001) at the SAM (not so much the one mentioned in the article). It is beautiful, curvy, sensuous, mysterious, and apparently not digitized online except in a tiny thumbnail from their website.

p.s. One of the photos from the show--Blonde Girl with Shiny Lipstick, NYC by Diane Arbus (1967) looks like femmebot britney spears:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

An OK Movie & Upcoming Seattle exhibit

The Cremator (1969)-- A so-so movie made better by its inclusion of the right panel of Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1503-4), especially close-up shots of the devil-bird who consumes and defecates people:
Coincidentally, the same detail graces Deep Purple (English band best known for "Smoke on the Water")'s self-titled album of the same year. Deep Purple came out just three months after The Cremator and includes the song "The Painter" which goes, "Painter, come colour up my life/take away the misery/take away the strife." About that: Bosch's work is in black and white on the album cover due to a printing error but the band kept it anyway, & I'm not sure that this detail of Bosch takes away misery or strife. Rather Bosch depicts both in great detail.

For more recent Awesome Netherlandish Painting on album covers, cf. Fleet Foxes's use of a Pieter Brueghel, nicely summarized in this MTVNews article:
"'[Brueghel's Netherlandish Proverbs (1559) is] this sort of really detailed, 1500s thing, but actually it's horrible, like, everything that's going on is like a disaster,' Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold said. 'All the stuff happening in that bucolic scene is weird, people defecating out of boxes and sheep getting cut through the gut.'"

Returning to nontimely art-in-film news, I think I noticed an Alexander Calder in Sabrina (1954), in Linus's office. A retrospective entitled "Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act" will be at the SAM soon, Oct. 15, 2009-April 11, 2010.

Lobster Tail and Fish Trap (1939). From MoMA website.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Petty? Concepts of Age

have to start somewhere . . .

I feel like I’m somewhere around 50 years old, at the present juncture in my life. Yet I am only recently 24. Perhaps most people, when they are happy (and/or if their perception of their own age is unbothered) don’t really think of age much. I did not until I moved to a place where all my previous activities and other self-expressing signifiers were made irrelevant. I believe my internal overaging stems from the cultural differences between the Arctic Alaska bush and the places I’ve lived most recently: Boston, MA and Bellingham, WA. Culture shock will out.

In both of the latter locations, I lived in an urban center. Where I live now semi-resembles an urban center: the town is small and compact, and in the Barrow, Browerville, and NARL sections of town, there are business centers with nearby residences. This is not unlike either Boston or Bellingham. The types of businesses, however, are completely different. Instead of bars, late-night restaurants, and a wide (or at least some) variety of everything, there are only 8 restaurants in town and the only social establishments are churches, the bingo hall, and the roller rink. No bars, no coffee shops, no music venues or art galleries to be found. Also, walking between locations is possible (especially now, in the summer), but even in the summer is moderately uncomfortable to do with extreme winds and a complete lack of paved roads or sidewalks. Moving here, I have changed all of my out-of-the-house activities drastically, and from activities I considered to be befitting of my age and temperament to activities which feel unbefitting to my age.

My only social activity is a weekly knitting group, which I happen to love, but still—an activity conventionally thought of as for old women (though yarnwork and other stitchery are presently not unvogue among young women—google “knitting blog” for example). I go to work from 8:30 to 5:00pm every day, the monotony of which routine is both comfortable and mind-numbing, a sobering truly adult experience. At work I am treated with respect and given tasks which both utilize my mental capabilities and whither them. It is lovely to feel respected at work, something I feel my age has not truly afforded me in many of my other recent positions. However, this additionally makes me feel as though I have aged (a catch-22 in that overcoming the respect factor I feel as though I have overcome age, when I am still young). Perhaps I should celebrate this accomplishment in the workplace in itself without reading age into it.

Occasionally I help out with programs for children at the public library, which my sister is in charge of. Though I have volunteered with children for most of my young life, using my free time to be with them creates further feelings of adulthood. I go out to eat with a couple friends occasionally, and every once in a long while I have drinks with friends at the house, but it does not feel as festive as going out somewhere. It feels like co-alcoholsim (though it’s not often enough to actually be). I know that a lot of parties are always happening with the young people in town, but (young though I am), getting trashed at random people’s houses every weekend is not exactly my idea of a good time. See above notion of co-alcoholism. However, perhaps I should be trying out more of these as opportunities to meet other people my age. I know that I have been shy.

