Dyske Suematsu
Since the beginning
dyske@dyske.com
Works in United States of America

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BIO
I think, theorize, and write about highly irrelevant matters.
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DISCUSSION

RE: The Myth of Meritocracy in Fine Arts


Hi Curt,

It's been a while since we last had a discussion.

Even your own subjective opinions about art, in the end, would be
tautological, if you deconstruct them well enough. In the end, all it would
say is: "It's good because I say so." You will end up making a circular
reference to yourself. Think about it, no matter how well you frame your
arguments, how would you prove them? To prove something, you'll need to have
a standard. And, that standard is exactly what I am arguing not to exist in
fine arts. Whereas in the Olympics, I could express my opinion about who is
going to win the gold, and I could be proven right or wrong.

So, whether it is relativism or objectivism makes no difference. You said,
"Once a critic acquiesces to relativism, her hands become tied." If you feel
that not to "acquiesce to relativism" would free your hands, you are sorely
mistaken. All that does is to give you the illusion of forming an
indestructible (and therefore immortal) argument. Critics write, not because
they can prove something, but because they want to. At least, that is my
motive. Sometimes I write from relativistic point of view, and other times I
write from objectivistic point of view. Neither view stops me from
expressing my opinions. Either way, I am not going to prove anything. I'm
essentially writing a work of fiction, and that to me is fun.

My comments follows yours:

> I'm not arguing for an objective meritocracy, an actuarial system
> whereby we assign the monetary value of an art piece. One
> doesn't need to exist post-Warhol to realize that the
> establishment of such a sytem is ridiculous. To even think that
> such a system should/could be established is ridiculous. Even
> the Medici knew that back in their Florentine day. Yet they were
> still free to discuss the aesthetic value of art, and I'm still
> free to explain why I think a piece of art works, almost works,
> or sucks. And you're still free to read my explanation,
> interface with the piece of art yourself, and see if you agree
> with me. "Art criticism," they used to call it.
>
> Once a critic acquiesces to relativism, her hands become tied,
> and she winds up equating an artist's marketing skills with his
> artistic skills. The logic goes like this -- aesthetics are
> totally relative [an assumption], some sort of meritocracy is
> universally desired [an assumption], money and fame are the two
> thing in this equation that have the most conspicuous objective
> value [true], therefore money and fame are the standards for
> artistic meritocracy.

My essay was not about persuading critics to stop expressing their opinions,
nor is it meant to propose a new standard by which art can be measured. As I
said, "This is not to say that an artwork could not have personal merit
independent of price." I would urge you to express your own personal
opinions, as I also do. That is how our culture evolve.

I must correct your last sentence. It should say, "therefore money and fame
are the artistic standards." You cannot use "meritocracy" again in that
sentence because meritocracy is a system of rewarding money and fame based
on some other standard which is independent of money and fame. Since there
is no such standard, "meritocracy" is impossible.

> The logic is clear, but the assumptions are flawed. Dyske,
> according to your criteria, isn't Charles Manson a pretty
> successful performance artist? Dude, he's killer. The 9/11
> hijackers, they also got a lot of press. Maybe it's not just
> marketing skills, but money gleaned that counts as merit. In
> which case, each pair of Nike shoes, seen as Beuys type
> "multiples," are real hot items on the international capitalistic
> market. Your argument leads me to these conclusions.
>
> It seems there is a third, unspoken criteria for the meritocracy
> you propose. The artist (or some sort of nominating art entity
> like Saatchi) has to call it "art" before it qualifies to be
> considered by your proposed criteria of "fame and fortune." And
> thus subjectivity creeps back into the mix (and an ass backwards
> contemporary artworld subjectivity in many cases).

Again, I am not proposing any new standard or meritocracy. Yes, you are
correct about the unspoken criteria. Before a piece of art can be evaluated,
it must be proposed or considered as "art". This is "unspoken" because I am
specifically talking about art in my essay. This very problem of evaluation
would not come up if no one used the term. Naturally, the use of the term
"art" is subjective.

