Tag: Japan

Ginema Growls

by on Sep.20, 2011

A couple of days ago, Joyelle McSweeney & Johannes Göransson started blogging about their experiences in the Tokyo Poetry Festival. They were particularly struck by the haiku performance artist Ginema ギネマ, who takes the traditional form of haiku and explodes it, performing in strange, new, often funny, often terrifying ways—turning it into dramatic performance art that screams out from the stage with a ragged voice.

There is a modern tradition of this kind of performance in Japan, although not in the haiku world, which tends to be dominated by people documenting small, quiet passings rather than powerful, dramatic sentiments. Many of Ginema’s poems are in modern, colloquial Japanese—not the stilted, restrained classical Japanese that one usually finds in haiku.

The kind of “modern tradition” I am thinking of has to do with the theater of experimental playwrights who started writing about the lowest classes, outcastes, and social misfits since the 1960s. There are several figures who were important in this movement, including Shūji Terayama 寺山修司, who is just beginning to be studied in the West, but the one that seems closest to Ginema’s sensibilities is Jūrō Kara 唐十郎, a writer whose characters scream from the stage in overly dramatic, exaggerated ways that can swing from the absurdist to the touchingly poignant within a few short moments. Kara’s plays are mangaesque performances, full of exaggerated voices, absurdity, and vibrant explorations of sexuality and gender that would humble even the mightiest of queer theorists.
(continue reading…)

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by on Dec.02, 2010


Just heard some blogger say “pedagogy” into his phone. This place is like a webinar for cool dorks but I’m here as like a favor. I’m in the meatpacking district at this mixer thing. I’m so bored I start itemizing all the ways I’m bored for fun. Ask this guy about his new API like it’s going to solve the death problem. What this place needs is failure. I can’t think of anything more political. I’m feeling I need to end this end user experience and just start rubbing up on people like they do in Japan. Just go literally balls out like I’m taking the short bus to school.

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Self-Portrait in a Gas Mask

by on Aug.05, 2010

How to Use a Gas Mask Made in the Former Soviet Union 旧ソ連製ガスマスク使用方法 by ISHIGURO Kenichirō 石黒賢一郎

The recent posts about sexuality and interority have made me think of ISHIGURO Kenichirō 石黒賢一郎 (1967- ), a contemporary Japanese artist who works largely in large-scale paintings and pastels. I first heard his name recently at an exhibition called “The Aesthetics of Existence” 「存在の美学」 at the Osaka branch of the Takashimaya Department Store.

His paintings and drawings are lifelike to the point of being photographic, and since they are usually life size, they have a powerful sense of presence. (Many of the friends to whom I have shown these images immediately assume they are photographs.) Among his most striking images are portraits of people wearing gas masks, some of whom are naked women. In these images, he takes a symbol of modern murderous excess—an image that has special resonance in our era of fear of chemical weapons—into something fetishistic that incites curiosity, interest, and perhaps even desire on the part of the viewers.

Sexual State Experiment 「性態実験」

This is especially clear in the pastel drawing “Sexual State Experiment” 「性態実験」 which shows a nude woman standing in front of a gynological table and a board covered with gags, handcuffs, ropes, a flogger, and other SM gear. (Excuse the poor quality of the thumbnail reproduction, the only one I could find online.)  While ostensibly, the drawing depicts an experiments to test the naked woman the artist has depicted, it also tests us, as we gauge our reaction to the provocative image before us. Are we turned on by this work and its playful, sexually charged image, with its post-Abu Ghraib conflagration of sexuality and war? If we are not, then why not? Is their problem with laying claim to such aspect of our sexuality? Its subject is as much us as the woman on the page.

At the same time, the people in the gas masks are also hiding, as if keeping safe from us and our scopophilic gaze by a barrier of anonymity. What does it mean to have a self-portrait concealed in a gas mask? The subject is reduced to a body that is seemingly vulnerable and endangered, yet its interiority is put off limits, resistant to interpretation and identification.

Ultimately, I wonder if what we see in Ishiguro’s work isn’t really ourselves. While we gaze at the mask from the outside, we find ourselves imagining ourselves donning it from inside it as well. We look, and at the same time, we are visually cut off from the face of the person inside. Meanwhile, that interruption just makes us think all the more about our own act of looking.

For Ishiguro’s website and galleries, click here.

Self Portrait

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