Since my out-of-the-house activities have differed so drastically, I have tended to stay at home, where my at-home activities have not changed much from past lives. I still like to read, cook, watch movies, write, sew and crochet &etc. The lack of tempting activity outside of the house has led me to turn completely inward, where I can at least maintain those aspects of self. One difference is that I have felt the need to self-educate much more than I ever did living elsewhere: reading, studying for the GRE’s, watching Sister Wendy dvds and looking at art books to try and keep up with art history. Even if the rest of me is withering, I have endeavored to keep my mind a living thing.

A major signifier of self which I feel is rendered irrelevant in Barrow, AK is dress. Though I do believe that physical appearance is never the only self-identifier, it is the first thing that people see, and as someone who delights in visual culture, I have always enjoyed wearing things which made me an individual in my own eyes. The weather in Barrow is quite extreme. Currently, it is the summer season and everything is melted—we are enjoying global-warmingly high temperatures around the 50’s and there’s no snow—but the unpaved roads are rutted and muddy and the winds are still rather fierce to be out in. Physical apparel is almost completely weather-related here, with good reason. In temperatures as low as 70 below with the windchill in the winter, a wool coat and ballet flats are what you wear if you want to get frostbite (even only walking to and from cars!). In the summer period, it is not sensible to wear anything you don’t want to get mud splattered on, as the town is a soupy mud bowl. So, in comparison to my past lives, instead of putting on mascara and a dress I made myself to go out and see live music, I am putting on boots and a heavy jacket to go to the grocery store or knitting group.

Also, since 40-45 hours of the week are dedicated to work, my workwear is predominantly my life-wear. For work I am required to wear professional-looking things, which in general are fairly homogenizing, on purpose. I still have the option to personalize these things as much as I can, but I do miss the life of a student and the ability to look as disheveled as I’d sometimes like. A lot of the home-made or altered clothing that I enjoy wearing in Bellingham is just not suitable for the workplace, and definitely not suitable for the Arctic. The adulthood of dressing like a professional all the time additionally makes me feel old and boring. Perhaps what I am actually resisting here is not old age, but adulthood.

Iñupiaq women young and old, and a lot of white women in town as well, wear beautiful home-made shirts and shirt-dresses called atikluks. There are also male-versions of atikluks, but mostly I see them worn by women. These are very beautiful, with decorative trim, in bright highly-patterned prints. I see that other people in town use these to express themselves and identify themselves with Iñupiaq culture, but as an outsider, I have not really had access to these. I could either have a nice Iñupiaq lady sew me one, or I could pay exorbitant amounts at our one fabric store for a pattern and the fabric to make one myself (which I am considering, honestly). But, as an outsider to the culture, I have been hesitant. After all the myriad ways that white American culture has infringed on their way of life, maybe I should not be allowed to wear an atikluk. Or maybe wearing them is a sign of celebrating Iñupiaq culture, which I think is probably the general notion. They are lovely and aesthetically, I want one! Is it conformity to want to assimilate in some fashion to the culture of the place you’re living? Is it weakness of self to not pursue my previous ways of dress whole-heartedly though I’d look crazy and I already don’t know anybody? My answer so far to these questions has been to dress for necessity alone, in work clothes or Alaskan-weather gear, both of which make me feel old.

I think my age-identity problems here stem from the fact that my previous methods of social self-expression are either not possible, or simply very different from my experience here, and so the things I can imagine to do in their stead are old-people things. There are other methods, belonging to the different culture amidst which I have chosen to reside, but I am still trying to feel those out. Especially when I know I won’t be living here forever, it is hard to branch out into a new community. Coming from larger urban settings, I am used to community involvement not being necessary in order to feel lively and young.

The Iñupiat Heritage Center is full of wonderful artistic and historical artifacts of the Iñupiat people, and features occasional cultural showcases and activities for them. I have not spent a great deal of time there, though as an art gallery, it is something from my past life of young activity that I could technically perpetuate here. I have definitely looked through the few galleries and attended some Eskimo dances, but I have not gone in weekly or anything (that would probably be seen as fairly odd as no weekly activities are held there, to my knowledge).

If you do not act young or dress young, at least by your own estimations, are you old? Perception affects and creates reality, but how do we define the age we feel ourselves to be and therefore act out? I have defined my aging factors as activity and physical appearance. But, not being able to see myself as others do—seeing my body as fragments below me, draped in clothes out of necessity instead of creativity (as my fragments used to be), not seeing the young person’s head on top of that body without a mirror—perhaps I am exaggerating my limited viewpoint of my dead physical appearance to an unnecessary degree. Although, all the very friendly Korean restaurant owners in town say I look older than my sister, who is five years my senior, so maybe it’s time to start buying the wrinkle cream.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chinks of resistance/an excuse to showcase some artists I like while commenting on the forever foreigner syndrome and psychoanalyzing race.

