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Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 08:07 am
Contra-bombast

When the Serpentine Gallery Pavillion opens on Sunday, it'll be Britain's first exposure to SANAA, the architectural team of Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima, responsible for New York's wildly successful New Museum.



Every July the Serpentine Gallery -- currently under the direction of the enlightened Hans Ulrich Obrist -- lets an architect erect a temporary pavilion in its Kensington Gardens enclosure. SANAA's, the ninth in the series, is certainly the least bombastic. As the Times' architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff explains in a video on the paper's site, the Japanese team has built a light plane of polished aluminium sloping modestly towards the ground across pillars and bendy plexiglass walls. The inside space, dotted with Nishizawa's white bunny chairs, merges inside and outside. From a distance, the mirrored structure seems to blend with the trees, like a calm sheet of reflective water.



Equally reproachful of bombast is the music of Otomo Yoshihide, the subject of a new documentary called KIKOE. Filmmaker Iwai Chikara (who also runs a club with Yoshihide) filmed the musician over ten years, building up 500 hours of footage of concerts, interviews and sessions, which he's edited down to 99 minutes. Chikara calls it "a document of a system observed from a fixed point" -- the fixed point being Yoshihide himself, and the "system" being collaborators like Sachiko M and Kahimi Karie. The film shows at Shibuya Eurospace later this month before heading out to European film festivals.



Yoshihide is part of the No Input onkyo movement which shares a certain organic minimalism with SANAA's architecture. "I just wanna listen, no playing," as Sachiko M puts it, and I can imagine SANAA saying the same about Kensington Gardens -- their building really seems to want to listen to the park rather than dominate it.



My final example of a Japanese dislike of bombast comes in the form of the documentary Jesus Camp, which we watched last night on the recommendation of Japanese friends. The Christian evangelicals depicted in Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing's 2006 film probably won't surprise anyone -- they're a well-explored, even over-familiar subject, and for the moment they've lost their mainstream political capital -- but what I found interesting here were the cut-aways to a Japanese studio discussion in which a short-skirted woman exclaims to an expert how sorry she is for American kids whose ideologically-motivated home-schooling doesn't allow them to study art or music -- let alone Darwinian evolution -- and whose parents are so out of love with the world that they can't wait to die.

"It's truly scary that 25% of Americans think this way!" these Japanese commentators agree. A religion, or a culture, with a little more love for its surroundings -- and a little less bombast -- suits them better.

33CommentReply

milky_eyes
milky_eyes
milky_eyes
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 07:22 am (UTC)
connecting the dots

I like your references... I am a fan of SANAA, and Yoshihide, and love where he took music... growing up, his music was a truly foreign influence... about the possibilities of music and thinking in general... which I learned a lot from.
The boredoms I learned a lot from. they were the first total rearranged vomit of american thought and context...
Out of all of their separate projects some of the members went on to do... which I like all of them... I think Yoshihide... kept something special the others didnt.
At least in the context of your post....

yup... I love that thought behind your references. And ah, the american lack of...? something is very sad... instead we have a very intellectualized learned sort of aesthetic... with has no heart....
this is my thought... we have 'art' and we have everything else. Art is special, and contains all that is special... everything else... is just a commodity. Plain and simple
In japan, there is a thing called craft (I'm calling 'it' that)... and it means that things in your life can have beauty and thought... experienced as something... not just commodity.... so yes... we are raised with no soul... which sometimes leads to cool discoveries... but also often a lack of understanding, of why life is worth living....


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endoftheseason
endoftheseason
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 07:44 am (UTC)

It's probably good that you wrote "a Japanese dislike of bombast," rather than "the Japanese dislike of bombast." The claim that "the" Japanese dislike bombast might be a pretty tough sell.

And, of course, there are such things as an Irish dislike of bombast, an English one, a Swedish one, an Icelandic one, an Argentinian one, a Portuguese one, a Brazilian one, a German one, a Scottish one, a Pakistani one, a Swiss one, an Eritrean one, a Kiwi one, and--gasp--an American one.

There is not, however, such a thing as a Canadian dislike of bombast.


