A Country With No Names
At birth, individuals are given a name by their parents and they go through life known by this name. They grow through various permutations of possibilities – playing in the neighborhood, getting educated in school, and they become useful to society when they are old enough to work. Working in some specific role or job rewards them, and it becomes their livelihood.
Yet this generalization too simply equates human labor to goods and services. The goal of work becomes like any consumer product, to provide so-called labor or service for an exchange economy, based on demand and supply and profit motivation – the backbone of market capitalism, the form of capitalism that seems to rule today’s world.
It is hard to believe that artists often have little regard for this tendency to equate labor with product, and demand that they deserve to be treated differently. This is, for the most part, an attitude that is bestowed not by society, but by one’s self – a self that wants to be free from social norms and wants to allow creativity to manifest itself freely.
But sometimes the sensitivity toward one’s originality can be seen as selfish and egoistic. Others try to appropriately respond to the tides and tribulations of revolving changes, riding the waves of historical time, so as not to drown; We may all be luckless survivors on a ship of fools, but we could also be like the Argonauts, ever struggling to repair, remodel, and remake the very ship, the Argus, that carries us on this odyssey that requires constant shifts in order to cross the ever challenging oceans.
We were given names when we are born, but the possibility of wearing different hats may comes across as trivial or merely romantic, the futile assertion of free will in a world dictated by power and money. We forget that the artists were meant to serve our human values in the service of a higher source: the spiritual, the one and only, whatever one’s traditional “essence” may be – that convenient name for our diverse ways of manifesting ultimate reality.
Our “art” productions become accepted and consumed, even if they were originally made by selfish egos seeking to remodel and remake themselves. But even then, such artworks might not only express the individual’s search for meaning, but also the social group to which he or she belongs.
Be it as an open group of loosely affiliated friends and associates, or a more defined, legally-bound entity (such as a registered limited company), our functions as individuals mingle in overlapping, and differently permutating, institutions and affiliations.
Consciously or not, we inevitably find ourselves working and living in part of a larger social group. More often than not, the groups we find ourselves in have been in existence for a longer time than us – some going back generations, some originating in far-flung lands.
However, although we continue to operate with the background of older social groups, we live and participate today in newer social groupings and affiliations relevant to contemporary society. These recently-innovated social structures respond to current needs, and we are all caught within this multi-layered demographic web.
We see our mobility in this web as the potential to emancipate ourselves from basic needs (like food and shelter), and to be free from the social pressure to be branded or typecast (to fulfil some statistic), rather than actually pursuing individual and social happiness.
We begin life as players in the theater of life, each one of us given a name. Along the way, at each turn and crossroad, we are asked to choose the path that further differentiates us as individuals within the larger social fabric. Some of our choices will lead us to the ritual of daily role-playing, in games of learning, participating and acting. With growth and maturity, some of us attain more chances at manipulating the game. The ability to shift also entails more responsibility in re-enacting the roles that we have imbibed for ritualistic social play. Caught up in total involvement, some of us lose sight of our original goal.
We seek authenticity and ask for change whenever we become dulled by the loss of meaning. And therein conflicts begin to crop up, if not for a willingness to uphold the individual’s right to different values and to deviate from the social norm. Homogeneity, it seems, must be upheld religiously in the face of thinning societal values. The division and separation that comes between us makes previously held common ground uncertain and shaky. Our apathy, in fact, increases the chances of chaos, crises and doomsday prophecies becoming reality.
We need to survive our contemporary world, which is in perpetual movement and is constantly changing. However, there are different priorities on the part of the game designers. Most of us would only want to play a game as it had been outlined for us – with certain boundaries, goals, time or duration, form, materials used, gender and the power relations between players endowed with different physical, intellectual or emotional characteristics.
In theory, global capitalism has high respect for the individual and allows the individual freedom in rights to physical and intellectual property. However, everywhere one sees the ideals of freedom and individual rights violated by state intervention, mostly out of simple, flawed self-interest. What originally began at a level of ambitious, all-encompassing populism inevitably fails to fulfill the interests of society and ends up exploiting the weaker and poorer sectors to perpetuate the standing of those in power.
Hence no matter how any state claims to have comprehensive schemes and institutions to take care of society’s needs from education, to dating services, to armed military forces, to cultural trade fairs; from visual enjoyment to consumption via taste and digestion, from ingestion and expulsion through to the tail end of one’s physical body, the individual would in good conscience say “NO, NO, NO!!!” to the homogenization and centralization of human experience.
Independent cultural institutions are in fact important for re-humanizing our centrally-directed lives, to live and work with a network of artists in consciousness and compassion. For we are living in an overly-planned system, and one must question and openly cry out for the individual. Why do so many of the rules and regulations said to be necessary to protect us from dangerous conflicts and chaos end up being an iron cage?
We should always seek ways of organizing based on principles of anarchic thought, based on the revelation of truth drilled for authenticity, leaving the satisfaction of open-endedness for our children’s future growth and our further emancipation. We take a stance that rejects apotheosis and says: “To hell with all doomsday prophecies! We live to live another day, in the readiness that we do not fear to die trying!”
Along the way, we too make gains and losses in terms of power and material gains. Enjoyment for some may be the bane of others. Whether consciously or not, our society has evolved into greater complexity based on the motive of accumulation; however various archaic systems of wealth and power are unfairly tipped to favor past hierarchical structures, and these need constant re-evaluation to remain just and fair. Our need to incarnate social meaning is also the need to make the public view and participate in these public rituals, pleasures of spectatorship that manifest our consciousness of human civilization.
There is no such a thing as art. There is only invention and creativity. There is no such thing as literature, only imagination and the will to remodel remake recreate the future by understanding our history. The ability to fully accept our wrongs and right them by facing them and willing to be ashamed and apologetic. But do not turn away from mistakes as if we do not make them.
We do not live in a country with no names but we may soon be if we do not learn to deal with our future history of mistaken anonymity, an anonymity based on our inability to be strong individuals within an oppressive state that pretends to give us our rights while keeping us in the golden cage of paradise.
Give me back my body!
Give me back my name!!
Give me back the possibility
… to be really me!!!
Lee Wen, March 10, 2013
commissioned text for “Files Not Found”, Palais De Tokyo, Paris, France June 21 2013