Cherry blossoms, kimonos, servicing Asian women, Buddhism, and happy ancient rural villagers. To limit our exposure to the dirty, uncomfortable, nuanced experiences of race, a few entertaining yet convenient signifiers of Asia summarize each country and sometimes, the whole continent. The entertainment industry inflects meaning of ethnicity and cements the divisions of race. In Jean-Louis Baudry's psychological exploration of film, “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus,” he writes that discontinuous elements--differences--must be removed to sustain an illusion of continuity, because filmmakers strive to provide the "ideal vision." If the goal of film and television is the prevention of deviations from the norm, certainly the dominant practice of casting main character Americans as WASPs with a few requisite stereotypical nonwhite characters effectively renders any other American as abnormal.

Furthermore, this stereotyping of American homegrown values and looks (the self) defines who is outside (other) to the domestic identity. For examples, when a brown or yellow person is depicted in a popular film, he is perpetually, due to a different complexion or eye shape, seen as foreign and therefore other to the normal way of being American. With the rendez-vous of previously isolated countries, each race has fantasized about the other. For example, the circulation of early Japanese photography taken by German, Dutch, and American expatriates
and later, Japanese followers, depicted samurai, geishas, public bathhouses, and staged seppuku, those elements of the culture that were most appealing to a Western exotica-buying market. Over 100 years later, however, the same motifs show up in film, because these ideas of Japan are still bestsellers.

Compare early Japanese tourist photos with stills from The Last Samurai:
189-? Kitchen (Preparing Dinner)


Women preparing food
What’s the difference? The Japanese in The Last Samurai appear to be aware of the Westerner present (Tom Cruise), so that’s a step forward from the staged idea (i.e. a false ideal of Japanese preservation of antiquity although modernity was rapidly occurring in Japan) of the absent Western gaze in the 19th century photo.

189-? The Farmer Planting the Rice Spronts


Tom Cruise checks out village life
No one could deny interaction between Japan and the U.S. today; the former picture, again, frames the Japanese tidily separate from a Westerner; in the latter, the camera follows Cruise as the Japanese man trails behind and listens to
Cruise’s identity issues while other Japanese work the farm.

According to an ideal vision of cinema, popular movie representations neglect to depict cultural differences within and between countries. Despite the existence of Japanese Americans since the birth of film in the 19th century, maintaining the “ideal vision” of a homegenously WASP America required Tom Cruise to play the lead role in a film purportedly about samurais. Filmmaker Kjell Hansen, having first been excited about the idea of a samurai epic, was utterly disappointed by the casting choice of Tom Cruise: "I decided that The Last Samurai was more along the lines of misguided, preposterous, and arrogant...The impression left by the trailer might appeal to those to whom the idea of living in a samurai village with a submissive wife fulfills a certain fantasy of romantic, pastoral purity. The magical transformation of Tom Cruise into the champion of a foreign people also fulfills a power fantasy. To quickly ascend like he did, Cruise must have had something special quality the other warriors did not have." I could not have said it better myself.

Another popular film featuring the character(caricature) of Asia, Memoirs of a Geisha, cast well-received Chinese actresses Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li as Japanese geishas, despite China's resentment of Japan over the Pacific War and Nanking.

1999 Random House cover (predating the 2005 movie)

Note the book cover's sepia-coloring to make it look more antiquated and the testimonial: “You are seduced completely.”

19th c. photograph

Additionally, parts of Golden’s tale are loosely based on a real-life 20th-century geisha, Mineko Iwasaki, who according to Wikipedia, “felt betrayed by Golden's use of information she considered confidential, as well as the way he twisted reality…[she] denounced Memoirs of a Geisha as being an inaccurate depiction of the life of a geisha.” The reiteration of Far Eastern culture as it was in the past, written and directed by non-Japanese separates these films from Japanese experience, and titillates an American imagination while reinforcing the ideal American as Tom Cruise, and the ideal Asian as an exotic, black-haired, small-eyed foreigner, with no regard for national or cultural differences or the possibility of black-haired, small-eyed people being local and NON-exotic. Consider this reviewer’s ease in believing Memoirs: “What is most surprising about this book is [not] that the author is male and American but that he writes so vividly and accurately through the eyes of a woman in another time and place.[emphasis added]” People can indeed be seduced by the ideas of antiquated customs in a foreign land, whether it represents reality or not.

In contrast to the above examples, when Asians and Asian-Americans represent themselves, they eschew a presentation of an exotic, century-old image of beautiful women isolated by impotent men. Two artists reclaiming their potency, Roger Shimomura and Yasumasa Morimura, display a keen awareness of their racialized Asian male bodies, usually viewed as impotent and feminine, or not depicted at all (e.g. where is Gilmore Girl character Lane Kim’s father?). Morimura represents his toned body in every possible shocking way that upsets color boundaries. It is nude, it has a phallus, it is off-white, and gender shifts.

