Art & Design

When Japanese Bodies Make Their Mark

by Liz on January 21, 2015

in Art & Design

1. 1961_Chijikusei Gotenrai

Kazuo Shiraga's Chijikusei Gotenrai
(1961)

If man came from mud, then Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga was the man who returned to its depths.

In 1955, using his half-naked body as his instrument, Shiraga dug into a pile of clay, constructing abstract, unruly shapes. This performance, later preserved as body sculptures, set the stage for his paintings, which he created with his feet, or sometimes by suspending his body from the ceiling.

1. Shiraga in his studio, 1960

Shiraga in his studio, 1960

The paintings will be on view at the Dominique Lévy Gallery in New York from Jan. 29 to Apr. 4, in an exhibit titled ‘Body and Matter.’

Alongside Shiraga’s moving body paintings, Satoru Hoshino’s finger ceramics will also be on display. For a refreshing change of pace, traces of the artists’ bodies, the source of labor, will occupy the space as much as the art itself.

A prominent member of the postwar Japanese art group Gutai, Shiraga (1924-2008) used his body toward what art historian John Rajchman describes as ‘social dis-identification.’ The act brought out the singular creativity of the artist, expressing individualism in its most raw, and therefore honest form.

It’s a beautiful concept. Shiraga, like his fellow artists, wanted his viewers to stir from their polite amnesia after war, surrender and occupation had transformed the landscape — and a new agenda socialized Japanese bodies for the nation’s next chapter. To that end he engaged in painting as an act that erupts violently from the artist’s body, guiding the gaze back to the power of flesh, blood, bone before it is labeled, packaged and categorized by outside forces.

But the question remains: even as Gutai as an art movement received recognition as an avant-garde event that challenged mass conformity, how much of Gutai was a result of similar movements in abstract expressionist circles in France or the United States? Did the movement correspond to a singular modernity, or did it branch out to new Japanese expressions?

There may be no definitive answer but perhaps one plausible explanation lies in Shiraga’s post-Gutai activities — which included a turn to Zen asceticism and his engagement in painting as a spiritual practice, where paint became emblematic of the artist’s ki, or spirit.

For more information on this upcoming exhibit, visit Dominique Lévy Gallery. (An opening reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., and a panel discussion with Koichi Kawasaki, Alexandra Munroe, Ming Tiampo, and Reiko Tomii, moderated by Professor Rajchman, is scheduled for Feb. 15.)

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2015 : The Year Of The Body

by Liz on January 20, 2015

in Art & Design

Photo courtesy of Tamara Černá

The body matters in modern East Asia because it is the driving force behind social formations in both capitalist and post-socialist domains. The body and ideas of the body are used to build order — and discipline the masses through the invention of individuality. Put another way, we are individuals because we possess bodies, and we decorate them according to our tastes. Never mind that the concept was not in circulation in the pre-modern societies of China, Korea and Japan, where hereditary rule or rigid class structures meant group form trumped most other forms of identity.

Because now, of course, individuality is everywhere and the way the body is imagined or regarded dominates lives. These lives are represented as ‘liberated,’ but in truth are subject to interiorized discipline that allows bodies to willingly surrender to other forces.

So why is 2015 the Year of the Body for Manifesto?

In part it’s because the rise of the body, and its role in the material culture of the Asia-Pacific, has been largely disregarded. The irony, of course, is that its significance presides over the economies and the emotional lives of those who utilize the inner and outer gaze to adorn their bodies, or stay sufficiently motivated to keep it in good health, whether out of vanity, or simply to stay in good condition in the workplace.

From time to time I’ll call out on instances where too much emphasis is being placed on the body, both in the female and male domains. Yet other times I’ll demonstrate how the modern Asian embrace of the body as a kind of secular temple – has and will continue to bring about new sub-cultures that may be unique to its geography.

Lastly I’ll keep readers abreast of global Asian celebrity culture, and how the faces and bodies of contemporary entertainment reflect changing ideals.

I might even blog about what they’re wearing, ask Seoulites what they think beauty means, or examine art that puts body and bodily anxieties at its center.

So stick around. It’s going to be an exciting year.

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Traffic Officer In Pyongyang, North Korea

For those of you in the news business — and maybe for some of you outside of it — North Korea just may be the gift that keeps on giving.

And, speaking of gifts, Chad O’Carroll and his talented news team at NK News in collaboration with Global Asian Culture is giving away one free 2014 North Korea Calendar — featuring the photography of Eric Lafforgue — to a lucky winner!

January NK news

So here’s what you need to do to enter.

1. Follow @nknewsorg and @GlobalAsianista on Twitter.
2. Tweet the giveaway (Enter to win a 2014 North Korea Wall Calendar from @nknewsorg and @GlobalAsianista http://tinyurl.com/otojylu)
3. Leave a comment in the comments section at the end of the post, telling us you entered.

September NK News

I will draw the winner on Thursday, January 2, 2014.

Have a Happy New Year!

[Photo Credit: Eric Lafforgue]

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Qingdao Beach | Katharina Hesse

by Liz on April 28, 2013

in Art & Design

About a year ago, I was immensely lucky to interview photographer Katharina Hesse for AsianTalks, and speak to her in length of her work with publications like TIME and Newsweek. Her projects have taken her to Bangkok, around Asia, and recently to China’s northeast where she has photographed North Korean refugees who are fleeing the DPRK.

