Hung-Ying Chen, PhD│Postdoctoral Research Associate of Urban and Economic Geography at Durham University (UK), Member of Taiwan Alliance of Anti-Forced Eviction (Taiwan)
Adjacent to Cheonggyecheong, the Sewoon Electronic Plaza, at the first sight, is identical to the Guanhua digital plaza in Taipei, Akihabara in Tokyo, and Hua Qiang Bei in Shenzhen. Featured by tiny subdivision of store and dazzling density of commodity display, these commercial places form a nexus of ‘front shops of world factories’ across East Asian cities since the 1970s. During 2008 and 2015, I had several visits of Cheonggyecheong and Eujiro area. Amongst the visits, Sewoon Electronic Plaza has impressed me for its irreplaceable distinctiveness. Such distinctiveness lies in how it spatially intertwines with the river Cheonggyecheong and beyond. The cluster of small-to-medium workshops and stores, spanning from garment, hardware and steel service, to electronic supplies, have long defined the heart(land) of Seoul that it belongs to the multitudes. As such, the current Cheonggeycheong and Eujiro area have not only articulated different phases of Asian post-war industrialization but also documented the contemporary urban history of labours’ democracy. For its fellow citizens and (international) visitors, this particular area offers a lively material archive of contemporary Seoul as it unfolds Seoul’s multiplicity of socio-economic development in its own right. In view of this, Mayor Park Won-soon’s ‘Sewoon Urban Regeneration Plan’ seems to repeat Lee Myungbak’s mistake in the 2003 ‘Cheonggyecheong Stream Revitalization Plan’.
Indeed, the level of cohabitation across various genres and speeds of development defines how great a city is. Urban regeneration is one such critical means. Its moderation of development also filters the past, present, and future of a city. As such, the citizens’ call for Cheonggyecheong and Euljiro conservation brings a critical message for the lay public: The Sewoon Urban Regeneration Plan is now redefining the heart of Seoul. However, the current top-down vision and relentless demolition would fail to substantiate the governance philosophy on ‘sharing’ and ‘transparency’ – the two principles Park once committed. Let us take a pause and rethink: Which vision can ensure the public interests of Seoul’s citizens? A gentrified and de-historicized vertical residential complex? Or a rediscovery of Seoul’s charm and unique treasure – the geographical knit of postwar urban industrialization and democracy?
To be translated in Korean (한국어 번역 예정)
천홍잉 │ 영국 더럼대 도시경제지리학과(Durham Geography) 박사후연구원, 대만 강제철거반대연합(反迫遷連線) 회원
[2008년 8월 24일 서울의 아키하바라] […] 종로의 라디오 마켓 […] 서울 최대의 전자 거리라고 할 법한 ‘세운상가’에 도착했다. [휴일이라] 아쉽게도 이곳 역시 많은 가게가 문을 닫아서 사람은 드문드문 보였다. […] 하지만 미로처럼 이어진 뒷골목 안쪽으로 계속 들어가자 선반에 가공한 부품을 늘어놓은 구역이 나왔다. 나는 “느낌 좋네요. 영화 찍기에 딱 맞는 분위기네.”라고 말했다. (266)
[2008년 8월 25일] […] 대부분 도매상인데 방대한 전자 부품을 취급하고 있었다. 아키하바라의 전자 부품도 여기서 나온 게 아닐까 싶을 정도였다. / 거기에서 샛길로 들어가니 작은 부품 가게가 늘어서 있다. 전선 전문점을 보는 순간 박리제로 간단히 피막을 벗길 수 있는 애나멜선이 필요하다고 했던 노토미 키쿠오 씨의 부탁이 떠올랐다. 영화의 특수 효과 중 탄착 컨트롤에 사용하는데 최근 아키바에서는 적당한 물건을 손에 넣기 힘들어졌다고 했다. 상점에 들어가 노토미 씨가 건네준 견본을 보여주며 구할 수 있는지 물었다. 나이 많은 주인장은 아무 말 없이 다짜고짜 나를 끌고 가게 밖으로 나갔다. 그러곤 건너편 가게 앞에 멈추더니 ‘여기서 물어봐!’라는 표정을 짓는다. 재미있다. 하지만 거기에도 전선을 파는 물건이 없어서 다시 뒷골목으로 들어갔다. 전선을 파는 곳이 한 집 더 있어서 물어보니 젊은 주인이 영어로 “테스트해 보죠.”라며 가게에 진열한 전선을 툭툭 자른 후 박리 용액에 담그는 것이었다. 피막이 제대로 벗겨지는 걸 확인하고 한 묶음을 구입했다. 주인의 화끈함과 철저한 태도가 마음에 들었다. (269)
[2009 年 07 月 23 日 Nam Jun Paik Art Center] […] 昨年来た電子部品街はすぐに見つかり、そこか らシームレスにつながっている機械部品や板金の 町工場の通りも覗く。「ここはまさにパイク的アー トのアトリエになりえるね」と言うと、カンさんも 同感する。日本ではすでに消滅しはじめているが、 こういう場所が生き残っているのは、すばらしい。[…] (328)
[2009년 7월 23일] […] 작년에 와 본 전자 거리를 발견하고 틈새도 없이 연결된 기계 부품과 작은 판금 공장 골목도 살펴보았다. “여기는 실로 백남준 예술의 아틀리에가 될 수 있겠네요.”하고 말하니 성몽 씨도 동감한다. 일본에서는 이미 소멸하기 시작한 이런 곳이 살아남았다는 게 대단하다. […] (302)
