Monday, October 28, 2013

Techno-animism in Japan: Shinto Cosmograms, Actor-network Theory, and the Enabling Powers of Non-human Agencies

Techno-animism in Japan: Shinto Cosmograms, Actor-network Theory, and the Enabling Powers of Non-human Agencies Casper Bruun Jensen and Anders Blok Theory Culture Society 2013 30: 84

Jenson and Blok produce a rather lengthy article that discusses the influence on Shinto and Buddhism on Japanese culture, especially technology. They discuss how Shinto can be interpreted as a form of animism, where spiritual qualities or souls are projected onto inanimate natural objects.  But how can this idea be transferred onto modern technology?  They suggested Shinto helps us rethink the modern world. (97) How can such a spiritual belief fit in with modern technology?

They discuss medical researchers, conservationists, animator Miyazaki Hayao and robotics as modern examples of Shinto influence.  The Japanese see no distinction between non-human in nature and non-human in technology. In Shinto everything is capable of holding spirit.

They suggest the new interest in ecology and the preservation not just of humans but of the whole environment, including non-humans hints at a relinking with religion.

Aesthetically pleasing landscapes may inspire a sense of awe in humans; as may, indeed, the surprise encounter with an attractively strange and playful robotic creature like the AIBO-the-dog. Pg 105

They talk about Japanese Anime ability to move from human to non- human to robotic to spirits to animals or polymorphous perversity.  Traditionally Japan has a more generous spirit towards robots and cyborgs. He introduces the term techno-animisim as coined by Anne Allison in Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination.

He mentions how it is very difficult to trace back the history of Shintoism and also it's relationship with Buddhism.

Aesthetically pleasing landscapes may inspire a sense of awe in humans; as may, indeed, the surprise encounter with an attractively strange and playful robotic creature like AIBO-the-dog. Pg 105

Six Names of Beauty CRISPIN SARTWELL

Six Names of Beauty  CRISPIN SARTWELL

Seeing as Wabi Sabi is a difficult term to understand, I thought including as many different interpretations as I could will add to my understanding. I quite like Sartwell's as listed below.

But let’s focus on two other terms: “wabi” and “sabi.” These merge into a single aesthetic or kind of beauty—wabi-sabi—that is related both to shibusa and to yugen, but which has a different emotional tone. Wabi is most directly translated as “poverty,” and initially in its history had all the negative connotations of that state. The life of the peasant—hard, humble, and bare—is wabi. Wabi as an aesthetic term refers to the sort of roughness that one might find in a peasant hut: to everyday, inexpensive wares, to things still in use long after they are worn and cracked. Wood for the fire is wabi, as are the stone hearth and the fire itself. Wabi as beauty is humility, asymmetry, and imperfection, a beauty of disintegration, of soil, autumn leaves, grass in drought, crow feathers. For such reasons, an appreciation of wabi is an affirmation of the world and a certain sort of refusal of its transformation for delectation. Wabi as an aesthetic is a connection to the world in its imperfection, a way of seeing imperfection as itself embodying beauty.
      Sabi means “loneliness,” again originating in a word that is largely negative. In part, one might think of sabi as the subjective state that is appropriate to the experience of wabi: a kind of desolation or meditative depression that can be sweet. But it also refers to solitude both as a state of aloneness in persons and as a spareness of objects. Japanese flower arrangements (ikebana), for example, can have a sabi quality in comparison with Western styles, because they deploy extreme economy of means, perhaps only a few stems, with as much emphasis on a branch or leaf as on a blossom. Sabi is a quality of stillness and solitude, a melancholy that is one of the basic human responses to and sources of beauty. Loneliness arouses a yearning for companionship, but it is also something that can be relaxed into or, perversely, continued in the face of opportunities for its relief. Pg 102

His interpretation gets quite deep when he defines it as transcending the meaning of beauty and ugliness and of ordinary and extraordinary. That beauty can be seen in ugly objects and that something quite everyday can be extraordinary. It takes a certain kind of shift in our thinking to recognise these qualities, especially if we have grown up in a society that values perfection, straight lines and man made materials. He talks about making peace with ugliness. I liken it to falling in love. At first you may find someone unattractive but once their inner beauty has swayed you, they start to become more physically attractive. Likewise a beautiful person can become quite ugly if they have a unattractive personality. How can we make the inner beauty of an ugly object come out for all to see and appreciate?

On further reading I was interested in the discussion about Japanese gardens and ikebana. I have always enjoyed including plants into my artwork whether they were deliberately designed as a planter or if they included plants to enhance the artwork. I plants ans nature as another element to the work. Finding the right plant was a process that could take some time. Like looking for the right colour paint or cutting a piece of wood to size.

