Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Auf wiedersehen


Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Monday, February 18, 2008


I met with R. a few weeks ago to discuss a project of mine that seems to exist as an indefinite work-in-progress. The crux of the problem is that I can’t figure out what it is about which I want to write. I’ve been ruminating about this for nearly a year now. Yes, it will be about feminist art. Scratch the initial idea I had from May 2007. R. advised me to start from “the center.” No, that wasn’t a cheesy Judy Chicago reference. He suggested I look at an archive and let my argument (or evidence?) emanate from the contents of that archive. The thing is that I am simply not attracted to any one archive. (At least not right now.) I don’t even know how to approach some archives, especially the ones that are filled with objects and materials that number in the thousands. What am I looking for? How can a thread be sewn between a document in box one and an object in box three hundred and fifty-one?

(It’s funny that to hear myself say that, as all I did after college was look through old stuff in order to publish new stuff. Ha.)

These questions came up during a discussion J. and I had over the weekend. She’s in her fourth iteration of searching through this potter’s archive. “This time is completely different; I’m looking at the stuff with a new lens,” she told me. I’m still a little confused.

We talked about a collection of other fascinating things relating to our discipline, as well. We pointed out the strange affinity that some Asian women scholars have to write about rather “conservative” things like Minimalism and airy-fairy theory. I noticed this pattern but I didn’t really feel like interrogating it. I mean, is this observation beyond the project of art history? Well, on the second thought, not really. There’s something there that’s a little more insidious than it appears on the surface, especially after the rise and fall of the whole multi-culti discourse that happened in the 1990s. And do I agree with the “fall” of the multi-culti discourse? Is it really a fall? Did it start with the roster at the 1993 Whitney Biennial and some of those horrible Fred Wilson exhibitions in the early-to-mid 1990s?

(Cue: I still need to read that October interview with the editors from 1993. Oops.)

I have to be honest in that I absolutely recoil at a lot of scholarship that seems to talk about things that are “dirty.” And no, I’m not being racist here. There are certain veins of scholarship that are definitely tainted. (I used the word “pariah” to describe scholars who participate in this brand of scholarship.) The work that is celebrated is, for lack of a better adjective, clean. I may be a little too presumptuous here, but I feel that “clean” scholarship talks about safe things. For instance, why is Kienholz’s work acceptable and funny while say, some of H.’s (I am going to avoid naming people who I pan!) cheesy, sentimental, and just plain ‘ol narrative? Why, goddamnit, are these characteristics bad and why do I, as someone who regards herself as a bit of a “controlled” radical, continue to perpetuate the relegation of “dirty” work?

While J. and I agreed on these same points, I felt totally bad about having them. I felt like I was berating the very thing that has captured my interest—the marginal, the status of the subjugated—from day one. “No, it’s all right to have an opinion, and there’s no way you can defend these opinions with hard evidence. This isn’t science,” J. opined. She’s right. This is not an “I feel” kind of thing. It’s the sense I get from understanding the lay of the land of the discipline through shit, years of interfacing with it. If I want to base a paper on this type of observation, I can! And yes, I might not provide convincing evidence by way of hard facts, but I can collect enough similar opinions to form a consensus in support of my argument.

Actually, it’s funny. Driving on the way to my parents’ house this evening I thought back to what R. advised me on: To start from the archive. I went back to the list of omitted artists for the show I worked on and remembered one that really stuck out. The artist was a Taiwanese woman who painted bananas in the late 1970s! It piqued my interest because I thought that was such a strange image to paint within the context of Asia or China or Taiwan during the time. I’m not sure what informed her to paint those images. The style was definitely not still life and it, in fact, had a bit of an Andy Warhol/Velvet Underground album cover feel to it. I remember asking the artist about the painting and she insisted that it had absolutely nothing to do with feminist art. Funny since it has been historicized (albeit meagerly) as painting with feminist undertones.

So I guess this is where I’ll start. There is a little bit of everything in this project. It involves a body of work that is a tad devoid of politics, which might allow it to the side on the end of “acceptable” while it flirts with the obscene, which makes it a little “dirty” and politicizes it. I wonder what the conservative art historical camp would think about my topic. But really, why should I care? S. put it the best way on Saturday: “Every time I hear people speak, I realize more and more that they are full of shit. I am comforted by the fact that I’ll probably be full of shit, too.” We can all live in a harmonic pool of shit.

On a side note, I'm glad Z. convinced me to rehash this blog. It does serve as a good outlet for me to flesh these thoughts I otherwise wouldn't document anywhere else. Thanks [pants] for being such an attentive and appreciative audience. :)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Parce que . . .

you encourage me. :)

Saturday, February 09, 2008


"Work and thinking that does not employ and subscribe to traditionalist scholarly archives and methodologies are increasingly viewed as being utterly without merit. Work that attempts to index the anecdotal, the performative, or what I am calling the ephemeral as proof is often undermined by the academy's officiating structures. This is true despite the fact that, on the level of publishing and not much else, alterity is currently in vogue." - José Esteban Muñoz, "Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts," Women and Performance (1996), 7.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Peng Ang

Things I'm wondering:

Why doesn't Edwards endorse a candidate already?! Is he out of his mind?! Some Republican dropouts were at least smart enough to rally behind the leader (McCain)! Why aren't the Democrats as strategic?! C'mon people, this isn't about pride, this is about preventing World War III! McCain's going to wreak havoc throughout the world if he wins! Do you really want that?!

