Hong Kong blurs in and out of reality. For 6000 I’ll claim allegiance. A few days ago I was having dinner with a few artists and curators from Hong Kong at the Brooklyn headquarters of the Asia Art Archive, run spiritedly by Jane DeBevoise. As with most conversations about a specific art scene, the usual complaints surfaced: lack of sophistication and money, and bumbling government intervention in the arts. The night ended with a listening session of the sound work of Cedric Maridet. One piece revolved around the buoyant Tagolog conversations of Philippina domestic servants as they hung out in contingent public spaces on their lone Sundays off. This fed thoughts about the manic audio quality of the city where I was born but to which I have no tangible connection.
Wong Kar Wai’s film Chungking Express is Hong Kong to me. It shows two consequential sides of that packed city: first the twisted dark side of drug gangs and violence spilling out into labyrinthian shopping quarters, and then the breathlessness of youthful yearning. The latter is soundtracked by the obsessive recurrence of California Dreaming by The Mamas & The Papas and the closing cry of the Cranberries’ Dreams, re-sung by Faye Wong in Cantonese. She is Hong Kong to me: a bored, dark butterfly, grounded by this tough, glittering city of cash, by a gray and unamusing world, banal all the way to its core. Beautiful, but undangerous, she stares out the window of her older cousin’s corner fast food joint, dreaming of some other reality besides this one.
Rewind it back to my teenage days working at my parent’s dry cleaners in San Mateo (A-1 Cleaners) where we frequently hired Hong Kong girls attending community colleges in the area, looking to land at one of the nearby University of California schools. We hired them to work the counter, taking in customers’ cloths and completing orders after everything had been washed and pressed. On long summer days near closing time, but before the after-work rush, these girls, dressed in the HK style of the time – loose and layered, colorful like children’s thoughts – would set both their elbows on the counter, lean forward with their butt out, chin resting on their cupped hands, their legs criss-crossed behind them. I didn’t bother them, just let them stray with their thoughts, but I wondered about their dreams. How did they look? How did they sound? These Hong Kong girls’ dreams in the blunt informality of Cantonese.
What if it’s all fake? What if the days we’re living in now are a bootleg version of the real thing – a pirated copy of authentic existence? Baudrillard’s fantasy: the sun a hacked-together facsimile, the oceans an optical trick with mirrors, projectors and ink. The DVD cover of it would show recent disaster scenes melting into each other – tornadoes in midwestern America, political upheaval in North Africa and the Mideast, a tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan, drought in Africa, and poverty everywhere. It would sit in piles on bed sheets along with other new release DVDs on Junction Boulevard in Queens or in the discreet handbags of middle-aged Chinese women going around restaurants in Chinatown trying to hawk the latest.
I’m reminded of a piece by artist, filmmaker and my main man Daragh Reeves – a small format photograph of a blurry city in silhouette, blackened by an extinguished sun. Above it in the darkening sky is his handwriting:
Without Sun The World Is A Bomb
Without Your Land, Your Are Sand
Rooks Fly In to Taste Bones
While in L.A.
Someone Makes A Call And The Sun Goes Down
In a familiar tableaux, cops run up on these women peddling bootlegs of the real, forcing them to pack up and scatter. On the concrete, they fulfill the high end logic of those that signaled an end to originality and authenticity in the 70s and 80s: Sherry Levine, Warhol, Barbara Krueger, Rosalind Krauss, Frederic Jameson, and all those others. But that’s for the photography era, the mechanical reproduction age. We’re past that, on to thinking about what the world wide web of information really is: a limitless, nearly lawless landscape of footnotes to everything in the world. Instantaneous, where the sun doesn’t drop – it’s on call, some version of it.
But how will this world be explained in 2000 years? How will religion make this rhyme? At one point writing must have been seen as the most extreme kind of technology. Ultimately it was used to explain the forces of nature and the logic of men and women. It was then that written language ceased to be a technology and became nature itself. I’ll leave it up to Ghostface Killah to put it into eloquently raw terms in a conversational skit preceding the song “Black Jesus” from his Ironman album (1996). A wise, older brother figure lectures his young disciple:
Older Brother: Everything in the universe, God, that’s created the universe, God, exists within you. You see what I’m sayin’? And that’s the mind that you can’t see. Don’t you know if a man could take and flip himself inside out, God, he’d fall out and he’d die if he see the shit that goes on inside.
Young Disciple: So you mean to tell me I’m made up of all this right here?
Older Brother: You’re the creator of all this.
Young Disciple: Right.
Older Brother: Cause all these things must happen. It must take place. See people go back in the day, God, and say yeah well one man, one woman, Adam and Eve…there ain’t no such thing, God, everything you see always has been and always will what? Be. Regardless of whom or why, it’s got to be.
Where will art go next and what will it do there? Gratuitous amounts of art, material and labor have been flown or trucked in at great expense to Venice for the Biennale (currently on view), an event that every year it is held, attracts thousands to take planes, trains, and automobiles to experience it all. Over the long week of vernissage events (opening functions), biennials like this (of which Venice is certainly the oldest and most prestigious) necessitate a grand-scaled kind of contemporary art for the overall promotion and health of cultural exchange. This is a tradition, set in a cradle of Western art. And who would argue with building bridges through contemporary art shown in the sprawling circus tents of biennials? Or for that matter why demean the cold rationality of art fairs, where the desperate gaze of some dealers in their claustrophobic booths should be enough to silence any cynic’s rage against the commercial side. These two forms, the biennial and the fair, centralize a globally advanced cultural experience for the high art consumer, synthesizing leisure with big-ticket purchasing, vacationing with expensively choreographed schmoozing.
The roundtrip movement of this art and these people, however must be weighed against its environmental impact. And leaders of the art world (artists, dealers, critics, and curators) have to begin seriously evaluating where their work is coming from and find more energy efficient, sustainable ways to do things. Thinking this way might lead to a radical deconstruction of what art is today and how it can exist more potently in a globally-dependent market system. It might actually lead us towards a life that is art, one in which time is a medium, space is text, stories are objects, and inactivity is dynamic.
The Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship tonight, beating a collection of massive names with nearly flawless games. Any more words on the subject would devolve into cliche, but sometimes, cliches are the only possible descriptions. I’m happy that they won – maybe too happy. Would I be as happy if Obama won a second term, if the Communists in China gave way to democracy, if cancer was cured, if violence ended? Sports are meaningless, but can you really prove this? So is art, so is fashion, design, politics, war, famine, the environment, literature, music. Warhol proved it. And he was wrong. We all are, about everything.
Standards are unnecessary. Any judgment of quality is decadent. We can’t just acknowledge that everything is information; we need to digest it and live it.