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krskrft
krskrft
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 08:20 am (UTC)

To be fair, nowhere near 25% of Americans "feel that way."


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)

It's more than 25% of Americans - you're forgetting who was in charge of the 2004 swingvote.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC)

Well, I think when you put the symbol "%" and the word "feel" in the same sentence, you hit absurdity pretty quickly. Because how do you quantify the way people subjectively feel, and lump them in with others who "feel the same way"?

Worse, if you try to get more fine-grained about "the way Christians feel", you get into absurdist pedantry fairly quickly. Check this Christine Wicker article, which defines born-agains as "those who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also say they believe they will go to Heaven because they have confessed their sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior are classified as born-agains" (note that changing "say they have made..." for "have made" would change the numbers) and then lays out this incredibly complicated set of qualifiers for "evangelicals", a subset within "born-agains":

1. their faith is very important in their life today
2. they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians;
3. they believe Satan exists
4. they believe eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works
5. they believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth
6. they assert that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches.
7. they describe God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today.

Oh shit, I was all set to be counted with the evangelicals, except that I describe God as the all-knowing, all-power and pink deity who created the universe and still rules it today. The quality of mercy is not dkfkljjuoioiff!



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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 05:07 pm (UTC)
Telly-ban(?)

It's amazing to think that even a band as politically empty as the Eurythmics satirised American telly evangelists in the 1980s - everyone was doing it - but not a single artist has spoken out against the Taliban - who forbid girls from school after age 8, blow up Buddhist monuments - the list is endless.

When did pop music get so morally disgusting?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Telly-ban(?)

Well, I've certainly spoken out against the Taliban!


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Re: Telly-ban(?)

dont know about musicians' speaking out against the taliban, but i love the story martin amis tells about how he asked an audience to raise their hands if they felt morally superior to the taliban, and he recalls how only a couple of people could muster the courage to do so.

talk about sniveling, spineless, apologist liberals...not even willing to pass judgement on the fucking taliban!!!


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krskrft
krskrft
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
Re: Telly-ban(?)

Because these days, if you don't have the platform to speak out in a nuanced way, you risk emboldening stupid pointless imperialist politics of the West as well. Sure, pop artists could come out against the Taliban, but do they really want to risk coming off as apologists for the USA at the same time? It's a much trickier proposition than railing against televangelists.


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 06:02 pm (UTC)

i liked that trailer. very self-conscious in a not annoying way.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Jul. 10th, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)

I dont see the Japanese having any more "love" for their surroundings; fervent exploitation of natural resources seems quite ok with the population of the world's second largest economy.


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subalpine
subalpine
subalpine
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 06:23 am (UTC)

seeing Otomo in this trailer reminded me -
i'm curious if you've ever been told you bear any resemblance to Axel Dörner?
last year when i was at the Ftarri Festival, i thought for a moment that i saw you (from across the room) - of course as soon as this man stood up and turned out to be much shorter (and holding a trumpet), the resemblance was gone..

i doubt anyone would mistake the two of you up close (esp. while your head is shaved!), but..


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 10:32 am (UTC)

Hmm, not really seeing it. If I look like him, I look like half the population of Germany!


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robincarmody
robincarmody
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 10:08 pm (UTC)

The strange thing is (and I experienced it myself, though not for hippie-ish reasons) that home schooling in the UK - or home education as it is more usually known here - has tended to be the territory of a certain sort of idealistic leftist, often living in mid-Wales, who want to give *more* time to the study of art and music than the inflexible, arch-utilarian current school setup here allows. Certainly that was a freedom my mum took advantage of, though not at the expense of (the then-new) National Curriculum.

There are some US-style Christian fundamentalist parents who keep their children out of school because they think it is an agent of an anti-Christian state, that it promotes multiculturalism etc., and Peter Hitchens (perhaps our most right-wing newspaper columnist) has been trying to drum up support for home schooling based on those criteria, but I cannot see Christian fundamentalism dominating the home education movement here to the extent that it appears to in the US. We simply don't have enough of them.


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robincarmody
robincarmody
Sat, Jul. 11th, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)

For which I am eternally thankful, of course!


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