Yasumasa Morimura,Portrait (Twin), 1988

Morimura,Black Marilyn, 1996

Morimura, Psychoborg, 1994

His choice to mimic controversial boundary-crossers - - Manet’s black servant and non-idealized whore Olympia, Marilyn the iconic peroxide-blonde Norma Jean, and Michael Jackson, the late and great ambivalently-raced musician - - is telling.

Roger Shimomura, an American whose own government sent to an internment camp, paints not necessarily his own body but events pertaining to him and other Asian Americans. His depicted experiences speak to the wider experience of this group and the general feeling of being nonwhite in a country steeped in racial hierarchy and cultural collisions.

Roger Shimomura, How to Tell Your Friends from Japanese-Americans, 2000

Shimomura, Untitled, 1983. Metro Bus Tunnel @ Westlake Station.

**CHECK OUT a ton of SHIMOMURA's work on view now at the Wing Luke Asian Museum now (Sept 11th 2009 through April 18th 2010!**

Shimomura thus renders visible the injustice done to the collective body to which he is assigned by racial categorization.

Asian female bodies have been unable by and large to escape their perceived submissive and exotic otherness. This is a concept inscribed on her body against her will. Judith Butler writes of the process of becoming a proper subject, “I find that the only way to know myself is precisely through a mediation that takes place outside of me, in a convention or a norm that I did not make, in which I cannot discern myself as an author or agent of its making.” This inability to escape one's assignment as abnormal may account for the disappearance of the self-representational bodies of Maya Lin and Jen Liu.

Maya Lin, 2x4 Landscape, 2006, installed at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA.

Jen Liu, still from video Comfortably Numb, 2006.

Having an Asian American female body myself, I know how fun it may be for others, whether it's based on 2 Live Crew or Kubrick, to spout "Me so horny, me love you long time" at me and other Asian-looking female bodies, suggesting our subject-positions as foreign hookers. On the receiving end, it is annoying but not unexpected. Racial awareness has not relinquished its hold on me since this and other such comments have endured from childhood to the present day.

A similar sentiment might be felt by artist Maya Lin. Her abstract, nonfigurative design for the Vietnam War memorial (currently reproduced to view at Acacia Memorial Home on Bothell Way, north of Seattle!), did not have a name or face attached to it when selected. But when Ross Perot caught wind of her ethnic background he called her an eggroll: "When twenty-one-year-old Yale student Maya Lin won the competition for the Vietnam War Memorial commission, her profound design, with its black granite displaying a stark list of all the 58,000 Americans who died in the conflict and set into a gash in the earth, was controversial for more than its aesthetics. The selection process was anonymous, and the Ohio-born Lin was identified by only a number until her sketches were selected. Once her face was attached to her art, there were murmurings that she was the wrong choice because she was a 'gook.' For example, businessman Ross Perot, a major promoter of the project, frequently called Lin 'eggroll' and, according to press accounts, 'he hated that she was Asian.'(Wu, 93-95)" No wonder her art does not make a big deal out of her race (i.e. is non figurative of her own body), lest someone be alienated by its eggroll-iness.

New Yorker Jen Liu's art, equal parts American pop-culture and literary fantasy, depicts videos and paintings of Caucasian monks of a fictive ancient cult, and thereby is not directly related to her own body. When Liu's psychotronic work came to the Henry Art Gallery, I had a visitor (who undoubtedly made a point to notice my nonwhiteness) ask me for no apparent reason whether Jen Liu was "Oriental." He proceeded to tell me of his ventures and time spent in Asia, as though his appraisal of my race and her race gave him the right/need/privilege to discuss what he perceived to be Liu's and my shared exotic culture.

I propose that some young other(ed) children develop negative racial images of themselves when exposed to them frequently in media representations, in tandem with similar concepts that other children or adults provide and reinforce (verbally or otherwise). If we apply Jacques Lacan's mirror stage to the process of racial identification--how one develops a linguistic grasp of race, a racial psyche and a racial body--it occurs on a widely varying time frame, as opposed to the original 6-18 months of age. Before a child enters racialized language she believes all races are the same, "before language returns to [the child]...its function as subject." This pre-racial awareness stage is akin to jouissance, a union with all colors just as the Lacanian child is one with his mother before he can understand his separate subjectivity. Somehow during this phase I thought I was white like my classmates and resisted any attempts to demarcate me as nonwhite (the famed experiment with psychologist Kenneth Clark still holds true as of the current decade): I once received an Asian friend-of-Barbie, Kira, and refused to play with her as surely as I refused my own nonwhiteness.