Maybe I shouldn't make this point more visible than it is, as it may give more reason for hardcore conservatives to side with McCain, but the dude's pretty against abortion. He's not really in the grey at all about it. The conservative right tends to dismiss McCain for his supposed moderate tendencies, but the truth is McCain leans rather right on the conservative lynchpin issue of abortion. Shhh, just don't tell them that!

On a totally unrelated note, Happy Chinese New Year! Many families that live in my apartment complex are lighting incense for the occasion. My mom called me yesterday imploring me to return home for a celebratory dinner, but I simply couldn't. I gave preference to work over family stuff. I didn't feel too guilty in the past for privileging work over non-work, but I did this year. I've always thought about the conflict of living as an Asian participant in a Western society while maintaining traditions and roots that are still connected to Chinese practices. I would sometimes think the conflicts were exaggerated or that they didn't really exist--that, as an Asian person, I just "made up" the issue to scrutinize the range of my criticality.

My regard for Chinese New Year brings this issue to the fore. The Western calendar does not accommodate a new year beyond that of January 1. Since it does not designate days off for religious holidays that span other religions (Chinese New Year is closely associated with religious practices), I then have to abide by the demands of the default. That translates to Chinese New Year falling on a normal work day. In a small sense I am forced to choose my "western" identity as that of say, a graduate student, over my cultural identity while those who identify as Anglo-European in the west (duh) enjoy the convenience of having their identities coincide with normative practices.

I'm not really saying this is a problem, per se. It's more an issue of being aware of the fissures and disruptions in how things are supposed to work. And indeed I'm looking at this through the perspective of a Chinese person living in the United States so it's specific to this case. An American living in China would obviously encounter the same conflicts, except reversed.

In any case, my neighborhood is beaming this time of year. I saw a little toddler dressed in festive garb--red silk coat with a little black cap--on my way back from my biking excursion this morning. I'm not a huge fan of children, but it was just so absolutely lovely to see that kid play while his grandparents watched him. Witnessing that sight reminded me that Chinese New Year doesn't exist only as a dumb Facebook application. Rather, it's totally real and sacred.

(You can swallow your barf now. :))

Thursday, January 31, 2008


I heard Terry Gross’s interview of Adrian Tomine on tonight’s edition of Fresh Air. The interview brought me back to high school. A nerdy friend of mine introduced me to Tomine’s work back when I was a sophomore. I didn’t know Tomine was Asian at the time, so his identity didn’t play a part in my reception of his work. The work seemed devoid of anything racial; the topics Tomine addressed in his comics dealt more with growing pains than it did identity politics.

I bring Tomine up because listening to him talk to Gross about the narrative of his artistic evolution and his growth as a person reminded me of the days when I was entirely invested in thinking about identity politics as a kid in college. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what happened to those days. There is nary a day that passes that I even think about identity politics anymore and I think this is a problem. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I don’t exactly experience discrimination on a daily basis (or maybe I’m just not sensitive to it anymore?). I let a lot of things slip. Things that I dismiss as benign but may be more loaded with racialized meaning. I went back to a few things I wrote as an undergrad in my expository writing about identity politics:
What does “Asian” mean to me?

“Asian”, in the contemporary understanding of this term, represents people from the continent of Asia. This term becomes more complex when it applies to those with a history of Western colonialization in their respective nations, particularly India and the Philipines. “Asian” at times includes Indians and Philipinos and at other times Indians will claim their own label, abandoning “Asian” while Philipinos adopt “Pacific Islander.” “Asian” then becomes rather ambiguous upon closer analyses of these inconsistencies. I believe the term “Asian” to be equivalent to the term “white” in that it clumps people originating from specific continents (in the case of “Asian”, Asia and in the case of “whites”, Europe) into all-encompassing categories. It makes simplistic disparate cultures that occupy these territories. I think of it more of a term of convenience (which is socially or politically constructed) than a “legitimate” or scientific term.

What does “American” mean to me?

This term designates individuals who possess American citizenship and thus abide by the laws and regulations of the land. “American” individuals commonly denote those of Anglo-European descent and those who do not identify with an Anglo-European background are often considered “other.” Thus, “American” connotes a European-centric ideology both socially and politically. “American” theoretically should symbolize freedom, democracy, and the pursuit of happiness, et. al., but more often than not it connotes things more intrusive and negative –imperialism, world domination, and military prowess.
I read this stuff and I smile. Ha. I wrote an abstract called “The Silverlaking of Chinatown” upon which I never expanded. God, I was so naïve.

I don’t know what to do with racism anymore. I wish I was more pissed off, but I’m not. I know racist remarks and racist jokes, as cliché as they might be, do perpetuate stereotypes and hatred. Why don’t I get as pissed about them as I used to?