"9-11" is famous, but not as a piece of art. I never said that anything
famous is a good piece of art. Is Charles Manson a pretty successful
performance artist? I'm not familiar with him as a performance artist, so I
can't say, but it would be relatively easy to find out. Just look him up in
a number of art history books. How often does he come up as a performance
artist? If he does come up often, I would say, yes, he is a successful
performance artist.

> As in thermodynamics, graphic design, and spirituality -- 80% of
> the workings of a system may be totally unquantifiable, chaotic,
> non-linear, and subjective. Art is no different. Yet we as
> humans want to fixate on the 20% that is quantifiable and put it
> on a pedestal, to inflate the value of that quantifiable 20%.
> Because we must have something to clearly and visibly track, even
> if that quantifiable something is only a small percentage of what
> actually makes the sytem work [and by "system," I don't mean the
> contemporary British gallery "system" (a relatively null node),
> but the "system" of human artmaking throughout history and space].
>
> So a few contemporary artists decide it's all about the
> quantifiable 20% and start making their art accordingly. And
> then a few contemporary critics point to this truncated, 20%-art
> (which arose in response to their own truncated, 20%-criticism)
> and say, "we told you it was all about the 20%." So you get
> shitty art (marketing ploys) and shitty criticism (tautological
> academic blah blah) back and forth in some high-profile,
> sick-joke, self-fulfilling prophetic ballet. As Laurie Anderson
> said, "It's a closed circuit, baby / you've got the answers in
> the palms of your hands." As Sonic Youth said, "I can understand
> it but I don't recommend it."

I do not get the point you are trying to make here. Does this have anything
to do with my essay, or is this a separate comment?

-Dyske

DISCUSSION

The Myth of Meritocracy in Fine Arts


The Myth of Meritocracy in Fine Arts

By Dyske Suematsu

The art world has a gentleman

DISCUSSION

Motomichi Nakamura Interview


Dyske Suematsu: When did you come to the States?

Motimichi Nakamura: First time I came here I was 18, then I went back to Japan, and a year or two later came back to the U.S. and went to upstate New York, to Rockland County. I went to a community college; I thought it would be nice to study my first a few years outside of the city. After that, I transferred to Parson's School of Design. I majored in communication design first, then I changed my major to illustration.

DS: Did you use computers in school?

MN: The first time I took a computer class was when I was upstate at the community college. When I was at Parsons, I took as many computer classes as I could. That time, everyone wanted to use computers. Computers were such a great tool. But when I was in school there was some prejudice against using computers, the mainstream was still to draw and paint.

DS: How long did you live in Ecuador?

MN: I lived in Ecuador for about 3 years. I started a Web design company in the capital of Ecuador, Quito. South America is somewhere I always wanted to go to. I went there twice before I decided to actually move there. It was a really interesting experience. Life is totally different there.

DS: Was there much demand for Web design in Ecuador?

MN: There were many companies who wanted to have website there, but economy was so difficult.

DS: It seems that the South American culture had some influence on you. You seem to like using Spanish in your work.

MN: I do use Spanish a lot. I like the language. When I use something, just like anyone else, I have rational reasons, but I also use it because I like it. I like South American culture in general: food, Latin music, etc.

DS: How long have you been living in the US?

MN: I think 9 years total.

DS: Do you go back to Japan a lot?

MN: I do. I go back once or a twice a year. When I was living in Ecuador, I didn't because the flight took over 20 hours. Now that I live in New York, I do go back a lot. Either my family visits me here, or I go visit them. I'm still in touch with the Japanese culture. I know some Japanese people here, and I go to JAS mart also [laugh]. (JAS Mart is a chain of Japanese convenient stores.)

DS: Have you shown your work in Japan?

MN: I would like to, but I haven't yet. Commercially I've done some stuff and artistically I showed my animations on NHK. I would like to participate in exhibitions in the future.

DS: Do you still feel you are Japanese? Or do you feel you are in a limbo?

MN: I do feel 100 percent Japanese. But after leaving for such a long time in the U.S. I may be start to lose the more traditional aspects of being Japanese.

DS: Do you feel comfortable with being called a Japanese artist?

MN: I don't mind being called that at all, but, just like anyone else, I don't like to be categorized.

DS: Did you always wanted to be an artist?

MN: When I was little, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I always had a fish tank and stuff. I was very serious about it.