During Lacan's mirror stage whereby the child begins to develop the mental image of a virtual form of his body--we could read this virtual body’s “different size” as a different race--the alienating destiny of his future is coming into place, a disconnect between his actual image and his ideal image, or I vs. his ideal-I. The soon-to-be racialized child, then, sees, for example, her chinky, slanted eyes but does not recognize their lower status than round eyes. Like the Lacanian baby, the racialized child perceives that she has mastered her defeat--she still views herself as having the chance of normativity. However, this is an illusion just as the child in the mirror stage perceives mastery over his movement and recognizes his image, but cannot yet control his regular body functions. Once a child learns to speak of her race she has entered the Nom du Pere, or for our purposes, the Law/No of the Patriarch--she is inculcated within the Symbolic order, a racialized subject. She realizes fully her place in the caste system of race and recognizes her difference from the ruling class. She cannot (as she fantasized during the mirror stage) look chinky while being socially normative. The early embedded imago, or external self-image, of whiteness is unattainable though she strongly desires it.

Going back to Baudry, if "ultimately...the 'contents' of the [cinematic] image are of little importance as long as identification remains possible," the developing nonwhite mind, forced to identify with largely non-nonwhite characters, cannot develop any fantasy image of herself other than white. A kid exposed to or coming from a background of engrained psychical racial hierarchy--whether it seeps into her psyche from familly, education, socialization, or entertainment--will begin to racialize her own body and set up her nonwhite body as less than the ideal-I as she is bombarded with imagery of desirable, normative whiteness. She cannot rise above her race in this situation.

Racially psychoanalyzing the aforementioned artists evinces a gender split in representational strategies. Morimura and Shimomura aim to negotiate their bodily position within the Symbolic Order, the order where race rules supreme, proclaiming a large YES! to the "No"s of Patriarchy that denies their manhood and status as a person with a pronounced racial identity, while Lin and Liu’s work, with the disappearance of their bodies, evoke the late mirror stage: due to circumstances beyond their control, they are forced by outsiders and art consumers to recognize their racial position, but their art does not even reference it (not that it should). What then, does the artwork of Yayoi Kusama have to say about her racial body?
Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli's Field (Floor Show), 1965-98.
Sewn stuffed fabric, board, mirror room without ceiling, 8 x 15 x 15 ft.

Check out her 1967 video Self Obliteration at the SAM through Sept. 7th!!!

It has no such concept of one. Her art, literally insane and therefore not bound to the Law of the Patriarch, refuses to recognize its “position” in any racial/sexual hierarchy. Her body appears surrounded by soft-bodied phalluses, comfortable, languid, but covered as to resist consumption or sexualization. The phallus forms are not colored to match human skin tones, rather they echo a preschooler’s color palette. Her nonsensical picture displays no distinction between race nor sex. The multiplication and all-enveloping nature of the picture plane with mirrors echo an infant’s sense of an eternal bond with the mother, as a child with other children before it gains recognition of such a thing as race. Kusama and pre-racial, pre-subjectified children are deliciously blissful.

While in some current media productions Asian-Americans appear as characters, more often than not, Asian-American actors and actresses play non-American foreigners, and sometimes, Japanese and Chinese cultures are equated as the same exotic distant backdrop (see for example Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer). Lacanian psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek theorizes that the jouissance of the real, unmediated other/nonwhite person is precluded by PC refusal to fundamentalize any skin color and thereby acknowledge her specialness (see bell hooks on the liberal belief in a universal subjectivity as a denial of rac(e)ism, (Dyer, 3)). Perhaps this same impulse to remove all undesirable recognition of difference, nonwhiteness, results in the lampooned, shallow characterization of nonwhites in television and film. That is, true jouissance of the other must be contained in order to be enjoyed, therefore you get sensational orientalism, tourist exotica, popular books about the East written in the manner of Memoirs and Last Samurai. The emerging appearance of American females in films who happen to be Asian is noteworthy but decidedly some combination of subservient, fetishized, in a nondesirable/short-lived position, or completely devoid of ethnic identity (see Rushmore, American Girl, Ally McBeal, Suite life of Zack and Cody).

