asiascape vistas

Techno-Culture, New Politics, and Philosophy in East Asia



Asiascape Vistas is a forum for discussion about the many and various dimensions of cyberculture found in or originating from East Asia. Its focus is on the interplay between these media and questions of politics & philosophy. Contributions are from the academic collective responsible for the core project, but other contributions will also be considered by that collective.
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Lounging in CHAOS


Some time ago, I had the chance to visit the art exhibition CHAOS*EXILE in Akihabara (Tokyo), which was part of the FESTIVAL/TOKYO, a performing arts festival organized in various Japanese cities.

CHAOS*EXILE is described by it's creators, the artist group CHAOS*LOUNGE, as a collection of deliberate efforts to create new art style in our postmodern, animalistic times—a reference to Azuma Hiroki's 2001 book on the otaku culture in Japan. The artists of CHAOS*LOUNGE acknowledge that they cannot but draw on their own, contemporary culture, which is strongly influenced by the otaku culture with its manga, anime, figures, concentrated in places like the electric town around Akihabara station. At the same time, CHAOS*LOUNGE explicitly aims at inquiring the critical potential of this same subculture, which they criticize for its partly apolitical, apathetic reaction to the the events of March 11. “After 3.11 what has become clear is that there are aspects of the otaku that will not change even after the catastrophe, a rather regretful part of digital Japan where an indigenous system becomes simply peer pressure. […] We must make inquiries. What are the possibilities for art after the era of “animalization”? In the midst of this “animalized” world, the opportunity for constructing relations between society and the individual, and chief of all for the function seemingly possessed by “art”, can only be discovered in subcultures.” (http://chaosxlounge.com/chaosexile/chaosexile.html)

The exhibition consisted of two stages, the first of which was publicly accessible and free of charge. Here, the visitor was confronted with a room full of ufo catchers, which she could play endlessly. Instead of the usual prices (plush toys, etc), these cases were filled with various items equipped with a wire loop to grab, which could be exchanged for a ticket to the second stage. Whoever didn't have time to play or failed to catch one of the wires could also buy a ticket for 500 yen (about 5 euro). The second stage was located on two floors of a small building in a side street, almost hidden from the eyes, and could only be found with the help of a map printed on the back of the ticket.

Although I was not able to make any photographs, I will try to describe the exhibition a little. The first stage, with its ufo catchers, helium filled balloons, and a great variety of distorted figures known from anime and manga, which were attached to the walls and—together with stacks of books—filled the inside of the ufo catchers, could be read as an apocalyptic environment ruled by chaos. While there were no direct references to any specific manga or anime, the whole idea of free play might refer to “playfulness” as a way of entering (exile?) today. But it could as well be understood as an allegory on the mechanism through which effort or skill can be short-circuited with money, which granted equal access to the second stage.

The second stage consisted of three rooms on two floors. All walls consisted of wooden boards, all surfaces in the first room were filled with collages of different styles. The website may give an impression of parts of this room. The second room was dark and only contained a monitor which showed a video art work, containing of an endless walk through a labyrinth of website screenshots. The third room had a plastic tent in it, with all kinds of tools and entertainment goods scattered on the floor. The impression was chaotic and reminded of the video footage from the refugee camps after March 11. Without this element, to be honest, I wouldn't have found any explicit reference to March 11 or the situation afterwards.
With it, however, in particular through the combination of all three rooms, the second stage seemed to express and criticize the chaos in the aftermath of 3/11, and the impossibility and inability to cope with the situation. The aimless run through the labyrinth in the video art work at least did not suggest any direction, neither gave hope for finding a way out. Maybe the artists have not yet found, what they are inquiring for. Or maybe I couldn't detect it. Speculating a bit further, the pop cultural collage in the first room, read from the chaos in the tend, might even be read as a critique towards the apolitical disorder of Japanese popular culture in general.

Yet, maybe it is my own pessimism that prevented me from detecting much hope in the second stage—or maybe my ignorance towards the field of contemporary art. If anybody who had the chance to visit the exhibition or is familiar with other works of CHAOS*LOUNGE, I would be very interested in other impressions In any case, the activities of CHAOS*LOUNGE are rather sincere and might be worth following in the future.
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