I’ve always been “in-between.” I spent my first three and a half years in Tokyo, hardly learning the language before relocating with my family to a peaceful suburb just outside New York. We moved again, a year or so later, to a neighboring town where I made my first American friends, whom I left each summer for two months to visit relatives in a sweltering, humid Japan. I aspired, as a teenager, first to become an architect (without really knowing why, though I suspect I loved the photography and the books more than the buildings) then a neurosurgeon; my parents simply (confusedly) accepted these fluctuations, neither pushing nor pulling.
After a year of pre-med coursework in college, I spent a slightly absurd summer in between a neuro-oncology lab in New York and a 17th-century château in Brittany, France. I decided, pretty recklessly in hindsight, to leave medicine behind to study French, philosophy, and art history—anyone who was surprised, however, had forgotten about my occasional Camusian Facebook essays. Then, for a year I was in Paris, where I quietly turned 21 with no more ceremony than on any other Parisian night: that is, with plenty of wine. I returned stateside for my final year of college, deep in a world of literature, film, and art—but a conversation with a friend made me think. “There has to be a way for you to reconcile past you and present you, the rational scientist and the creative artist,” she’d said.
What had felt like liberation and self-realization now looked more like compartmentalization: the replacement of one option with another, denying affinities across disciplines, borders, histories, media. In a way, I’d succumbed to the false premise of all the varieties of the same question I had gotten used to by now: “So, are you more American or Japanese?” “Do you think in English or Japanese?” “Are you a science person or a humanities person?” I’d chosen an option instead of asking why one person couldn’t possibly nurture several seemingly conflicting interests or identities. Multiplicity and ambiguity don’t sit well with us—even tomatoes are subject to our obsession with singularity: are they a vegetable, or not? But in the midst of that we lose the point. Does it taste good? But also, if it doesn’t taste good, why not, and how do we make it better?
When thinking about journalism and criticism in the digital age, I constantly feel that we are at the same crossroads. The way we live today, with our phones, social media profiles, blogs, emails, videos, etc. is so new. I didn’t even have a cell phone until I was 14, which itself sounds ridiculous (in 2015) until you see babies in strollers fiddling with their iPads. As a rule of thumb, the new is viewed by many with suspicion, until, of course, it can be marketed and made profitable; artists, on the other hand, are usually novelty pioneers. Many, if not all, newspapers, magazines, journals, and other print media have adopted the language of the Internet to maintain and develop readership. But having a website, mobile app, and Twitter account is merely swapping one outlet for another, not thinking creatively or synthetically.
At the Walker this week, I hope to hear valuable and actionable insights into how we can choose to take a stand in the “in-between,” neither traditional nor avant-garde, neither too narrow nor too wide, neither inaccessible nor superficial, to reconceptualize the way we live with art instead of trying to categorize into preconceived structures of understanding. Because if we’re stuck arguing about writing about art while the art and artists stand by, then, frankly, we’re missing the point. I want to come out of this weekend revived and inspired by the possibilities that are open to us to produce, distribute, and appreciate cultural wealth because of our digital worlds.
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