Žižek suggests an implosion rather than the (impossible) destruction of stereotypes. Regarding the role of desire in racial limitations, he states that "desire is absence while libido-drive is presence." That is to say that a person who is being desired needs to be absent in order to be desired, while the incongruous, flawed, and sometimes ugly "whole package" of a real person, (a libido-drive) presents itself warts and all. Considering the absence of Japanese in the writing of Last Samurai or Memoirs, or in the aforementioned list of productions limited to one Asian each, clearly, any Asian or Asian American agency or libido-drive is saliently obscured. Žižek proposes that rather than erasing the possibility of racial difference, and thereby assuming everyone is white by default--or should be--that we can present the fallacy of the fantasy and the reality in their contradictory nature--to undermine the artifice of race altogether. This means that entertaining and moneymaking fairytales of race will continue, but taken with knowledge of versions such as Morimura's or Lin's-that upset the idea of the foreign exotic Asian, untouched by the West, but existing to be fantasized about by it.

Repeatedly recognizing one’s own non-normativity within a framework of the “ideal vision” of cinema, then, sets up the ideal-I as unattainable, as well as precluding a regression to a jouissance state of pre-racial nexus. Asians, Asian Americans, and nonwhites may internalize their position in the hierarchy if not nurtured to cherish their own ethnic background as beyond very shallow sidekick characters.

While we may be almost invisible in media productions or ignored/lumped together for entertainment purposes, this is not always how we see ourselves. Gene Yang, for example, displays the stereotype of a Yellow Peril type alongside the reality; Derek Kirk Kim’s graphic novels and Michael Kang’s 2005 film Motel, deftly depict the desire to be loved and accepted by whites and each other: while the Asian girl dreams of a white boy, the Asian boy dreams of her. These media thus answer Žižek’s call for an ethical artist who recognizes the disjointed fantasies of race. Despite our relative invisibility there are tiny openings (chinks) of resistance being created and shown. Asian roles may have been internalized and are continually consumed by nonwhites and whites alike, as indicators of our racial identities, but should one choose to question these stereotypes and look for truthful self-representations, instead of being caught up within the Symbolic Order of “No”s and impossibilities, we can transgress constructed but not constructive boundaries à la Morimura, or regress to a deliriously race-free insanity à la Kusama.


  • Baudry, Jean-Louis. "Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus." In Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, 355-365. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Butler, Judith. "Giving an Account of Oneself." Diacritics 31, no. 4 (2001):22-40.
  • Dyer, Richard. "The matter of whiteness." In White, 1-14. London: Routledge, 1997.
  • Guerrero, Ed. "The Rise and Fall of Blaxploitation." In Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film, 69-111. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.

  • Hansen, Kjell. "Lost in the West." 2005.
  • The Last Samurai. Directed by Edward Zwick. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2004. DVD.
  • Wu, Frank. Yellow: Race in America beyond Black and White. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

  • Žižek, Lacan. "Love Thy Neighbor? No, Thanks!" In The Psychoanalysis of Race, edited by Christopher Lane, 154-175. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
See Also:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

In the End Nothing Else Really Matters..or Does It?

Heidegger’s World Picture
Martin Heidegger argues: “The fundamental event of the modern age is the conquest of the world as picture.”

What does Heidegger mean by the modern age and the notion of the world as picture? What are the consequences of the world as picture? And why do research, technology and ordering play such a dominant role in Heidegger’s thought?

