TIT-FOR-TAT MEDIA: THE CONTENTIOUS BODIES AND SEX IMAGERY OF POLITICAL ACTIVISM (Routledge, 2022) How does seductive, inflammatory, artistic and leaked online imagery permeate political cultures and decisions? The book details incidents in political activism and media creatavity that I have experienced in Belgium, Hong Kong and China 2018-2021. It discusses the interplay between playful and hateful visual politics during political moments of exhiliration and hopelessness.
This course studies contemporary art systems and institutions as cultural forms within the broader ‘cultural ecology’ of modern cities. It considers the development of post-formalist art forms and time-based media such as installation art, digital media art, video art and performance art and how these art forms are employed within traditional art spaces, public spaces, social media platforms and activist movements.
The aim of the course is also to introduce students to a general historical framework of contemporary art with a focus on dialogic aesthetics and participatory art forms. The students will learn about movements and concepts and how to apply these discourses by researching artists as well as traditional and grassroots institution and cultural precincts. Finally, students will contribute to artistic discourses by curating an innovative work of contemporary art and artist residency. The course will outline institutional and promotional structures of art curating and the benefits of cultural interactivity and exchange.
Full Syllabus CULS5401-2020-dec28
MARCH 2021, Students have submitted their final reflections about visits to galleries and museums on this padlet page.
MARCH 2022 Work in Progress Final Projects “My Favorite Artist in Residency”
Selection of presentation slides
The MA in Visual Culture Studies is a unique theory/practice curriculum around analytical knowledge and audio-visual media production to study Contemporary Art, Digital Media, Virtual Reality and Immersive Media and Film/Documentary cultures. On this site you can find information about the different courses that were taught 2007-2020, as well as extra-curricular events and student projects.
The website is located at http://www.vcs.crs.cuhk.edu.hk
The student videos can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3hcFBKB-2cDCimIsqBD0Ow/videos
After visiting the revamped Africa museum in Tervuren, Brussels, which commemorates our colonial heritage in a supposedly introspective and decolonizing fashion, I was asked by one of the “friendly museum guides” on the scenic ride of tram 44 what I really thought about it, I told him that I did not like it all. He told me to report my criticism on the museum website, but here I slam it on my own blog.
Without having the time to go into details, I think that this internationally applauded “decolonizing” museum is now at once one of Belgium’s lamest and most offensive museums. It does not bother me too much that the exhibits are hodgepodge and very cheaply designed, the stolen objects and taxidermic animals from our brutal heritage creating a cozy fleamarket atmosphere that our Belgium is known for. What bothers me is the lack of care and communication about our forms of brutal exploitation in the colony, the vagueness of descriptions on most of the labels and mission statements, so that it is really not clear what kind of slavery economy and cultural soft power Leopold II had put into place. I noticed a crude denial and many attempts to “remain neutral” amongst a nearly-formal and proud display of mines and minerals, exotically exuberant fauna and flora, offensively colonial statues of serving and nakedly clad primitives, a long engraved list of Belgians who died in the colony without a much longer Congolese counter-list. A few of those ugly-racist sculptures have been “taken away” from the museum and assembled in one separate room for our critical gaze, but many other of those sculptures , as stated on the signs, “could not be removed” from museum halls. Indeed the main slogan of the museum “Everything Passes, Except the Past” here means that the museum itself is stuck in its colonial “human zoo” mentality. It was built by Leopold II and opened in 1910 as a way to showcase his wealth and dark-enlightenment worldview on how to rule Africans, who were also literally put on display in Belgium in 1897. As in other sites of historical commemoration and apology, it should mean that we sense the pain and humiliation as atmosphere of destruction, and ongoing post-colonial strife on how to negotiate cultural relations, but perhaps not the kind of cowardice and silliness that is now the main tenet of this revamped museum.
Or perhaps the silliness of the Belgians, in itself a crude stereotype that unites the Flemish and Walloons, comes in handy for this museum, and it was well covered by Trevor Noah in the Daily Show:
And of course my full applause goes to the VRT series “Kinderen Van de Kolonie” (in French and Dutch) which is also airing this Fall and does apologize to the Congolese. This TV documentary series evokes the full horror of colonial violence by opening up harsh views and Congolese responses, and its complexity is full of feeling.
I exit my apartment in Aalmoezenierstraat, Sint-Andries, Antwerp, and cross the road to the Salvation Army, where I buy myself a used red duffelcoat for 7,50 euro. It is a nostalgic choice as I have already owned and discarded many a red coat. My mother Annette Van Dijck gave me hers on one of my last visits before her death. I put it on and walked around with an air of contentment, but it was too large on the shoulders. My mothers was into the Lady Di look and had favored stately, broad-shouldered garments and epaulettes.