DS: Did you grow up reading a lot of cartoons?

MN: Not so much. If you grow up in Japan you live with them but I've never been a big fan of comic books.

DS: Technically, your style is well suited for Flash. Did Flash inspire your style, or did you always liked that simple vector style?

MN: I think I've always been into things that are simple and graphic. The reason why at first I studied graphic design was because I was never a big fan of realism. I remember before Flash came out, the only animation tool available was Macromedia Director. I used to have a hard time with it, because I could never get clean edge.

DS: Violence and sex are usually depicted with a lot of details. If you were given a budget to make a film, or high-resolution animations like Akira, would you be interested in doing that?

MN: I'm not interested in depicting violence so explicitly. I'm just trying to portray the concept behind the nature of violence. Even if I got a big budget, I would still be interested in doing graphical work and not high-resolution animations. I would rather invest the additional budget in audio content for my work. That would ideal.

DS: In many of your animations, I feel a sense of social oppression, especially in "Add Boiling Water". I think it's a kind of tension and pressures that is familiar to many Japanese, which sometimes turns into violence. Is that something you intended?

MN: That's very interesting, because Japan is very safe, economy is great but some people are still frustrated. Eventhough my work doesn't focus on this aspect of Japanese culture, maybe because I'm Japanese my visuals do tend to reflect that sense of social oppression.

DS: Are you interested in dealing with any specific cultures in your work?

MN: After I created "Add Boiling Water", I consciously tried to go as far away as possible from anything personal or culture-specific. I tried to make it very general, like in "Punto Zero", so that as many people as possible could actually understand my work.

DS: You seem to like the format of music video. Do you find something compelling in that particular format?

MN: Definitely. I started VJing not long ago. I find it very interesting. This combined effort between DJs/musicians playing and me mixing the video at the same time, trying to sync in is very inspiring to me.

DS: Amputated body parts seem to be a common theme in your work, especially chopped heads.

MN: Human sacrifice was related to the outlet of public frustration in primitive societies. I've used the theme symbolically in may of my animations.

DS: Even though sexuality seems to be a common theme in your work, no one seems to talk about it, including your own descriptions of your work. Why is that?

MN: It's true, people don't usually ask me about that. To me sex is one more aspect of human nature and since I don't want to neglect any important aspect I do use the theme of sex in some of my work.

DS: Any future plan or upcoming work you can share with us?

MN: VJing is keeping me busy. It's fun. I play at Remote Lounge and Subtonic. I'm actually going to England next week to VJ. That's going to be a lot of fun. A lot of VJs are coming from all over the world.

DISCUSSION

Understanding the Medium of Video Game


Throughout history, even before computers came into existence, human beings have wrestled with the notion of "real". In the 60s, it was psychedelic drugs that inspired the question, "What is reality?" Now, it is the medium of computers armed with high-performance graphics processors that inspire the same question. Los Angeles based art cooperative C-Level seems to be keen on understanding the message of this modern medium.

Their new project "Waco Resurrection" premiered on October 16 at the Kitchen in New York City. It is a 3D role-playing game where players become Vernon Howell (aka David Koresh), the cult leader of Branch Davidian in Waco, Texas. The game is played with a "hard-plastic 3D skin" featuring a voice-activated interface. Participants run around the Branch Davidian compound with a variety of weapons shooting at FBI agents and other adversaries. They are also bombarded with the government "psy-ops" such as the blasting of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking." It is a complex experience in many ways, triggering many emotions, which in turn prompt many questions.

This summer, a similar game called "9-11 Survivor" was available on the Internet, and was quickly labeled by many as exploitative. Brody Condon, a member of the team that developed "Waco Resurrection," was the teacher of the game-design class that produced "9-11 Survivor." My first question when I observed the installation of "Waco" at the Kitchen was: What are the criteria for something to be "exploitative"?

To exploit, according to Merriam-Webster, is "to make use of meanly or unjustly for one's own advantage or profit." Monetary gain is the most obvious, but neither game is a commercial venture. Why then are people so quick to label "9-11 Survivor" exploitative? The only other motive that I can think of is fame, or recognition, but this is merely an assumption, albeit an obvious one. The truth of the matter is that the critics of the game do not know what the motive of the creators was.