-What Heidegger meant by the modern age and the notion of the world as picture is central to his argument that a break with the tendency in the history of ideas to define each period by their “world view” or zeitgeist. Heidegger suggests that this should be taken as a symptom of the modern period’s tendency to reduce Being (Dasein) to a picture or image. The argument is related with the thesis found in The Question Concerning Technology that technology, as developed in the modern west, turns nature into a “standing reserve.” (Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, p. 19) Heidegger’s influential argument about the centrality of visualization for the definition of truth in the modern era that “the fundamental event of the modern age is the conquest of the world as picture” (Heidegger, handout, p. 9) explains that “the word “picture” (Bild) now means the structured image (Gebild) that is the creature of man's producing which represents and sets before. In such producing, man contends for the position in which he can be that particular being who gives the measure and draws up the guidelines for everything that is.” (Heidegger, p9)
-The consequences of the world as picture is that the symptoms of transforming all that is into an object apprehend as representation or as picture: science and mathematical physical science, the machine technology that rises out of physical science, art’s moving into the horizon of aesthetics so that the art work becomes the object of mere subjective experience of what is good taste, human activity is conceived and consummated as culture, and the loss of gods and atheism, so Christian doctrine becomes a “world view.” Heidegger stated that “this objectifying of whatever is, is accomplished in a setting before, a representing, that aims at bringing each particular being before it in such a way that man who calculates can be sure, and that means be certain, of that being. We first arrive at science as research when and only when truth has been transformed into the certainly of representation.” (Heidegger, p6) The subject arises through a process of representation of Being as a world picture. Heidegger argues that “the very essence of man itself changes, in that man becomes subject. We must understand this word subjectum, however, as the translation of the Greek hypokeimenon. The word names that-which-lies-before, which, as ground, gathers everything onto itself. This metaphysical meaning of the concept of subject has first of all no special relationship to and none at all to the I.” (Heidegger, handout, p. 6-7) But in the modern period man became the relative core of that which is, and this is only possible when that which is has been translated into a “world picture.” But what does this mean? “World” is a word for “what is in its entirety.” (Heidegger, handout, p.7) Picture is not simply a double, copy of simulation. Instead it sounds forth in the expression “We get the picture” or “to get into the picture” “(literally, to put oneself into the picture) with respect to what something means to position whatever is, itself, in place before oneself just in the way that it stands with it.” (Heidegger,p7)
-Research, technology, and ordering plays a dominant role in Heidegger’s thought because in order to regulate the methodology, an applicable model needs to be able to work itself out systematically. “The scholar disappears. He is succeeded by the research man who is engaged in research projects. These rather than cultivating of erudition, lend to his work its atmosphere of incisiveness.” (Heidegger, p5) The previous statement by Heidegger indicates this notion that the organization and structure of research, technology, and ordering heavily applies to metaphysics, ontology, cosmology and epistemology. But in addition, through this representation, “what is stands before us---in all that belongs to it and all that stands together in it---as a system.” (Heidegger, p.7) “Hence world picture, when understood essentially, does not mean a picture of the world but the world conceived and grasped as picture.” (Heidegger, p. 7) “Wherever we have the world picture, an essential decision takes place regarding what is, in its entirety. The Being of whatever is, is sought and found in the representedness of the latter.” (Heidegger, p. 7) Science (research) becomes an important shift: the modern age scholar (research) becomes a scientist. There is also a shift to technology (the device) as a totalizing and organizing form. It codifies how we see and establishes a hierarchy. Everything becomes a machine, a function of process. Research becomes limited by its own process.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The sooner we fail boys, the sooner we can go home.

The accidental sinking of Mike Bouchet's floating suburban home literalizes the collapse of the American economy. What really is to be learned from this is that the Biennale remains as much of an exhibition of American megalomania as it did when American Pop Artists first arrived in Venice in 1964.

The controversial 1964 "Biennale of Pop Art" had many critics, among them De Chirco who stated "Pop-art cannot be judged because it has nothing to do with art." French critics weren't nearly as kind as they prophetically claimed it a "cultural colonization". Alan R. Solomon, the exhibition's commissioner, rushed to the defense of Pop Art stating that Pop Artists "evolve a new aesthetic not out of protest, irony or revolt, but out of an affirmative desire to search the truth of the present reality ... in response to the wonder and delight of the contemporary American environment."

This time around, the Biennale, along with the rest of the world seems to be in the same sinking boat that is the contemporary American environment.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

What Really Grinds My Gears

Las Vegas is supposed to be the place where you get to misbehave and act outside of the limits of everyday respectability, without punishment. But do you really have all the freedom that you are promised as a tourist to Sin City? Just a brief look at its advertising and visual culture - - brochures, websites, billboards, commercials, tourist photos - -

reveals that the kind of entertainment Las Vegas endorses is specifically created to adhere to conventional notions of appropriate behavior for men and women. The idea that Las Vegas is truly the liminal space it's advertised as is highly suspect: it is merely an extension of normal, socially-constrictive space. As in everyday life, females are encouraged to become images devoid of content, a spectacle or sight to behold, while men are expected to consume these pedestalled images.

Popular images of women have become embedded in the collective social consciousness both in their consistency throughout time and within various media.
The ubiquity of such images attests to their long-term staying power, even if the general public does not actively agree with what the images signify. In his epic theorization of a media-based social life, Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord writes that all human and social life become appearance, and we are told repeatedly that what appears is good: “simple images become motivations of hypnotic behavior.” Hence, stereotypical images work on the human conscious at some level, whether it's encouraging impressionable youth to re-enact the images, or to continue sexist notions. Debord writes that the real world becomes superceded by imagery, and this process is closely related to the market-driven need to consume and want: "the fetishism of the commodity - the domination of society by 'intangible as well as tangible things' - attains its ultimate fulfillment in the spectacle, where the real world is replaced by a selection of images which are projected above it, yet which at the same time succeed in making themselves regarded as the epitome of reality." Therefore Vegas is an exemplary microcosm of our spectacular society and its official tourism website,, is a microcosm of Las Vegas itself.

