Critical Reflections

Critical Reflections article

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On Closing the Gap

From the late 1940s until 1989, the US-lead effort to contain communism and the subsequent anti-communist campaigns were the major force shaping and militarising subjectivity globally. And in East Asia, the Cold War has not ended 1989. This has become clear to me ever since I first visited the DMZ more than a decade ago, and even more so through recent collaborations and discussions with Chinese, Korean and Japanese historians, artists and intellectuals.

The subject of the formation of militarised subjectivities and the resistance against them has been explored in a series of works by Angela Melitopoulos in collaboration with Maurizio Lazzarato, which were first produced in the context of the exhibitions I curated such as “Animism” in 2011, and later for the Taipei Biennale and a recent exhibition on Gwangju, which is still on view until 2017. These works were not included in the 2014 Shanghai Biennale.

The ideological contours of the anti-communist campaign is well known, but in the West at least, there is little memory of the violence that was used to enforce this anti-communist agenda (aside perhaps from the Vietnam war - but is not that war too remembered more for the effect it had on Western rather than on Asian societies?). Today, only the ideological struggle and the victory of liberal capitalism persists in collective memory in the West. On the other side, the shape of memory is rather different: the anti-communist wars, and the military dictatorships that have been implanted in its wake have been well remembered until recently, inscribed into a continuity of Western assaults since colonialism and 19th century imperialism and a general conflict over modern identity under the spell of Orientalism. In a perverse reversal, it was opposition to this assault and its continuity on which Japan had built its claim for leadership in Asia, and its own imperial assault on its neighbours in the first half of the twentith century. In the second half, the postwar realities of Asia, with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and several Southeast-Asian States having become client states of the US, the solidarity between China and North Korea was crafted on the grounds of this opposition. It was shaped in the binary terms of capitalisms and communism, but beneath that confrontation was the older confrontation of Western colonialism that threw Asian civilisations into a deep and lasting crisis. China, in the course of events, has ever since been confronted with the challenge of building its ancient society anew, following the humiliating defeats suffered by the Qing dynasty in the opium War in the 1840s, and its final breakdown in 1911. At this time, the truth-value of the entire order of the imperial past had to be radically questioned, and truth, as “common good”, needed to be established on new foundations. The humiliation of colonial penetration in the 19th century fuels Chinese politics until today, even if in the eyes of the government the ”great revival of the Chinese nation" that was spired for in the last 200 years, seems now to be in reach.

Whatever one might think about North Korea - the very existence of this state is also a reminder of a history that dominant powers and subject-formations might rather want to obscure and forget (or leave as fuel to nationalist parties ready to be instrumentalized, or perhaps as templates for myths and identities that are allowed to make their second or third historical appearance as a spectacle or tourist attraction). And today, it appears that China is one of these dominant powers that sooner or later might rather want to dissociate their own official historical  memory from that of North Korea and its path of antagonism. Or at least define that legacy on their own terms. This is why the divided Korea is an open wound in which history lives on as a battle of imperial schemes and the tragedies of resistance.

It is perhaps impossible to say exactly what is going on in China ideologically and what defines its shifting relationship with both the West and North Korea. It is impossible because the country does not speak or think with one voice, and even the party does not. Yet it is clear is that the country has chosen a different path since 1978, and that it does not want to tie its fate to a nuclear North Korea. While there is no place here to discuss the diplomatic relationship between the two countries and the details of their ties and disagreements, it is clear that China has left the path of opposition and antagonistic resistance to Western and US hegemony at least on the surface, and has chosen instead the path of market assimilation and mimetic adaption to world capitalism as a strategy to revival and power, with considerable success.

