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10:00-12:00, May 16 (Saturday)

Session 1. Thresholds of the Present

Jenny Lee (New York University) “The Conditional Future: Cultural Revolution in Contemporary Chinese Art”
Toru Arakawa (The University of Tokyo) “Cézanne, Smithson and the Limitless Scale of the Present”
Aya Kawamura (The University of Tokyo) “Present Life as The Socialist Future: The Image of Workers in Soviet Photo-essays”

Moderator: Gaku Kondo (UTCP)


“The Conditional Future: Cultural Revolution in Contemporary Chinese Art”
Jenny Lee (East Asian Studies, New York University)

In the spring of 2008, Cai Guo-Qiang’s solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City attracted considerable attention in the local press, not least for its gravity-defying installations of automobiles, Plexiglas, and synthetic animals. Audiences responded with alacrity to the ease with which a supposedly iconoclastic artist from China had fit into the global mainstream. The spectacle incited childlike excitement or, more common to the critical reviews, cynical aspersion. One of the novelties of Cai’s show, however, lay in the tribute it contained to the Cultural Revolution: Cai’s remake of the 1965 socialist-realist sculptural installation, Rent Collection Courtyard (收租院). The mutations between the mid-century and contemporary versions of this piece maintain a singular referent for the performance of mass-oriented and mass-produced art that crosses multiple thresholds—temporal, spatial, political-ideological, and socioeconomic. It is not clear precisely what remains of the original piece, persistent from its beginnings to its present, or whether there was an ‘original’ to begin with. This paper will explore the historiographic and aesthetic significance of the work’s instantiations as a means of addressing the broader question of revolution in cultural modernism past and present, as well as its interrelation with the international marketplace.

“Cézanne, Smithson and the Limitless Scale of the Present”
Toru Arakawa (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo)

This paper examines the conflicts of time-scales in the works of Robert Smithson (1938-73) and Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). The main question is how can an artwork embody its own temporality as an emergence in the manifold of time.
Cézanne and Smithson shared deep interests in prehistoric materials. It is famous that one of Cézanne’s old friends was Antoine-Fortuné Marion (1846-1900), a painter and scientist who specialized in geology and zoology. Marion taught Cézanne about the history of the earth and the geological origin of Provence, and how such origins are currently present in color variations in the land. Cézanne’s time consciousness was not only on the scale of the perceptible level, but also on the imperceptible scale of millions of years. As Robert Smithson wrote, “The magnitude of geological change is still with us, just as it was millions of years ago.”
In “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape” (1973), Smithson located Cézanne’s landscape as part of the genealogy of “the picturesque.” According to Smithson, the picturesque precedes the mind in its material existence. In addition, the concept of nature is grounded in this dialectics of mind and matter, that is a way of seeing things in a manifold of relations. What Smithson called Cézanne’s “direct encounters with the landscape” seems to take place not only in the reality of timeless shape, but also in the confrontation and interaction with temporality, which is phenomenological and geological at the same time.
From this perspective, I would like to analyze several works of Smithson and Cézanne in parallel, focusing on the intersection of different time-scales. Above all, Cézanne’s The Cabanon of Jourdan (1906) will be analyzed through Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed (1970), showing how these works contain the plurality of time, and how their temporal relation can be extended to the natural history of art.

“Present Life as The Socialist Future: The Image of Workers in Soviet Photo-essays”
Aya Kawamura (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo)

In the 1920s and the 30s, the genres of Foto-serija (Photo-series) and Foto-Ocherk (Photo-Essays) emerged in Soviet journalism. They were series of photographs connected through a story or a specific theme, published by famous photographers in graphic magazines. The development of Soviet Photo-essays corresponds to the growth of socialist realist literature. While in realist novels the author depicts “what is” in general, in socialist realist literature the author depicts “what ought to be.” In other words, socialist realist Literature describes the possible future of a socialist society as an idealized present. Furthermore, in this literature the distinction between fiction and nonfiction is not clear.
In this paper, I analyze three important moments in the development of the soviet photo-essays. First, by examining several photo-series published in the journal “Dajoshi!” (Let’s Give!) and “30 dnei” (30days), I discuss how the soviet industries were represented in those photo-essays. Second, focusing on the essay “24 Hours in the Life of a Moscow Worker Family,” published in “Soviet Photo,” I analyze the idealization of workers’ life, as well as the discussion on the “dramatization” of those photographs initiated by soviet photographers and critics. Third, considering the photo-essay “Giant and Builder” in the journal “USSR under Construction,” I examine how the growth of the worker, from an illiterate peasant to an elite worker, was presented. Based on the theory of socialist realist literature, I try to show how Soviet photo-essays represented the fictional future of socialism by taking the form of the present reality.

© UTCP Graduate Student Conference Committee, 2009.