A Different Place, While Being Here:

Table of Contents

In his 1998 work, Japan/Contemporary/Art (Nippon, gendai, bijutsu), Noi Sawaragi wrote that postwar Japan is a “bad place,” one that is unable to construct a systematic “art history” like that originating in Western European modernity. Instead, Japan repeats a process of forgetting and self-destruction. Following the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, Sawaragi stated that this notion of a “bad place” must be considered not as a mere metaphor but as a geological condition of the Japanese archipelago that cannot be rewritten. On the contrary, Sawaragi has himself continuously praised the acts of postwar art that emerged from the ruins of defeat, never dismissing them as impoverished. Was this not a display of his will to recreate or change something in the midst of the ruins of this “bad place”?

Tenshin Okakura published Ideals of the East (John Murray Publishers, 1903) in the early twentieth century, in which he likened Japan to a beach where abstract ideas and thoughts arrive from the west like waves—a museum that archives these thoughts. Masao Maruyama argued that Japan is a place where various forms of foreign-born thoughts coexist in harmony, with Shinto serving as an archetype. These discourses are all limited by their view of Japan’s uniqueness as being unchangeable.

The age of global art welcomes a decentralized, pluralistic worldview rather than a singular Western-Eurocentric worldview. Taro Okamoto published Our Global Art History (Waga sekai bijutsu-shi, 1999) as a proposal for rereading Hegelian history far before historians began articulating an art history that could cast off its Eurocentrism. Okamoto traced the memory of images to ancient times and envisioned human creativity as something that transcends space and time.

Art in the twentieth century can only be understood in the context of exiles from natural disasters and political oppression. Today, in the twenty-first century, migrants, not exiles, emerge as a new focus of the contemporary art world. Shinfuji argues that migration should be inextricable from the impulse to seek a different world, a different place. What is sought in the avant-garde today is the imagination to renew the world through conceiving of a different place, even while residing in a “bad place” cursed with its seeming impossibility for change.