The same is true of Japanese gardens, and of ikebana, the art of flower arrangement. Rikka, the most ancient of the styles of ikebana, is designed to capture a landscape in a vase. The vase represents the source of life in earth, and is itself made of earth. The surface of the water represents the earth’s surface. Pebbles and foliage systematically correspond to landscape elements, and are designed to create a perception of indefinite depth.  Pg 108

THE JAPANESE MIND Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture

THE JAPANESE MIND Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture Edited by Roger J. Davies & Osamu Ikeno TUTTLE Publishing Tokyo   Rutland, Vermont   Singapore

In the text there was an interesting discussion about the how the modernisation of Japan has had an effect on Japanese thinking. The Wabi Sabi term stemmed from poor Japanese monks exploring the arts with humble, simple, cheap, natural materials. The whole process had a connection with Zen Buddhism and meditative discipline of mind.

Japanese culture today is highly industrialized and is quite affluent, especially compared to earlier times. Modern life and technology may contribute to the misunderstanding or ignorance about traditional cultures, religion and art forms.

I recently spent some time with my Japanese friend Maki and we discussed the idea of Wabi Sabi. For one thing there is no direct translation for English. Then she agreed that there was a whole history and nuance that was hard for her as a modern Japanese person to understand as well.

A materialistic society is perhaps opposite of what Wabi Sabi stands for. In the text they discuss that Wabi Sabi goes deeper than just surface value.

Originally, wabi and sabi were used to express the dissatisfaction of people with the difficulties of their lives; however, attitudes toward such unfavorable conditions changed under the influence of Zen. Such feelings were transformed as people began to contemplate what exists beyond manifest existence, and wabi-sabi began to play an important role in the arts as an ideal sense of beauty. Wabi-sabi is not “apparent beauty” or “atmosphere”—people can recognize these qualities only through inner contemplation which is felt unconsciously in the heart. People used to live simple lives free from materialism and had the opportunity to cultivate a sense of unity with nature. The modern Japanese lead more luxurious lives but need to realize that these lifestyles were built on other values that should not be forgotten. 229

It is interesting that out modern lives with more technology and materialism but with less nature can make us lose understanding of the Wabi Sabi meaning. I am wondering if there is possibility for a new contemporary Wabi Sabi aesthetic to evolve? Listed below from the Bibliography are the terms defined from Ohbunsha Kogojiten (Dictionary of Archaic Japanese Words, 1988.)

1. Wabu: to worry or be pessimistic, to feel lonely, to be perplexed, to be reduced to poverty, to enjoy a quiet and deserted state. Wabishi: lonely and unsatisfactory, deserted, hard and troublesome, shabby and poor, uninteresting, unbearable (Ohbunsha Kogojiten, 1988, p. 1254).
2. Sabuhas two related sets of meanings: (1) to lie in waste or go to ruin, to feel lonely, to get old; (2) to rust, to become weaker or fade, to have an elegance that comes from aging. Sabishi: quiet and lonely, discouraging because of a lack of necessities (ibid., pp. 551 & 552).

I am interested to explore in my artwork a contemporary Wabi Sabi that still evokes the above meanings but perhaps with more modern materials such as the cement I use that evoke modern day building materials with faded paint and bright colours seen in Japanese advertising. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

jaakko pallasvuo & jake and dinos chapman

I got back last week from a short 2 week trip to Germany, Spain and a few days in Prague. I had a great time and was going to do alot of reading on the plane, but was still not feeling well and ended up just watching lots of trashy movies. But there were a few good shows I saw and two that I felt was related to my research.

I'll start with Finnish artist, Jaakko Pallasvuo who was part of a group exhibition called Startpoint: Prize for Emerging Artists at the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague, Chech.
Pallasvo's work Reverse Engineering,2013, stood out for because initially it was a digital video to be viewed on the internet. Then it drew me in with it's continually changing content. It reminded me of a blog with lot's of highly personal content. He talks directly to the web cam and even gives instructions to the viewer about making such videos. He discusses computer gam levels, art, film, interent, live journals, production and insecurities. He sound such as an annoying pop song and voice overs of men and women. The imgaes are of him talking, computer generated character talking, crude 3d computer graphic images and video games. He uses a few simple video effects to keep the work interesting. 

Next i saw a big show of Jake and Dinos Chapman at Galerie Rudolfinum in Prague. Very grotesque but the anthropomorphic kids were quite interesting.

jaakko pallasvuo
Reverse Engineering
Galerie Rudolfinum