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Decolonizing Democracy in Time

Democracy as a conundrum of colonialism has been re-articulated in various historical contexts. In the 19th century, French poet Arthur Rimbaud writes: “Let’s drink to sodden and spicy places! –that promote the most monstrous industrial or military exploitation.”*1  His poem “Démocratie,” and especially its title, was an attempt to condemn an atrocity committed in the people’s name when it was actually masking “a genuinely bourgeois regime,” and the inauguration of colonial power.*2 In the contemporary context of India as a postcolonial nation-state, Partha Chatterjee, the eminent scholar of the Subaltern Studies Group, argues, “The framework of global modernity will,…inevitably structure the world according to a pattern that is profoundly colonial; the framework of democracy, on the other hand, will pronounce modernity itself as inappropriate and deeply flawed.”*3 Looking at the democratic movements in Taiwan after the lifting of martial law, the leading intellectual figure Kuan-Hsing Chen proposes a “de-Cold War” schema, in which he argues that these democratic movements are the cultural results of Taiwan’s engagement with American imperialism, which was characterized by its right-leaning, anticommunist tendencies and pro-American agenda.*4 The origin of democracy, as examined by Jacques Rancière, also was constituted upon “a nature order of things according to which assemblies of” those, who are entitled to exercise their governing power over those who has been categorized as governed.*5 Whether or not Taiwan’s Sunflower Student Movement, which occurred from March to April 2014, could be claimed successful as the defeat of the pro-unification Kuomintang and the overwhelming disillusionment with the current ruling party, the People’s Progressive Party, the romanticized discourse of democratic movements inevitably lost its relevance, as evidenced especially by the ideological violence of populism and the gradually carnivalized mass mobilizations in the era of the collapsing welfare state. Having in mind Antonio Gramsci’s proposal for countering hegemony, … Continue reading Decolonizing Democracy in Time


In Other Guises: Art and Politics in Singapore

Given the history of its governance up to this present moment, authoritarian control has evolved from Singapore’s agonized past to its manifest destiny. The consequences of power and the foreclosure of opportunities and spaces for freer embodied expressions shape cultural productions and its receptions. At the same time, questions about the difficulties and complexities of artmaking become the signal moment in every other engagement by artists from Singapore with their audiences abroad. Artists are transformed from makers and creators into country representatives called to account for the spectre haunting the island, the spectre of censorship. While the questions are understandable, even inevitable, the dominant influence of state power seems to produce only binary expectations of possible responses; they are either collaborationist or oppositional, either a socially or politically-oriented artistic practice or an art that submits itself to visual or dramatic pleasure. As though the preponderous agenda-set by the state limits the artists’ and audiences’ imagination on how artists can address, or embody the impact of the political power for and on those who inhabit this place. Bunny by Daniel Kok and Luke George The dancer and choreographer Daniel Kok, in close collaboration with the Australian artist Luke George, spent time together in Japan and separately afterwards, learning the art of shibari, or Japanese-style tight binding. To this central repertoire of erotic bondage, they added nautical styles of rope knotting and macrame weaves, among other rope manipulation techniques to create a two-hour long bondage-installation involving the binding of objects, their own bodies as well as the audiences’. The production was first developed in Beppu Project Japan, previewed at the Substation and premiered at Campbelltown Arts Center, all 2015, before embarking on an ambitous tour in 2016 that saw performances in TFAM Yokohama, Abrons Art Center New York, and OzAsia Festival Adelaide. … Continue reading In Other Guises: Art and Politics in Singapore