So where is China heading? Towards a truly novel mixture of technologically-enhanced management and authoritarian government, fuelled by nationalist mythologies and traditions. China is following Singapore on the path of using Total Information Awareness technology and strategy beyond military aims, geared towards the creation of a cybernetically managed and surveilled “harmonious society”.[1] It may well claim that as an alternative form of democracy, this technology combines Mao’s “mass line”, recently revived by Xi Jinping, with the ever deeper market integration, as also pursued by the US and EU. In 2020, China aims at activating its “citizen score” - a credit rating score currently in its test phase run by Alibaba that eventually expands to all areas of life, aimed at nothing less than instigating virtuous behaviour in the Chinese subject.[2] The aim here is to measure and economise “trust” (similar plans exist  in Switzerland- where else?), and the president also declared that this “trust” shall act as a moral glue binding together the future Chinese society. Xi Jinping here puts his predecessors talk of “scientific development” and the “harmonious society” (hexie shehui), which were widely supported and yet perceived as “weak”, on pragmatic feet. Ideologically, he moves increasingly further away from Marxism with “Chinese characteristics”, while at the same time re-affirming Mao’s legacy. Yet this salvaging of Mao’s legacy, somewh at paradoxically, goes hand in hand with the revival of traditional Chinese culture and Confucianism - the very legacy that was, for more than a century, regarded as the key obstacle in Chinese modernisation, and blamed for its inferiority in the confrontation with the West.

When Xi speaks of the glue that will bind together Chinese society, his language echoes a long history of ideology and techniques of social engineering. In ancient Chinese history, the literati-bureaucrats, under the protection of the emperor and often in conflict with local aristocracy, were those who first turned the vast amount of peasants primarily attached to the bonds of kinship into a society. They did this primarily by conceiving large-scale engineering projects such as river dredging - indeed the Chinese nation was first crafted in ancient times in response to the floods of the Yellow River. These were conceived as measures to “control the ten thousand things” and “put in order heaven and earth”. This order is reflected in the macro- and microcosmos, starting with the self and reaching all the way through society’s institutions to the environment. Modernity de-railed this always precarious order of heaven and earth. If earlier, a key concern of the Confucian tradition had been the attempt to find a remedy for the persistent failure to “close the circle” and realize in social order the “oneness” of their cosmic vision, then this circle, and indeed any social bond, has been called into question in modernity. With the revival of Confucian “values” to official state doctrine that we are witnessing now, the time of this questioning, and hence of a certain modernity, appears to be over.

The ancient Confucian vision, today, seems to be within reach: but in the form of a mega-machine that is as “ecological” as it is Orwellian. And whether the Chinese population will go along with this new vision is indeed highly questionable. But what might be its ressources of reisting? We are currently witnessing the intensification of yet another genealogy: namely that ever since the ancient literati-bureaucrats China has produced an enormous quantity of documents, data and statistical analysis about its population. Long before the Western nations existed. Todays “Sesame score” is a continuation of this legacy in social engineering and the building of a state-machine, like the “China Brain project”, too: a massive undertaking in the quest of leadership in Artificial Intelligence for which China’s Baidu is teaming up with the government and the military. Billions of people, especially in China, use their cellphones as socio-metric sensors, and using this data, it is possible to make crucial advances in the understanding of human-machine interaction, big data analysis, automated driving, smart medical diagnosis, smart drones and robotics technologies for both military and civilian use, and so forth.[3] It is the authoritarian framework that gives the Chinese quest for AI a crucial advantage over its contenders like Google.

For the Confucian scholar, it was clear that there was a fundamental oneness in the order of the cosmos, and that this oneness ought to be reflected and realized in the social order. But they struggled acutely in realizing this vision of harmony, in closing the circle against the backdrop of the actually existing plurality – cognitively like rough waters on the open sea and socially, a persistence of “moral wilderness”: this is the rhetoric used by Xi today, which contrasts rather starkly with the rhetorics of Kim Jong Un. The awareness of this gap between their ideals of social order, and this wilderness within and without, crucially informed the ritual and routine of bureaucratic administration and attitude. The question today, I belief, is not so much the critique of “universal” values, but whether there is a future to that gap: because it is only in the awareness of this gap that the endangered dream of democracy can nest.

[1]          Harris, S. ‘The Social Laboratory’ Foreign Policy (29 July 2014);

            http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/...

[2]               http://www.computerworld.com/a...

[3]   http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/...

Parts of the e-mail conversation between Kyungman Kim and Sara van der Heide

From: Kyungman Kim 

Subject: Re: message for Kyung-man Kim 

Date: 4 Oct 2015 21:31

To: Sara van der Heide 

Dear Sara,

Thank you for your reply and links of your project.