There is nothing inherently exploitative about trying to recreate experiences of others. The public smoothly accepts movies like "Titanic" and "Pearl Harbor" only because the actual events happened decades ago. Why should time be a factor in the notion of exploitation? Why are text descriptions of the event acceptable, but not a 3D graphical representation? Why are web-based interactive presentations by news organizations such as New York Times acceptable? It appears that what is required in order to be publicly acceptable is reduction or dulling of information either in time or in resolution. If the time is too soon, your presentation will feel too real. If the resolution of your presentation is too high, it will feel too real also.

Something that looks and feels real, yet is protected from any real consequences, has an entertainment value. We are tempted to see and feel what it was like without risking our own lives for it. This entertainment value is what is perceived to be vulgar or of bad taste. But again, this is a projection of our own questionable motive or desire. Why should we assume that the same motive applies to everyone else, as common as it may be?

The theme that runs through much of C-Level's work appears to be the disconnect we experience in computer generated reality. Mainstream games such as Unreal Tournament and Grand Theft Auto are based mostly on fictional scenarios. Despite the fact that players continuously massacre people with powerful guns or by running them over with cars, the emotions generated tend to be those of excitement, not sorrow or guilt. When the context of the game is closer to reality, such as Waco or 9-11, it is more difficult to disconnect from natural emotions or empathies. In playing "Waco", emotions are mixed and confused. The context prevents players from simply enjoying the excitement of blowing up people and objects.

This feeling of disconnect is explored in a different way with another work by C-Level, "Tekken Torture Tournament." Tekken is a popular fighting game where players assume a role of a master of martial art. In the C-Level version of it, for every blow received, one is also given an electric shock, thereby matching what is seen with what is felt physically. In high-resolution video games like Tekken, there is a substantial discrepancy between what the eyes and ears experience and what other parts of the body experience. By filling in the gaps, one becomes more aware of the disconnectedness of the original game.

But to blame this feeling of disconnect to the technology itself would be a mistake. It is more a product of our alienation than it is an effect of high technology. One can create a similar feeling of disconnect without technology. For instance, pinch your nose so that you cannot smell anything, and take a sip of expensive brandy. Your sense of smell is disconnected from the flavor of the brandy, and it creates a very different experience. Better yet, wipe the surface of raw fish with a piece of tissue paper, plug your nose with it, and take a sip. When you drive through a thunderstorm, what you are looking at is the same as what the pedestrian outside is looking at, but you are nice and dry, comfortably chatting with your company, a far cry from what the pedestrian is feeling. In a freezing cold weather, you are wearing 10 layers of clothes, and you are actually feeling too hot. This too is a feeling of disconnect.

For most people, what they know about 9-11 came through the same mechanisms they usually use to consume any other types of information. There was nothing substantially different about their experience of 9-11 from their experience of Hollywood movies, other than their awareness of the fact that 9-11 happened for real, and that Hollywood movies are fictional. Some people were troubled by the fact that 9-11 did not feel any different from watching a Hollywood movie. They felt guilty, and had a difficult time admitting the discrepancy between how they felt and what they thought they should feel. I believe there was a certain degree of honesty in their feelings of disconnect. After all, there was no substantial difference in the nature of their experience; it was only psychological. In order to reconcile these feelings of disconnect, many people flocked around Ground Zero to see the aftermath of the tragedy. We all employ different ways of reconciling our feelings with what we perceive. For some people, visiting Ground Zero was nothing more than an amusement, but for others, it was a necessary process of reconciliation. We cannot make an overarching judgment of other people's actions based on what our own motive would be. Perhaps for some people, experiencing what it was like to be trapped in the WTC towers through the means of 3D computer graphics was meaningful.

In some ways, this is similar to the effort made by C-Level to add the component of physical pain to the video game Tekken. Those who are perceptive and conscientious enough cannot help feeling a sense of disconnect in playing such a game, and they are tempted to make an effort at reconciling it. This, however, has nothing to do with the nature of technology per se.