In Search of a New Tokyo Commons

If Francis Fukuyama and his ilk were to be believed, the era of -isms was supposed to be over and we would all be living in a paradise of liberal democracy. Things, as we now know, didn’t quite turn out that way. Like a zombie hydra, the -ism is back with a vengeance. Faced with all these variant extremes clashing together violently on the screens of our televisions and mobile devices, what can ordinary citizens do? I would like to suggest we take some hope in the renewed interest in the commons that we are seeing around the globe. The commons refers to the shared resources accessible to each and every member of society, whether that be digital resources like the Internet, cultural and intellectual assets like books and libraries, or natural resources such as water, air and land. The Occupy movement sprung up around the world in September 2011 in protest at the way the finance industry and banks had been bailed out with taxpayers’ money, despite having destroyed the global economy, and allowed to continue their rule over “the 99%”. They spoke to the new anger of the Millennials, who were waking up to the realisation that they would never experience anything like the future comforts that their parents’ generation enjoyed. Occupy started in New York, but the people who took over Zuccotti Park were far from the first of their breed. A short glance at history will reveal countless earlier examples. In fact, according to thinkers like David Harvey and Henri Lefebvre, the most vital and effective use of the commons can be found in cities – and these can become revolutionary movements. But Tokyo is not like most cities. Why is the commons in Tokyo so elusive? One tempting answer perhaps lies in what Donald Richie … Continue reading In Search of a New Tokyo Commons


Art that Shapes Dissensus, and Its Experimentation and Demonstration

The debate about what the arts contribute to society may well have picked up pace in the UK in the second half of the 1990s under the New Labour government with the aim of securing more public funding, but in Japan it was the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which was sparked by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, that proved a major opportunity to share this inquiry. While in the former case, the debate gave a boost to socially engaged art dealing with concrete issues in society, for the latter an urgent feeling of helplessness propelled not only artists but many people working in the arts to examine social problems more than ever before. In fact, Japan was already engulfed by a wide range of social problems, including depopulation in rural regions, an aging population combined with a declining birth rate, the economic crisis, energy problems, and irregular employment. But the exposure to such an immense disaster led to works of art that both introspectively attempted to locate these social problems and examine our society as well as works of art that interpreted social problems and re-examined them historically, in addition to endeavors to uncover social connections in the art of the past. On the other hand, we have also seen the relaxation of the ban against arms exports under Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan government and the nationalization of the disputed Senkaku Islands (Diaoyutai Islands), as well as, especially after Shinzo Abe returned to power, a shift further to the right in regards to foreign and security policy, resulting in a conspicuous rise in nationalism. Conservatives have been the constant critics of postwar democracy in Japan, and the revival of things such as the family and sense of community that they say have been lost due to postwar … Continue reading Art that Shapes Dissensus, and Its Experimentation and Demonstration


What Is Theatre?: A Question for a Democracy of Senses

A notable number of internationally significant works in the 2000s seriously unsettled and questioned the fundamental conditions of theatrical representation, renewing what once fueled the ardor of modernism: self-reflexivity. Most compellingly pronounced in work of Jérŏme Bel, William Forsythe, and Rimini Protokoll, among many others, a set of questions concerning the on-stage presence of the body and the spectator’s perception of choreographed or dramatized presentations proposed different means of conceiving theatrical communication. After all, as Hans-Thies Lehmann has suggested, the modernist interrogation that had invigorated visual arts in the 1950s and onward had until the 1990s hardly been explored on stage with full efficacy and vitality. More than reinventions of style or form, these influential works reworked the very apparatuses of audience, spectatorship, and the senses, all involving the architecture of the auditorium. Far from the reductive concentration on a single material, which characterized the practices in fine arts at the height of high modernism, the on-stage examination of the “medium” of theatre now involved multiple layers and aspects of theatrical practices, material or immaterial, architectural or sensory, immediate or discursive. Unlike painting or sculpture, theatre is not a “medium” of which the defining elements are reduced to a singular material; the question of theatre is bound to involve not only the formal elements like scripts, actors, or mise-en-scène, but also the material and immaterial conditions that constitute the theatrical experience, namely the varying components of the theatrical space. To say the least, reinventing the apparatus of looking entails the reformation of senses. As the etymology of “theatre” infers, going back to the Greek word “théâ” (to see, to watch), thinking and “seeing” are indeed interrelated. Theatre is a total practice of structuring, restructuring, and reconsidering the contexts in which we construct our perspectives upon the world. It is in … Continue reading What Is Theatre?: A Question for a Democracy of Senses



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