I'd like to answer about your question.

I was an elementary school student when the Chun Doo-hwan regime had begun.

At that time, most old generation people hated the red color itself.

Even the red color was not banned by law, but it was not natural to wear red clothes or to use red color too much in painting.

Old people could be released from the red color phobia in 2002 because

the World Cup was held in Korea and there was a huge cheering party

who were wearing red shirts.

The old generation may have recognized the cheering party as a patriotic group.

Ironically, the moto of the cheering party was 'Be the Reds!'.

I guess the reason of the happening was from the Korean War and

socialization about it.

So many innocent people were killed brutally because they had been

regarded as communists.

And so much hatred toward North Korea was in the air

for many decades as you have watched my film and even now it is still

continuing.

When I was a student in the public education system for 12 years, I

had to learn about how evil North Korea was.

The name of the class was ironically 'the Moral' or 'National Ethics'.

When I was a high school student, I had to learn about the bayonet skills.

It was a regular curriculum of every man high school.

After that I had to enter the military service.

These are very common experiences of my generation.

And nowadays, the relationship between the two Koreas is worse then it has

ever been since 1991.

For many years, on the 15th of every month there has been an air-raid

siren for evacuation drill.

But we just ignore this and continue our daily life even though there is

still the possibility of a war.

It is not a good condition for happiness.

Many people are suffering for unemployment or discharge.

The labor law has been useless in Korea because even the government

doesn't obey.

Because of the anti-communism, the labor movement and social movement

have been blocked effectively.

Many people have been killed, jailed or fined.

You can imagine, what else is forbidden, when even the color red

itself is a problem?

And you can imagine, how can the mind and the thoughts of an individual be free under this system.

I like your ideas about your project.

And I wish my film can be useful for your exhibition.

I will wait for further process of it.

Warm wishes,

Kyungman

From: Kyungman Kim Subject: Re: hello  Date: 26 Feb 2016 16:01 To: Sara van der Heide 
Dear Sara, I hope peaceful days with you.  [------]  In these days, the Korean government wants to make the anti-terrorism law which will give unlimited power to the intelligence agency for surveillance of every smartphone, internet, and email without warrnat. Some members of the National Assembly are blocking with filibuster. But I'm not sure it can be blocked at last. Well I wish that the UN concern about the human right problems of the South as much as the North Korea. They have to care about the South not only the North. They have to make strong restrictions about South Korean government. But I know they will not do that. It is a serious discrimination. Anyway I will wait for your update of website. I hope the peaceful world in there and here also. Take care! Kyungman

Gabriele Stötzer


China und noch viel mehr


Ich staune die ganze Zeit. Ich bin in China. „Hinter der Mauer,“ wie ich den Liedtext von Wolf Biermann vor mir her summe, gegen dessen Ausbürgerung aus der DDR ich 1976 protestierte und dafür ein Jahr im Gefängnis war. So fing China an, mit der Mauer, die Ost- und Westdeutschland damals trennte und 1989 fiel.


Ein Kunstprojekt der südkoreanisch/holländischen Künstlerin Sara van der Heide für die erste Asia Biennale und die fünfte Guangzhou Triennale vom 12.11. 2015 – 4.10. 2016 hatten mich nach Guangzhou geführt. In der chinesischen Stadtbibliothek im alten Teil der Stadt hatte Sara van der Heide die deutsche Bibliothek des Goethe-Instituts Pjöngjang, die in Nordkorea 2004 eingerichtet wurde, nach Guangzhou transportiert und Künstler u.a. aus Süd- und Nordkorea und des einst geteilten Deutschlands für artistic contributions eingeladen. Mein Beitrag war von unserer Künstlerinnengruppe Erfurt Ende der 80er Jahre in der Zeit der DDR-Diktatur zu berichten. Ein Staat, der den sozialistischen Realismus als Kunstform vorgab mit dem der Sozialismus als Ideologie verherrlicht wurde. Wenn man etwas Eigenes produzieren und leben wollte, musste man in den Untergrund gehen, das hieß in privaten Wohnungen oder in Gebäuden der Kirche aufzutreten. Wir entwickelten Kunstformen wie Performances oder Modeobjektshows, die man schnell entstehen lassen und wieder mitnehmen konnte. Wir waren mobil bis zur Besetzung der ersten Stasizentrale am 4.12.1989 in der DDR, die 5 Erfurter Frauen initiierten.


