The Corner of Sweet and Bitter at Open Satellite
  • The Corner of Sweet and Bitter at Open Satellite
This morning the video artist Meiro Koizumi got on a plane with his wife Yuka and went back home to Japan after having spent two months at the Open Satellite residency in Bellevue, thanks to curator Yoko Ott. His art is very much still here: He has two shows up through January 9, My Voice Would Reach You (a 10-year survey of 11 videos) at Seattle University, and The Corner of Sweet and Bitter at Open Satellite.

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I've written plenty about Koizumi already here, so you probably want a rest. But last night he gave a talk that was also a performance, so I just want to share it for those following the issues involved in his work. The central issues are freedom and abuse, as I wrote last week ("On Whether the Artist Is Cruel").

Last night's talk was perfectly earnest to start out. Koizumi gave background that explained why he created the video Work Like A Dog, in which he subjects a Mexican day laborer (for pay) to some humiliation involving a hot dog, a miniature American flag, and weightlifting on camera. He discussed the rising nationalism in Japan, and how it is changing the way Japanese people feel about singing their own national anthem (the mitigation/aftermath of postwar guilt). He discussed coming to America this summer and immediately being taken to a baseball game, where he watched the national anthem being sung unproblematically, and then being taken to Home Depot, where he saw day laborers standing outside ("It's not that we don't have these things in Japan, it's just that they are hidden"). He also talked about the history of Bellevue—his original subject in coming to Open Satellite—which means the transformation of Bellevue from a Japanese strawberry farming community to being emptied out by internment to today's high-rise Bellevue, dependent on new but familiar systems of inequitable labor that are, again, connected to global politics and economics.

And then he brought up an image of the movie poster for "The Last Samurai," and Tom Cruise's giant serious face (surrounded by long, flowing hair) came onto the Henry's projection screen. Music (I can only assume the movie's soundtrack) began to play over the sound system—cheesy and effective music, the kind of music that moves you to cry if the movie director wants you to cry.

Koizumi explained that he saw "The Last Samurai" on the plane. ("It's like 'Dances with Wolves' but about Japan," he said.) Its nationalistic, hyped-up portrayal of Japan was so pseudo and so absurd that he found himself laughing out loud—until he looked around and saw two women crying. He stopped laughing and started being amazed: what was this work of art that could make one person fall down laughing and another cry her eyes out?

He thought of "The Last Samurai" versus "Kill Bill"—the "sick" image of multiculturalism versus the "healthy" (aware, smart, edumacated, post-PC, etc.) image of multiculturalism.

Which would he rather make in his own art?

He delivered the answer as if he were channeling "The Great Dictator," his voice rising as the music got louder and louder. It's hard to see and hard to understand, but I tried to capture it on video as soon as I saw it happening. (Video on jump)

Here's a little transcript to help:

"Which is more dangerous? Which is more interesting?! Which has more social impact?!...And of course, my answer is, 'The Last Samurai'! That's what I tried to do here in Bellevue, to make my own 'Last Samurai.'...I don't know if this is good or bad. But I did my best!!"

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After this, a woman in the audience raised her hand and said, "As an Asian American, I am disappointed that you chose 'The Last Samurai.'" I was disappointed in her.

Poison too, not only medicine! I leave you with this.