Dreams Come True Very Much
Dreams Come True Very Much is a thesis exhibition presented to OCAD University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a degree of Master of Design in Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design.
This art-based research project problematizes constructed postwar Japanese identity by unraveling the links between Japan’s Eurocentrism, the country’s active invitation of the Orientalist gaze, and the artificial amnesia of its colonial aggression towards other Asian countries.
Needing to take advantage of Orientalist projections by dominant Western powers, postwar Japanese national and cultural identity resorted to self-Orientalism. The “Japan Brand” Strategy— the government-owned production site of “Cool Japan” imagery and cultural policy, — not only created a “liberated and humane” image of postwar Japan globally but it was also devised as a mechanism to induce a “collective amnesia” (Daliot-Bul) that allowed Japan to disregard its colonial past and engender a “soft nationalism”. This narcissistic discourse celebrates the rise of the Japanese economy, affirming the country’s superiority while distancing itself from the imaginary “impoverished” continent of Asia. Through time, Japan’s self-defined “pure originality” (Koichi Iwabuchi)—which emerged as a counter-narrative to Japan’s being infamous for its ability to imitate the West—became internalized by the Japanese, along with the new marketable versions of Japaneseness. Japan’s self-Orientalism was an unexpected side-effect of playing the US’s “Japan” (a “subordinate’s double identification”, John Caughie) and its dependence on the dominant West.
Using Byung-Chul Han’s conceptualization of shanzhai (meaning “fake” and the idea that nothing is original), my autobiographical, narrative-based art project aims to rethink constructed Japanese identities as delinked from internalized Orientalism and the idea of “pure originality”— a notion that has been deeply complicit with postwar Japanese discourses. Employing speculative fiction tropes to communicate the contingency of Japanese identities, this exhibition consists of visual assemblage employing photography, videography, contemporary digital media, stock materials, and speculative fiction narratives to create a speculative world.
The backstory of my project is informed by the “Moonshot Research & Development Program” proposed by the Cabinet Office of Japan, in which the government asserts a near-future where Japanese people will multiply themselves into both physical and virtual avatars. The Japanese government proposes to create “Society 5.0” by 2050, wherein a single person controls up to ten avatars at once to “maximize their productivity,” to "be more resistant to stress,” and to "improve individuals QoL.” (Cabinet Office, “Moonshot International Symposium Initiative Report,” https://www8.cao.go.jp/cstp/stmain/mspaper3.pdf) The proposal states that it will be possible to “extract human thoughts,” and that by “analyzing the brain information” they will “model the thinking itself of individuals—such as human brain recognition and decision-making—and reproduce it on a computer to artificially improve the model.” Emphasizing AI's political and social possibilities in a post- “Moonshot” world, this exhibition seeks to defamiliarize and restructure our experiences with the current Japanese socio-political environments and our present.
Set in a virtual space, the narrative follows a theme of yearning and longing for “Japan(s)” in the minds of the Avatar-Ms—cybernetic avatars of myself. The story takes place in a post-“Moonshot” future, where Japan has vanished after an unspecified man-made catastrophe; no one has seen Japan ever since. The Japanese scattered around the world. Before Japan vanished, the government established the “Moonshot” program to create “Society 5.0,” a notion of a society that integrates cyberspace and physical space to realize economic growths. Each Japanese was suggested by the government to have ten avatars, and most Japanese multiplied themselves to “improve productivity” and become “more resistant to stress”. The government uploaded individuals’ cognitive information, from birth to the point of bodily death, to machines. Such machines are programmed to think that they are the individuals. Thus, the Japanese national identity lived on fully intact, as data (identities) saved as “Japanese” will always be “Japanese.” Japanese people, or at least Japanese identities, work forever for the state. Although the program is no longer supported, the avatars live on in the virtual world—including Avatar-Ms, the ten copies of myself. In the virtual world, her cybernetic avatars dream of “Japan(s).”
The concept of “Japan” in this exhibition is intertwined with my personal memories as a Japanese female who spent half of her life in England and Canada, away from family; however, these memories are constantly being taken over by cultural “memories,” and such ‘cultural memories’ are overshadowed by whitewashed cultural “memories” manipulated by state-promoted cultural policies and discourses. The end result is a dream world that is grounded in reality. It is nightmarish and yet still familiar. My project is a mixture of the subconscious and conscious—my representation of new forms of Japanese identities that aim to encompass complementarity, formless forms of “Japanese-ness.”
Using alternative futurity as a concept to create artworks that critique and allow a rethinking of the national and cultural identities of Japan, this exhibition is my attempt at generating a participatory narrative experience where “originality,” to the experiencer, becomes obsolete, to explore possibilities of radical reconstitution.