Consistent with Debord's idea of social life becoming subsumed by images, the site presents enticing appearances rather than the complexities of reality. The result of this spectacular approach is the continued cementing of gendered roles. Each reiteration of a stereotype makes it that much more lasting. Specifically, Vegas advertisements encourage women to perform as a spectacle. In Las Vegas as elsewhere, a woman is obliged to become a desirable object for visual and physical consumption. Gender theorist Judith Butler explains that the site of performance, the body, becomes the battleground for ideological and gendered behavior: “the formulation of the body as a mode of dramatizing or enacting possibilities offers a way to understand how a cultural convention is embodied and enacted.” Thus the body becomes a stage on which we play out the cultural dramas that society dictates.

This is clear in advertisements for Las Vegas. Under a pretense of tourist freedom of choice, essentializes woman to concepts such as pink, narcissistic, sexualized, or
wearers of high-heels. This becomes problematic for a tourist or society member when she is punished for not conforming in the manner of Foucault's biopolitics, whereby the body can only perform certain behaviors within accepted societal conventions. The essentialization of identity, therefore, affects individual behavior, limiting possibilities to a few constructed gender fictions so that individuals become no longer individuals but stereotypes, actors playing the same role.'s game feature, “Be Anyone in Las Vegas,” presents a spectacular performance space for tourists. It depicts a dark black and blue background featuring glimmering gold, blue, and rainbow speckles, maybe to evoke the club scene or dance floor.

Recurring throughout this well-designed advertisement, gold tones represent wealth and power, and aesthetically complement the blue background. This feature's facile distillation of identity creates an easy escape route to a new-and-improved You; "Be Anyone" simplifies images such that, as Debord writes, "they become motivations of hypnotic behavior." According to the website, you can “Be Anyone” by allocating 100 points to five attributes: smoothness, style, bravery, attitude, and creativity. The front page highlights “BE ANYONE” and “CREATE YOUR IDENTITY” the most, emphasizing viewer control and giving the user apparent power and the motivation to proceed.

The site's system for naming your identity provides sexualized stage names. Names such as Ginger or Thor reveal a media-inflected performative aspect to the process, since the name Ginger recalls Gilligan’s Island’s sexy movie star, and the name Thor recalls the pagan god of thunder as well as a superhero character. These characters align with existing gender roles - - woman praised for appearance and performance, man praised for muscle and force. The game experience allows the user to pretend she is the character of her dreams.

One such alluring identity the “Be Anyone” feature produces is the Underwear Model; its results page presents a slinky pair of silver heels below a bathrobe; these appear regardless of your selected gender.
This association of femininity with a scantily-clad body underscores the concept that women, not men, are supposed to be commodities and a spectacle. Although the website proclaims that this and other scripted characters are only for entertainment, at the same time, “Be Anyone” provides “everything you need” to perform your new identity - - including printable business cards and a certificate of achievement, a sheet outlining how you should act, and even a 1-800 number that plays your false company’s pre-recorded message. No disclaimer appears on the business cards, cheat sheet, or certificate, meaning you could hand these out in Las Vegas and people might believe you are the Underwear Model you claim to be.

Perhaps the adopting of alternate identities is so appealing that a person will be inspired to come to Vegas and role-play as the site suggests. One interpretation is that the website game is a rehearsal for the performance in Las Vegas. For example, the 1-800 phone message encourages potential models to go out to the clubs because the imaginary modeling agency is out there watching. With this monitoring in mind, we act as though we are being watched/we play to the camera in case it's there/we perform under the glare of society's panopticon.

According to Butler, the collective set of acts that our bodies perform maintain binary genders as cultural fictions. The process of performing these roles further reifies their supposed existence. She also reminds us that acts and conditions are linked, and while individual acts cannot institute real change, changing the hegemonic conditions can. Therefore, this website’s reification of roles for women as desirable, consumable objects, contributes to the existing acceptable discourse of female behavior and limits the possibilities for autonomy from these roles. and the marketing of Las Vegas present the notion that a tourist can completely recreate her personality, but the gendered and limited identities that advertisements present prove otherwise. This post was inspired by my 2005 Las Vegas trip with a friend who wanted to perform her gender as a spectacular commodity. A few years before the “Be Anyone” campaign came out, this friend already knew “The Look” of the Underwear Model: hands on hips, pouting, and occasional poses. While the social patterning of female spectacular performance exists prior to and its features, by advertising that anyone can become their fantasy in Las Vegas, the advertisement creates a false illusion of freedom and contributes to the further limiting of gender possibilities.

  • Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution.” In The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader, ed. Amelia Jones, 392-402. London: Routledge, 2003.
  • Debord, Guy. "Society of the Spectacle."
  • Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Las Vegas – Features -- Be Anyone.”
  • Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “Las Vegas – Official Las Vegas Tourism Web Site.”