It took my mother many years to die and she somehow kept up her strength to the last minute, even though she was stranded in bed for many months, she would push her self around using doorhandles, walls and cabinets. She refused to get any kind of walking aids or medical personnel inside her apartment, and wanted to suffer and die alone. Her mother, my grandmother Helene Siebelinck-Van Dijck had equally lost all social contact towards the end of her life, complaining for many years that it had been enough. She grew up in an upper-middle class family who owned a lucrative brewery in the village of Wouw, just across the Dutch border, her husband was a well-off doctor who died himself of tuberculosis but did not leave behind a large trust fund. There were eleven children in the Van Dijck family and, as one of the only girls, Annette was ordered to take up odd jobs and start feeding the family, a role that she would (rightfully) resent for the rest of her life.
Annette was more integrated in the small Flemish village than was her mother Helene and she kept a certain joi de vivre when she was dying, kept driving her Berlino to the Delhaize down the road and cooking fancy meals, taking fairly large doses of morphine as she got closer to death, binge-reading her thick novels and watching plenty of TV. In this way she was a kind of role-model for how to depart.
A few years before her death, when my sister Mieke was still alive, we had a family gathering and we browsed through my mother’s collection of coats. Mieke handed me one of Annette’s heavy blacks with ostentatious fur collar—I paraded in the apartment and then we walked outside into the woods. It was frosty and drizzling and the sun was setting even though it had never shown that day. We buttoned our coats and put on woolen hats, scarves and gloves, walked slowly, slipped on the ice, coughed and giggled, my confused American husband following our trails into the reeking Flemish fields.
And now I feel my mother’s coats again in the Salvation Army. I talk to Yvonne, an old Dutch lady with silver curly long hair and stark blue eyes who runs its second-hand clothing shop. She opens it every Wednesday afternoon and I sneak into her shop to chat with her and to buy the various pieces of my sabbatical wardrobe. Yvonne talks to me non-stop and also makes sure that I don’t make any rash choices, guiding me through her erratic collections to a hidden mirror in the backroom. She orders me to zip up coats and move my arms around to make sure they are the right size.
She not is devoid of deep feeling as she now tends to her teeny dog, a Japanese ‘Chin’ who is sleeping in a very small cardboard basket. She named her dog Chinny so that she actually could remember the dog’s breed. Chinny has been her companion of ten years but is very ill as a large gland has slipped out of her“female cavity,” she had been stitched up by the vet but kept pulling out the stitches and making a small mess on the floor of the Salvation. I was looking away when I thought I heard Yvonne say that she was actually ready to put Chinny under, that Chinny had no energy left, that it was time too much for her and she had do so. I had heard it all before. But when I looked up Yvonne said that she would take her to the vet the next day and she would probably be totally fine.
When I visited three days later to check up on Chinny, the minuscule dog had indeed made a full recovery. After taking some medication her gland had slipped back right into her female cavity. She had been moved inside a proper dog basket and she was already starting to tease and pester Yvonne for food.
Louise Bak of the radio program Sex City (Toronto) has been one of the most attentive readers of my books. Here is a long interview with musical interludes about The Afterglow of women’s Pornography in Post-Digital China
I launched my new book The Afterglow of Women’s Pornography in Post-Digital China in the ACO book store in Hong Kong. It was a cathartic kind of event, as the launch can be for the author who finally exits a space of desolation and mental exhaustion while trying to communicate with the outer world. Egret Chow delivered a testimony about being labeled “left-over woman” in mainland China–the class of women who defy the patriotic push to marry and procreate.
In my book I also write about ghost fictions and propose a notion of phantom feminism based on Jack Halberstam’s theory of shadow feminism and Judith Zeitlin’s feminist reading of ancient ghost stories.(1) I had a chat about this with Ling Tang, a Ph.D. student in sociology who could not endorse “phantom feminism” and perhaps believed that I should be more attentive to the material realm of sexual relations and sexual politics. But then I have been stuck inside the porn0-mediated-realm for a while and still believe in its unique affect.
Hence there is a chapter pornographic Boys’ Love manga and online fictions, the extensive subcultures of women’s gay erotica that have very little to do with their embodied sexual practices. The news media have recently tried to probe the complex erotic fantasies of these “straight” woman but straight is also an inadequate label. In Australia they used to label it “bent”–these women and their fantasies are not straight, not lesbian, not trans, not perv, but just slightly bent.
(1) Zeitlin, Judith (1994) “Shared Dreams: The Story of the Three Wives’ Commentary on the Peony Pavillion,” In Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 54:1, pp. 127-179; Zeitlin, Judith T (2007) The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in 17th Century Chinese Literature, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.
Detail from the Japanese BL fan comic Birthday Animal by Akou Susugu (Scanlated into English by Vices and Devices) In this story Tiger has a dildo-like tail (a birthday present from Bunny) which gives him sexual energy but also seems to have a life of its own.