Ich hatte durchaus die Idee, dass ich in China am rechten Ort wäre, um von unseren Erfahrungen zu sprechen. Flug bezahlt, Unterbringung in einem der besten Hotels im Zentrum der Stadt - was wollte ich mehr.


Aber als ich dort ankam, rief uns die Künstlerin Sara van der Heide in ein Hotelzimmer und sagte, dass wir aus dem öffentlichen Programm der Biennale gestrichen waren. Sie dürfe ihre deutsch-, englischen-, koreanischen- und chinesischen Broschüren nicht austeilen. Trotzdem könnten wir das Seminar durchführen, wenn die anwesenden Künstler sich kollektiv dafür entscheiden würden, jedoch ohne Werbung und chinesische Öffentlichkeit, nur für uns, das chinesische Begleitteam und die anderen Künstler der Ausstellung. Wir waren betroffen. Die Mauer in Deutschland ist nun 25 Jahre gefallen, trotzdem war das Gefühl von damals sofort wieder da, die Verbote, die Unterstellungen etwas Gefährliches zu sein. Dann begann die holländische Künstlerin Louwrien Weijers mit: „Keine Forderungen stellen und auftreten.“ Und ich spürte ein aus vielen eigenen Kämpfen und Überwindungen gewachsenes Selbstverständnis, das unabhängig von Staat und Religion alle Künstler ausmacht. In die Öffentlichkeit gehen und nicht aufgeben.


Die Biennale, an welcher Sara van der Heides Bibliotheksprojekt teil hat, wurde von einer jungen Chinesin in einem traditionellen eleganten chinesischen Kleid eröffnet, aber die eigentlichen wichtigen Politiker und Kunstorganisatoren standen in der ersten Reihe und waren nur Männer. Das kannte ich auch von früher. Vorher hatten wir in unserer Gruppe über Feminismus geredet. Louwrien Wijers meinte, dass sie keine Feministin wäre, sondern jede Frau alleine für sich stark ist. Ich sagte: „In eurer Generation war das so, ohne weibliche Vorbilder, Einzelkämpferinnen. Das ist in einer Demokratie möglich, aber in einer Diktatur überlebt man nur in einer Gruppe.“ Außerdem war mir der Begriff Feministin, neben Sexistin oder Psychopathin, mit denen man mich als Künstlerin der Untergrundszene betitelte, der angenehmste.


In dem Vortrag erzählte ich erst von der elementaren Kraft von Frauen, die ich im Gefängnis kennengelernt hatte. Alle Leidenschaften und Möglichkeiten zum Guten und Bösen, das in dem sinnenfeindlichen Sozialismus immer nur die anderen besaßen und damals hinter der Mauer beim kapitalistischen Klassenfeind saß, sind in uns, hautnah, bis ins eigene Geschlecht. Wir müssen selber dafür Verantwortung übernehmen, sonst regiert uns die Angst vor den und dem anderen und eine Verwirrung vor dem Moment der wirklichen Gefahr. Ein koreanischer Performer sagte in Guangzhou: „Wenn wir die Meinungsfreiheit zulassen, dann kommt der Kapitalismus.“ Wir hätten noch viel diskutieren können aber reisten nach dem Auftritt am anderen Tag zurück, froh dieser pompösen, sich selbst bespiegelnden Politik entrinnen zu können.


Aber China hat mich auf eine andere Art tief berührt. Durch die Begegnung und Erfahrung mit einzelnen Menschen. Chinesisch oder anders ausländisch - die Unbeirrbarkeit des Selbst, die Beugung vor den nun mal angetroffenen Umständen und die Achtung füreinander waren ein wichtiges Erlebnis für mich.


27.02.16

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