For those of you in New York curious to learn more about Hesse’s work, there is a special exhibit at the Open Society Institute that will be on view through December 13, 2013. Hesse, along with several other globally situated photojournalists will be featured as part of the Moving Walls exhibit, with works addressing a “variety of social justice and human rights issues.”


I’ve always been a huge fan of Hesse’s work, because even beyond weighty subject matter she fluidly captures the essence of a place, and particularly China. These black-and-white photographs of an urban beach in Qingdao, Shandong province, were taken in August 2010, which I imagine is the height of some kind of beach season in China. To me, they exemplify what Hesse does best.


Hesse never subtracts from what’s already there, but neither does she embellish her subjects. For the photographer and her lens, subjects, light and composition are all sufficiently captivating, an observation that humbles a more blase viewer into renewed appreciation.


It’s been argued in some circles Chinese contemporary art is defining China and inflecting Chinese reality as much as it is being affected by it.

Here — I’d argue Hesse’s photography does the same for a quotidian beach in Eastern China.

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Laowai-Foreigner | Kraine Gallery

by Liz on September 21, 2012

in Art & Design


At reception night at Kraine Gallery's exhibit 'Laowai-Foreigner,' visitors were allowed to touch and interact with some of the art.

What’s the latest connection between China and New York?

After visiting the ‘Laowai-Foreigner’ exhibit at Kraine Gallery in the East Village, the answer was pretty clear. It’s art.

Curated by Cory Dixon of the New York Academy of Art, the tiny corridor nestled on the second floor of a walk-up building on East 4th street showcased seven artists: four Americans and three Chinese who participated in what Shanghai-based curator Rachel Marsden called a “Micro Residency of Art programme” over the course of 11 weeks.


In China, the term ‘Laowai’ is often used to refer to foreigners, and specifically Westerners who take up residence in China. Depending who you talk to, the term has different connotations. An editorial in the People’s Daily online refers to it as a “good-humored nickname,” a Wikipedia entry considers it “a casual and fairly neutral word.” In other circles the word is a cynical slang when used to refer to an alien or a foreigner.

Sven Muentel, a German expatriate based in China, offered over Twitter that the term is “neutral…just what people here say. You get used to it.”

But perhaps to reclaim what to some is a debasing epithet, the ongoing exhibit puts this Mandarin word for foreigner front and center in what the curators call a “visual conversation…that span(s) the globe from East to West.”

As I walked through the short-lived hallway and its red walls, I couldn’t help but notice the transcultural nature of the works. Just as Marsden writes the works were a display of a “love of low tech, hand crafted, image-based practices,” Nicolas Sanchez’s Moleskine sketchbook (seen below), lovingly filled with precise, ballpoint drawings of various personalities – both Chinese and Western – provided a gratifying illustration of her words. The works of other student-artists also provided measured metaphors of the earliest stages of transcultural negotiation and exploration.

Beautiful drawing by artist Nicolas Sanchez


On September 19, opening reception night, the exhibit invited a young and eclectic crowd of artists and art lovers. The adjacent KGB Bar buzzed with a growing crowd waiting for the screening of Andy Warhol’s ‘Made In China’, filmed in 1992 when the New York-based artist traveled from Hong Kong to the Forbidden City in Beijing.

So while there remains a great deal of uncertainty wrapped around the word ‘Laowai,’ it’s also a universal kind of uncertainty that accompanies the change and shift of identities in our world.

And for these New York artists who traveled to China to be both inspired and challenged by their new environment, their art and reflections speak for themselves.

‘Laowai-Foreigner’ exhibit at Kraine Gallery is running from September 19 to October 19, and features the works of artists Nicolas Sanchez, Megan Ewert, Kristy Gordon, Wang Yi, Huang Zhe, Cory Dixon, and Ian Cao. For more information see Kraine Gallery.

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Portraits in Taiwan | Brenda Zlamany

August 2, 2012

The human gaze is a powerful thing. I realized this the other day as I was watching a video featuring MIT Professor Sherry Turkle as she spoke of the emergence of sociable robots. These imitators look you in the eye, gesture in friendship, and practice face recognition, that last piece of trivial technology now the […]

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Global Asianista’s Week in Review 5.20.12

May 20, 2012

@The Diplomat reports the Obama Administration has appointed its first Ambassador to Burma. Derek Mitchell, an inside-the-Beltway native, will be America’s ambassador to Burma, the first in 22 years. Or as President Obama put it poetically: “As an iron fist has unclenched in Burma, we have extended our hand.” @TIME Magazine reports there’s a war […]

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Live From New York, It’s Liu Bolin

March 17, 2012

True to form on a warm spring day, Chinese artist Liu Bolin disappeared into his background: toy shelves stocked with Disney characters manufactured in China. I’ve blogged about Liu before, so if any of you are curious about some aspects of his art, and why he keeps awing the world with his Invisible Man series, […]

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Do Ho Suh | Lehmann Maupin Gallery

October 30, 2011

Many Americans think of Koreans in the United States as diligent and capable newcomers who adjust quickly to their host country. Different, yes, but in a nation of differences and diversity, Koreans are just another stripe of color in an ever trendy mosaic. Do they have reservations about the new culture they must adapt to? […]

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Asiafied NY: Issue 4

September 30, 2011

When I first started this blog, I must have been tremendously naive, or at least under the impression that Asian-y events in New York were manageable, at least from a writer’s perspective. Of course, now I know better. New York is positively Asiafied. It’s actually a challenge to curate great places and people, and reduce […]

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