The electronic market in Seoul is a unique scene worthy of great cultural, historical, and social respect. From both local (Korean) and global (international) viewpoints of technological evolution and its understanding, the area stands as a striking instance of unmapped scientific discoveries in diverse academic disciplines; compared to similar sites in Europe, Cheonggyecheon has a peculiarity of its own that should be treated with extreme care and conservation. As a researcher of play and games, I see the electronics market specifically valuable in the light of the research trends around Korean media history — with a reminder that the results of such research will yield profits not only as progress in our overall cross-cultural understanding, but also as improved comprehension of the socio-economy of Korean gaming industry per se.
Have you ever visited the vicinity of Cheonggyecheon and Euljiro in Seoul, Korea?
Please write down your trip note and opinion about how unique and significant you felt and realized it was, and send it to us: ctcl (at) ctclab (dot) org
There is a urban regeneration/redevelopment event in this area of Cheonggyecheon and Euljiro in Seoul where the electronics market (including Sewoon Sagga), ironsworks streets, tools shops have uniquely co-located for more than a half century.
Since the last year, the redevelopment project accompanying forced demolition has been aggressively underway driven by the landowners, real-estate agencies and construction corporations with the support or at least negligence of the Seoul and central governments. What is specific is that the central part (Sewoon Sagga buildings) has been restored and regenerated, whereas the surroundings are being destined to the eviction and demolition for the redevelopment to build offices, restaurants, hotels, or apartments etc.; however, the whole area has been unexampled organic urban manufacturing complex, an ecology that has spontaneously formed for over 70 years.
As you see the pictures recently taken below, the area called Ipjeong-dong between Cheonggyecheon and Euljiro is being under deconstruction. The Cheonggyecheon and Euljiro Reservation Solidarity (https://www.facebook.com/cheongyecheon), and other groups or meetings made up of activists, artists and scholars, have recently been organized in order to respond to this with all supporting citizens and you.
So we would like to request you to please write down a paragraph or two concerning how unique and significant it is when you ever visited, and send it to us: ctcl (at) ctclab (dot) org
– your name and affiliations;
– a paragraph or two in your mother language, and then in English, to which Korean will be translated and added;
– picture(s) of you at the site, if any.
With your contributions, we here could weigh heavily on the government and the public to realize again and strongly how internationally important this area is and worth to reserve it rather than let it be gone.
Interview with KOGAWA Tetsuo by JO Dongwon, December 2018
This is an interview based on several email exchanges between KOGAWA Tetsuo and JO Dongwon in November and December 2918, when it has come to the publication of Korean version (아키바 손의 사고, 미디어버스, 2018) of アキバと手の思考 (Akiba to Te no Shiko, せりか書房, 2016), in English Think With Hands.
Please note that it has not been proofread, copyedited, or published elsewhere yet, unless otherwise noted.
Contact for more information: d AT ctclab DOT org
1. A brief preface to the book and this dialog
JO Dongwon: Congratulations on the publication of your book in Korean and in Korea, and Thank you for accepting my interview, Tetsuo. First off, please tell us Korean readers what this book is about. There is no preface to the Korean version in the book, and I would like to ask you to make a brief note both for the book and this interview.
Kogawa Tetsuo: The book has five aspects: novel, biography, theoretical essay, diary, and document. They are intertwined in the all pages. There are the obvious divisions such as chapters, but don’t trust them.