I produced a zine for the Parasite Exhibition Ten Million Rooms of Yearning: Sex in Hong Kong which takes place in five venues in Hong Kong and will be open until August 10, 2014. My zine comments on a collection of Boy’s Love fan zines and slash fiction about tow anime characters, Tiger & Bunny, and focuses on a reappraisal of the middle-aged male character as “bottom” (In Japanese Oyaji Uke)
Together with Tatiana Bazzichelli and Francesco Palmieri I am organizing several panels for the forthcoming Transmediale Festival in Berlin from 29 january till 2 february in Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt whose theme this year is “afterglow.” One of the panels deals with artistic-sexual rebellion and censorship in the Chinese netsphere. The speakers for this panel are Dr. Sufeng Song who is an outspoken academic and activist at Sun Yat Sen university, Guanzhou, and Didi-Kirsten Tatlow who is a correspondent for the New York Times in Beijing with a focus on art, democracy, feminism and technology. Besides these two speakers I have interviewed two well known dissident artists/intellectuals who are currently banned from international travel–the pioneering sex activist and investigative documentarian Ai Xiaoming (sometimes called “Ai of the South”)and the world famous artist and social media commentator Ai Wei Wei (“Ai of the North”).
Both Ai Xiaoming and Ai Wei Wei have had their passports removed and are undergoing constant surveillance by the state while all information about their work is censored.While the contents of their statements can only be revealed at the festival, here are some snapshots of the famous cat of Ai Wei Wei, who made an appearance during the interview. The cat walked in fifteen minutes before the interview took place and jumped on the “celebrity chair.” When Ai Wei Wei himself walked in a bit later and was ready to sit down, she refused to move at all, so Ai Wei Wei then gently dragged the chair with the cat on it away and took another chair. Then we talked about about the state of Chinese art, political provocation, the importance of the imagination and social debate within the neo-liberal authoritarian state. Ai Wei Wei’s statements were overall quite pessimistic and it was difficult for me to ask more personal questions or to lift the mood.
We sensed and acknowledged a total rift between China and the West in how he is treated as a public celebrity figure–while we can find an overload of information about him outside China, his compatriots who share his cultural background cannot not find any information at all. It is as if he is officially deleted from the networks and could well be replaced by his cat. But of course Ai Wei Wei continues to make art internationally and does have a local support system. If you want to read an account of how Ai Wei Wei feels affected and deals artistically with his post-prison condition read Didi-Kirsten Tatlow’s recent interview in the New York Times. Here you can read how he engages in small protest on a daily basis, how he feels that art and intellectual life in China is sick and needs healing, and where he would like to go if he could travel again.
I am now researching stories in which scholars go on a journey of enlightenment, but get interrupted and pestered by a ghost who wants to have sex. Judith Zeitlin has written superbly about this phenomenon in The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in 17th Century Chinese Literature (University of Hawaii Press 2007). In her analysis, ghost romance exemplifies the tendency of Chinese literati to displace fear back onto a “specter”– an abstract figure whose loneliness and charm evokes complex feelings of lust, pity and tenderness. The ghost-figure also represents an “upside down”realm to intellectualism as it evokes powerful feelings of eroticism and melancholia involved in processes of thought and writing. This is why Zeitlin refers to a poem that captures the underside of intellectual types of work and efforts:
When our ancestors invented writing, ghosts wept in the night
When later people learned to read, their worries all arose
I am not scared of ghosts, and I’ m also worry-free
But at night as I amend the ancient text, my autumn lamp glows green.
(Gong Zizhen, Miscellaneous poem, 1838)
In many of the most glorious stories of ghostly seduction, the realm of Qing (high-strung, passionate and sentimental love) is idealized as a temporary or liminal state of being that then disappears and life goes back to normal.
Sex scene between two ghost-sisters in Erotic Ghost Story III (1992). The two sister first masturbate when peeping at the third sister having sex with a scholar, then they get together and make love.
While looking at Hong Kong movie classics, I came across a wide range of category III (x-rated) movies with sex scenes between scholars and ghosts. First of all I would like to mention Erotic Ghost Story III (1992), the third installment of a popular movie series directed by Ivan Lai. This movie is set in the Tang Dynasty and features Chu Chung who is about to get married but goes astray when falling into the “other realm” where three ghost-sisters are competing to have contact with him.
The first sex scene is a remarkable and drawn out love scene between Chung Chu and one of the sisters, Yun Meng. As the sex goes by, we find out that the the two other sisters are actually peeping at the couple through a key hole. In a remarkable change of perspective, the movies then pursues the sexual fantasies of the two sisters. First the camera zooms in on their beautiful bodies as they are masturbating and fantasizing in separate beds, then it shows how they get together and start making love to each other. One sister pleasures the other orally and then pours water on her body to clean her.
It is almost as if there is a moment of solidarity between the main narrative—the superb sex between scholar Chung Chu and his ghost–and the side-narrative of sexual chemistry between two other sisters. The side-narrative is not pursued any further in this movie, but it does represents one of the best moments of “accidental lesbianism” in Hong Kong cinema.