Asian City, Nomad People

r:ead Director
Jow Jiun GONG

After participating in r:ead #2 in Tokyo, in December 2013 and March 2014, one of the impressions I got is that, due to the histories of Imperialist war and colonization, it was not very easy to discuss the connections among East-Asian regions. But since we have decided to relocate r:ead #3 from Tokyo to Tainan city, I have changed some thoughts about it. My thoughts are now directed to Asian cities and nomad people living there.

In his book As If in the Speed of Walking, Japanese film director Koreeda Hirokazu said, ‘For the people who settle down in one place, those who are named “moving people” or “drifting people” are always others who hold distinctive perspectives of religion, techniques, medicine or diseases and arts.’ Meanwhile, he focused on the raison d’être of mass media and emphasized that although ‘through the contact with non-settled people, the culture of settled people may become more mature. But for those in power, who always aim at assimilation and security of settled people, the existence of moving/drifting people is always a threat, hard to control.’ Thus he claims that ‘mass media, including radio broadcasting, should try to become like nomads. Its permanent task is to keep on criticizing the inside from the outside to make the society of settled people mature even more.’ (translated from Chinese) It is true that the mission of r:ead is neither constructing itself as a platform for mass media, nor acting as an exchange center of artist-curator flâneurs in Baudelaire’s sense. R:ead #3 may be an opportunity for us, in a speed of walking, to revisit Asian cities and nomads who live there. Then we could rethink of the divergent modernity under the East-Asian context.

But why do we focus on nomad people? Because those who move and drift in Asian cities now consist of foreign workers, migrant workers, immigrants and foreign spouses, etc., for all kinds of causes. And the globalization and neo-liberal economics have accelerated the speed and a sequence of their cross-border migration in recent two decades. If we look backward the long history of stationing troops to open up wasteland, colonization, Imperialist wars and Cold War ideology, they also caused different kinds of migration for the purpose of expansion, but also for freedom.

The same perspective proposed in Karatani Kojin’s book The Origins of Philosophy has formulated the importance of immigrant society with ‘nomadness.’ In elucidating the constituting conditions of ‘Isonomia’, a politico-economic regime in ancient Greece, Karatani Kojin said, ‘Why did Isonomia begin in the cities of Ionia? It is because the immigrants of these cities overthrew their original tribes, clans and their traditions, and abandoned the restrictions and privilege in the past to construct new contracts of oath-alliance and community. While such polis as Athenian or Spartans consisting of clans oath-alliance and community retain traditions of the old clans, those traditions cause the inequalities and class oppositions in polis. If someone wants to realize Isonomia in these cities, it would amount to no more than Democracy, which means the principle of the majority domination.’ In other words, if the democracy is kidnapped by the politicians, families in power and influence, big financial groups or ignorant of the origins of inequalities and class oppositions, the so-called representative democracy politics will be nothing but the politics of majority domination. The minority sitting on the representative chairs may in fact reflect the dissidents of powerless people, drifting people, moving people, lower level workers, foreign workers, immigrants or general citizens. Their dissidents then would be impossible to enter into actual politics agenda.

In the recent movies of Taiwan, for example, Malaysian director Ming-lian Tsai’s Stray Dogs and Burmese director Midi Z’s The Palace On The Sea, which were worked out and based on the experiences in Taiwan, represent the complicated situations of nomad people in Asian cities. These movies elaborated the energy of new and divergent narratives, which at once reminds us the emerging power of nomad people’s marginal existence and variant possibilities of contemporary art in Asia. These ways of creation will be the focus of East-Asian Dialogues in r:ead #3 in Tainan city.

Should we revisit, in the name of contemporary art, the Asian city context of nomad people’s traces and voices that once eliminated and silenced by the violence of modern colonization, wars, Cold War or the logics of neo-liberalist economics? The answer is clear. So let’s walk out from our studios and study rooms temporarily, taking our steps and dialogues in the cities’ corners, outlining the emerging stories that are hidden in the city and developing new forms of narratives.

From Tokyo to Tainan:
An East Asian Communication Platform

r:ead Co-Director
Chiaki Soma

Now in its third year, r:ead (“Residency, East Asia, Dialogue”) will consist of a gathering taken from Tokyo, Japan to Tainan, Taiwan. Jow-Jiun Gong, a curator who participated in last year’s r:ead program, will assume the role of Director with the support of Tainan National University of the Arts. Continuing on as Co-Director, I will be handling project management, as well as working alongside the joint Tokyo-Tainan administrative team in order to further develop r:ead into a platform which will allow for seamless communication between artists in Taiwan, China, Korea, and Japan.

Presently, the r:ead program centers upon three core objectives. First, r:ead is bound to “East Asia,” a geographical region we frame linguistically as all areas in which Korean, Chinese (Mandarin and Taiwanese dialects), and Japanese are the primary languages of use. Secondly, we place no restrictions upon artistic modes of expression in order to promote an innovative space where all artists and their partners (curators, theorists, etc.) may come together to openly share their work and ideas. Finally, the emphasis of the r:ead program is not simply for artists from East Asia to collectively churn out polished works of art, but rather to enable these artists – from nearby spaces and similar generations – to learn from one another’s artistic processes and experiences. The focus of r:ead is not upon the quality nor quantity of artists in the program, but rather for these artists to engage in an open and informative dialogue about their research, their artistic processes, and their beliefs about the current systems of valuation which permeate festivals and art markets. This collective deconstruction of the creation, distribution, and valuation of art should allow artists to gain fresh and valuable perspectives about their work, and it is upon this rational that the r:ead program was created and will be further developed in years to come.

For the previous two r:ead programs, 16 artists and curators from Korea, Taiwan, China, and Japan gathered in Tokyo alongside East Asian language interpreters and countless staff members. These two residency periods spread over a month’s time culminated with intensive dialogues conducted between four different languages. At the conclusion of the residency period, artists presented their completed projects and works, as well as new projects borne from the various connections and ideas derived from the program experience. Despite the growing political tensions between East Asian countries, the vast number of ideas, dialogues, and projects that sprung up as a result of r:ead prove that artists in these regions are successfully expressing themselves independent of their respective nation-states.

This time around, as a result of the various changes in Japan, the r:ead team has decidedly to quickly pack up and move operations over to the Tainan National University of the Arts. The very fact that r:ead was born in and is now separated from Japan due to the initiative of East Asian partners shows that the program has already begun to embody the borderless ideals upon which was it erected, and also powerfully indicates the future nomadic potential of the program across East Asia. As we aim to earnestly foster r:ead into an East Asian communication platform that will expand and diversify through independent initiatives, we also believe that this residence in Tainan will serve as a small step in the right direction. We truly hope that you are excited!

Finally, I wish to send my sincerest of gratitude to all of those individuals who have supported this year’s r:ead program despite the sudden move to Tainan. Thanks to the immeasurable assistance of the Tainan Ministry of Culture, the Tainan Ministry of Education, and the Tainan National University of the Arts – as well as those who worked tirelessly for the previous two r:ead programs – we have been able to create something revolutionary, together.