There are people whose emotional pain is so great that they feel comforted by inflicting and feeling physical pain on themselves. This too is fundamentally the same effort of reconciliation. Whenever we feel alienated, we try to reconcile. Alienation is a feeling that what we do or feel is not part of us. The term is more often used to describe the disconnect between who we are and what we produce (as in classical Marxist critiques), but my concern here is with who we are and what we feel. Just because we feel something, does not necessarily mean that it is connected to who we are. The problem is not so much that there are discrepancies and contradictions among the pieces of our sensory information, but that there is nothing that can tie these mismatching pieces into something coherent, something we can feel as our own. When our emotions originate from within ourselves, as disparate and contradictory as they may be, they make sense at least from our own perspectives. If they do not originate from within ourselves, that is, if they are being manipulated by external forces, we cannot make any sense out of the chaos of our own emotions, and we feel alienated from them.

It is analogous to how an electrical motor works. If you feed electricity into a motor, it turns. Reverse the process and turn it with your hand, it generates electricity. The same can happen with human beings. That is, there are passive emotions and active emotions. Just because you feel something does not necessarily mean that it originated in you. It might be a result of external triggers. You feel alienated when most of your emotions are triggered externally, when your life is filled with apathy, and when you are a slave to your own feelings. It is not because of the fact that you work on a computer everyday that necessarily causes the feeling of disconnect. It is not the impressive realism of video games that causes it either. You could be a chef who has never had any need to touch a computer, and still feel the general feeling of disconnect in everything you do.

Shown on giant screens, in vivid color, and with surround audio, movies are capable of impressive realism. Often they make viewers identify with their characters. Literature too can feel so real that one starts crying. Some of those feelings too are passive and active. The reason why we hardly hear anyone complain about the disconnect between what they see and what they feel in movies or novels, is because many of them engender active emotions in us. This is the difference between art and entertainment; the former is an opportunity to find our genuine, active emotions, whereas the latter manipulates our sensory perceptions to artificially induce emotions in us. This is why true art makes consumers work hard, whereas a piece of entertainment is served on a sliver platter for easy consumption, essentially telling consumers how to feel. The reason why video games tend to invite criticism of disconnect is because most of them provide no opportunity for our active emotions to manifest themselves. "Waco Resurrection" is one such attempt at creating this opportunity.

C-Level may face some difficulties in changing the perception that video games are devoid of true emotions, but once the public understands and sees the potential of the medium, we may soon see a wave of new art using the medium. In other words, the name "video game" has a bad rap that it needs to get over first. It is a form of prejudice; the common associations with the label "video game" are getting in the way of seeing the full potential of the medium. It is similar to the way cartoon is perceived in this country. It may face a real uphill battle, but I have a faith in the determinations of video gamers.

DISCUSSION

Re: Cremaster web site


Measuring of artistic values, such as "the greatest artist of ...", is a
paradoxical proposition. We all know that it is not measured by how many
people appreciate a particular work of art. If we went only by the number of
votes, someone like Madonna would be the greatest artist (or musician) in
the world. We all know that, in the end, art is subjective. But then is it
really?

Some artists claim that they do not care what other people think of their
work, that they are only concerned with what they believe to be good. But
this too is impossible, and is logically nonsensical. I cannot, for
instance, define who I am without defining who everyone else is. Who I am is
defined by what the others are not. So, if I say, *I* don't care what other
people think of my work, and that *I* only care about what *I* believe to be
good, how do I define this "I" without contrasting it with the values of the
others?

Whether you go by popularity or your own personal beliefs, the problem of
artistic value does not get solved. In fact, it can never be. Whenever I
come across issues like this where it is logically impossible to have an
answer, I question the question itself. More specifically I question the
motive, what drives me to ask this question.

I am not against measuring, comparing, or competing. I believe they are
important aspects of productive life. If I play chess, I play to win,
because that is what makes the game fun. Problems arise when you reverse
this process. That is, if you start to believe that it is fun because you
win. The game should be fun whether you win or lose. Having fun or feeling
joy from striving to achieve higher regardless of the outcome is what makes
life worth living.

The same goes for artistic values. Works of art can be compared and
measured. In many ways, comparison is what makes the whole practice of art
more fun and beneficial. But when you reverse this process, and believe that
it is being better than others that makes practicing of art fun and
worthwhile, that's when the trouble starts.

Dyske