Preface: Sea of Censorship
《The 7th Move on Asia》 takes up《censorship》 as the theme of this year’s exhibition in the belief that the concept seems effective in capturing the present of Asia. Even though it can be true that censorship is not a problem exclusive to a specific locality, it is not entirely nonsensical to assume that the issue gains more familiarity and urgency among Asian countries than in Western society at least. As a commonly acknowledged latecomer in the history of modernization, Asia has been going through the period of turbulence alongside rapid social changes. Amidst all this, state power perpetuates surveillance and control over private and public sectors of expression especially in those nations where democracy has not been fully developed. The artworks invited to this exhibition from Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam deal with the theme of censorship against such a backdrop that is historically and geographically determined.
As a research goes on to the overall contents of Censorship, however, the subject begins to reveal its rather ambiguous and extended denotation. It is simpler to understand the problems at hand and sharpen the critical edge of one’s opinion, when we discuss censorship in its narrower sense that, for example, a dictatorial regime represses by force particular ideologies or expressions. “Self-censorship,” however, signals at far more complicated and inclusive problems that originate from one’s own desperation about the reality or veiled threats implied through disadvantageous treatments. Censorship in its broader and deeper sense as such exists in every society regardless of the political system and operates in the microscopic forms that cannot be separated from the realm of our ordinary life. The exhibition does not hide the fact that the latter is the predominant understanding of censorship nowadays. In this curatorial conception, Asia functions as a specialized frame that helps us to investigate a more universal problem.
Since there will be no end to the story dealing with the broad notion, let’s get down deeply to the main point. What can art do about censorship? Art, of course, can perform resistance, lay accusation, make sarcastic remarks loaded with satires and parodies, or indulge in self-torment when it confronts the autocratic tyranny. It is very hard, however, even to grasp a transparent image of censorship in situations when there is no “Big Brother” to blame, in other words, when the forms that curtail freedom of expression or the parties sponsible for such infringements are multiple and obscure. The Black Book of Censorship (Le livre noir de la censure, 2008) edited by Emmanuel Pierrat discusses an extensive range of the privatization of censorship in ontemporary society. Corporations and advertisers encourage self-censorship not by posing juridical regulations, but by exerting economic pressure, which has most significant influences on the press than on individuals. Governmental or state authority still acts as one of the major agents of censorship in order to protect public welfare and private domains. More often than not, religious groups and other social organizations try to discern right from wrong over cultural and political expressions. The Internet, Social Networking Service (SNS) in particular, has been established as a ground where organizations and individuals can choose and screen other people’s expressions, according to their own sets of values. If we count in this list the mode of self-censorship that works secretly, the world of censorship will unveil its territory as vast as a sea, which lies across the private and public spheres.
From a broader perspective, it will be unfair to presume that the act of censorship itself, both in public or personal realm, is vice or abnormality. Setting taboos and restrains is an essential prerequisite for the foundation of any civilization. It is not to say that we have to put up with even violent and puerile instances of censorship, which are forced by institutional authority or the power of capital. Nonetheless, limitless freedom is nothing but an abstract concept in this world of racial discrimination, child pornography, wars, and inequality. My freedom can easily be others’ misery and lack of freedom. Furthermore, self-censorship can be a voluntary choice to avoid unnecessary struggles or part of mechanism that refrains from pursuing one’s desire for the sake of coexistence in a society. We can even say that each one of us lives a lie, in the sense that we do not reveal every intention in our mind when we talk to others in everyday life. In this regard, the problem should not be framed as whether or not we need censorship in general, but as whether each choice to restrict freedom is right or wrong. The longer we ponder upon this question, the deeper we will sink into the bottomless abyss of a philosophical conundrum.
《Censorship》 exhibits more than twenty video works that navigate the sea of censorship. The image of censorship that these artworks constitute all together is extensive, variegated, and highly charged with gravity that the reality of different localities in Asia generates. On the one hand, it can be an issue that is too huge for an individual to cope with. For example, the aforementioned three countries maintain rigid censorship policies by the national agencies. The works from India represent the religion that holds sway over its society with immense power and the agony of individuals exposed to potential censorship. The participating works from Japan reflect on the recent outbreak of Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. On the other hand, this exhibition also introduces many other works that approach in earnest the problem of self-censorship. These pieces shed light on the fear of individuals about speaking out their opinions in public, difficult situations that promote such fear, and reflection on the possibility that we ourselves may have taken part in any sort of censorship. Despite such a broad spectrum of portraying the topic, there is one common characteristic of censorship, which all participating works in the exhibition share. The artworks presented here do not see censorship as solely a social concept or a political issue, but strive to address the existence of individuals, which is impossible to be diluted, under the situations of censorship.
To return to the question posed before, art does not exist to condemn censorship as evil. The judicatory, the political, and journalism will make a better job of judging virtue from vice, and this may result in yet another promotion of censorship that asserts a new set of regulation. On the contrary, the perspective of art is not definitive as such. Instead of making judgmental remarks on censorship from an objective standpoint, art keeps producing reports on individuals situated in specific situations. For them to escape from the lack of freedom has colossal urgency and importance, not to reconfirm the fault of censorship. This, however, is an aim that leads us to a long winding road to be achieved. The artworks participating in this exhibition serve as conduits that carry endless questions that slip though our fingers in the reality full of prejudices, rather than suggesting correct answers to them. Censorship invites viewers to the sea of censorship, where the sky is dark, the waves are rough, and the stars are flickering only from far away.
Daewon Hwang, Alternative Space LOOP, Curator