AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 428

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Session 428: “Bad Haunting” in Contemporary Asian Art in the “Post” Era

Organizer: Jiayun Zhuang, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

Chair: Jenny G. Lin, University of Oregon, USA

Discussant: Michelle Y. Lim, Princeton University, USA

Contemporary Asian art is often marked by responses to perceived historical legacies and burdens of colonialism or to more recent socialist pasts. Representations of collective memories, personal histories, and national traumas appear frequently in today’s Asian art as subtle specters that haunt the work, questioning the present by lingering on the past. This panel examines a series of contemporary art projects — postcolonial works that invoke the memory of Shanghai's semi-colonial modernism, a postsocialist exhibition that reinterprets “Red Memory” in response to hegemonic globalization, a Japanese manga that reconfigures the Hiroshima bombing, and an artist’s investigation into the phantom narratives of Historic Filipinotown. These projects all touch on the survival and failure of dominant popular memory and explore new artistic tactics that create excessively haunting returns of unresolved historical events. The idea of “Bad Haunting,” inspired by Douglas Mao and Rebecca Walkowitz’s term from Bad Modernisms, intends to bring forth a polemic form of haunting labor, to radicalize the problematic of the relationship between past and present, and to invoke the social and individual anxieties around unsettled socio-political relations and historical contradictions. The mission of this panel is to identify unorthodox, if not dissident, mnemonic mechanisms that gradually emerge within Contemporary Asian Art “in the post (post-World War II, post-colonial, post-modern and post-socialist) era”. This panel is experimental in nature – crossing disciplines, geographies and time periods as it brings together scholars of contemporary Asian art history and performance studies and a visual artist from Asia.

The Ghosts of Semi-Colonial Pasts in a Globalized Present: Art and Luxury in Contemporary Shanghai
Jenny G. Lin, University of Oregon, USA

Shanghai’s historic waterfront, the Bund, was once a British-controlled center of China’s earliest international banks and trade venues. Today, its turn-of-the-twentieth century neoclassical and art deco colonial buildings promise new cosmopolitan lifestyles in designer boutiques and the apex of global cultural refinement: the Shanghai Gallery of Art located in the concept complex, Three on the Bund. In this swanky colonial building revamped by architect Michael Graves, contemporary Chinese artists display works that haunt and are haunted by the Bund’s past of imperialism and international trade, while negotiating art’s role as luxury exchange item today. Xu Bing’s Tobacco Project (2000), which charted the history of the British American Tobacco Company’s movements between Shanghai and Durham, for instance, created a timely comment on historic US-Sino trade relations. Likewise, sculptor Liu Jianhua’s Import/Export (2007), which repackaged garbage sent to China from developed nations and exported it to foreign art collectors, leaned on the historic space to remind gallery visitors of global inequities across time. In 2001, artist Cai Guo Qiang presented his APEC Cityscape Fireworks show, which paired Shanghai’s semi-colonial past (as imaged in the historic Bund) with its global present (represented by APEC’s sponsorship and the iconic postmodern skyline of the Pudong New Open Economic Development Zone across the Huangpu River). By analyzing case studies of contemporary artworks set against the backdrop of the Bund and the tricky memory of China’s semi-colonial modernism, this presentation asks how artists today grapple with Shanghai’s sudden re-emergence as a global capital by inviting the ghosts of the city’s semi-colonial past to haunt their contemporary works.

Barefoot Gen: Popular Media, Memory, and Narrative in Post-War Japan
Stephanie Su, Bard Graduate Center, USA

This paper explores the intersection of the rise of manga as a popular medium in post-war Japan and the reconstruction of wartime history through a case study of Barefoot Gen: a Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, a series of comic books by Keiji Nakazawa (1939- ) from the early 1970s. A resident of Hiroshima, Nakazawa endured the atomic bombing of his city at the age of seven and the subsequent diseases and deprivations. Based on those experiences, Nakazawa recounts the story of a boy who grows up during the difficult time before and after the atomic bomb. By examining the visual and textual strategy in Barefoot Gen, this paper argues that the representation of a troubled history signifies Nakazawa’s effort to return to the haunting past in order to forget its atrocity and achieve catharsis. Nakazawa goes beyond a narrowly personal history by positioning all the characters in larger social and political contexts, which meaningfully exposes how politics shape individual lives and how individuals struggle against hegemonic politics. For Nakazawa, manga’s capacity to combine temporal and spatial reimagining of the past serves as an effective tool to transmit subjective experiences and thus subvert the official narrative of a selective history.

Phantom Narratives in Place Making: Claiming Space Through Mobile Media in Los Angeles Historic Filipinotown
Reanne Estrada, Independent Scholar, USA

Though Filipinos are the largest Asian population in the city of Los Angeles, the community and its issues struggle with visibility. In 2002, the City Council officially designated Historic Filipinotown (a.k.a. “Hi Fi”). At 20 letters, it currently boasts the longest sign of L.A.’s neighborhood designations, a point of pride by certain boosters. Nevertheless, it elicits the all-too-common question, “Where is that?” followed soon after by “What’s Filipino or historic about it?” With few cultural or physical markers, the area is better known for its proximity to the 101 Freeway and as shortcut to downtown than as a cultural nexus. And yet, permeating the non-descript buildings, now-empty lots, and commercial strip malls are countless memories and stories that, taken collectively over time, have coalesced into that Historic Filipinotown sign, the embodiment of that desire to be acknowledged, seen. How do you reveal a neighborhood’s evolution over time, claim space for a community seeking visibility and generate meaningful dialogue about how to shape the future of that contested place? This presentation focuses on the social practice project Mobile Hi Fi, a collaboration between Public Matters, the Pilipino Workers’ Center, HyperCities and UCLA REMAP. Mobile Hi Fi uses mobile media to claim that space, engaging local residents in the process of giving these phantom narratives digital form. Users can traverse Historic Filipinotown through time, experiencing the neighborhood through geo-coded narratives of its past and current residents accessible through multiple platforms: GPS-enabled Nokia tablets, on PWC’s Jeepney, and on Los Angeles Metro buses.

Left Hand and Right Hand—Waving from the Past in the Post-Socialist Factory
Jiayun Zhuang, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

In an interview commenting on his enormous statue of “Mao’s Right Arm”—the central piece of an exhibition held in Factory 798 entitled Left Hand and Right Hand, which presented installation and sculptural artworks by fifty Chinese and German artists—the artist Sui Jianguo calls the stretched-out arm a specter silently “haunting the exhibition space.” For this exhibition, curator Feng Boyi encouraged artists to search for alternative responses to hegemonic globalization by investigating and reinterpreting the socialist and revolutionary memories. In response, Sui produced the super-sized “body piece,” which, albeit based on the right arm of the artist himself, was immediately turned into the most prominent historical signifier in the factory space. It not only evoked the image of the famous sculpture of Mao standing and waving his right hand, but also inevitably reminded the German artists of another haunting salute. In Left Hand and Right Hand, remembrances and bad hauntings proliferate. Focusing on these case studies, this paper will tackle the ways in which visual and physical effects of emptiness and the sublime are enacted through contemporary art to retain the lingering presence of “Red History.” I will also consider the exhibition in light of the post-socialist political and cultural milieu as China's socialist past still remains a haunting presence in the collective unconscious today. This paper will examine how contemporary artistic vocabularies attempt to establish a “universalizable” emotional discourse and an ideological alternative to globalization, paradoxically via China’s unique trajectory of revolutionary and socialist modernity.