Through the complications one potential theme could appear: you may call it “aging problem” or “senility.” But my question is that the problem is not so simple. Although it is discussed almost only in the Afterword, I proposed a hypothesis that “senility” and mistakes which were considered to derive from “aging,” “senility,” vision problem and so on should be re-considered from perspective of the complicated but very interesting relationship between our brain and our hands. There is an argument that our hands have their brain by themselves, our skin is brain.… http://www.scipress.org/journals/forma/pdf/1503/15030227.pdf
By the way, I have been interested in Guattari-Deleuze’s concept “micro-brains” (micro-cerveaux, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, 1991, p.200) which was not developed by them, but we could do it for this context.
You probably think who the old person at the starting story. Between this old man and the boy in the next paragraphs there should be an untold story. To imagine it would be readers’ work. In the forthcoming French edition, these complicated structure will be simplified. The translators threw up their hands to translate such connotations. So the French book shows that a person who was familiar with Akihabara from childhood walked around in Akihabra and was involved in radioart.… I can’t read the Korean version so that I have no idea how such nuances are translated.
2. Material form of the book
Dongwon: as mentioned in the very last sentence at epilogue, what in this book is materially different form than those in your previous books? It seems like that aspect may not be well presented in the translation.
지금까지 내가 쓴 책과 물질적으로 다른 형태를 채택한 것은 바로 그런 기대 때문이다.(345)
Tetsuo: although vertical direction in print of book is still popular in Japan and all of my other 31 books are printed by vertical direction, I chose this time a partly similar layout with the screen of mobile phone: the narrow space and the horizontal direction of the text. This is an implicit criticism to the present mobile-phone addiction. Also, I urged this book to be materially “massive” in comparison with the boundless lightness of mobile phone’s text. Although you hand the body of mobile phone by your hands, the ideal of mobile phone is to decrease the physical weight up to zero. The lighter the better. But I think that book is a physical object to take hold it by your hands. In order to emphasize such an aspect of hands, I urged the design. But I had to compromise on the more radical one.
3. Hands Think
Dongwon: as you mention in the book, you entered the university, not in the department of engineering, but in philosophy. 文科 rather than 理科. Any background?
Tetsuo: when I was a high school student, I planned to enter the department of electronics. But I changed my mind and went to the department of philosophy. If your question refers to the background of my radioart performance, my long-term hobby of making radio circuits influenced and helped me. I wrote about it in my book.
Dongwon: still, I am curious about why you changed your mind from electronics to philosophy when you entered the university. I guess that was a critical moment for all those.
Tetsuo: In a sense, I caught a “disease” called Philosophy, more precisely “philosophical Nihilism”. Later I found the exact explanation in Nietzsche’s words. He suggested that European science lacks “Wozu”( 「なんのため」in Japanese “what-for” in english). Thinking the ultimate aim of electronics that I had been interested in, I could find each pragmatic and now-now aims but no ultimate aim. Electronics and every science might enable what we never thought. But what for? Already there were a lot of criticism against the modern science and technology. In philosophy Existentialism was trendy in my youth. Nietzsche’s Nihilism was the basis of thinking. Also, Heisenberg’s “Uncertain Principle” (不確定性原理) became popular. His thesis itself was known much earlier that the 50s and 60s, but novelists, critics and artists found their “raison d’etre” in this word “uncertain” (「不確定な」). For Existentialism “Absurdity” (「不条理」) was the basic term. So I had to re-think from the beginning but wondered where the beginning was. Philosophy seemed to reply to this question.
Dongwon: how do you think of the English title of your book? It is written “Think with hands” on the Japanese original book cover. Is it correct? As I read the book, I think your conceptualization should be hands’ thinking rather than thinking (also) with hands.
Tetsuo: the English title is “Think with hands.” This directly derived from Denis de Rougemont’s famous book “Penser avec les Mains.” See the chapter “Think with hands” (pp.121 of the original[, p.127 of the Korean version]). The first meaning is to say “think with hands” rather than brain/mind. Could you explain more about what you wanted to say by “hands’ thinking rather than thinking (also) with hands”? Are you talking about something philosophical? Is your interest a level that hands themselves “think” rather than that “I” or “s/he” or “we” think something by their hands? Tell me more about what you wanted say by “hands’ thinking.”
Dongwon: right, the subject who thinks should be hands themselves, as I read it. Let me ask in other words.
To me, what penetrates the book is consistent mismatches or dilemmas out of the conflicts between the concepts, approaches, manners, etc. in every aspect of your hands’ traces such as radio activism, transmitter workshops, and radioart performances. Though you do not explicitly address them. (exceptionally, you seem to mention it once like 「すれちがい」in が、今回、わたしはま さに、そういう「すれちがい」の高度の緊張のな かにみずから踏み入ることになる。, which is translated into 엇갈림'[crisscross] in Korean version .) For instance, radio has been insistently accepted as a telecommunication means or at least a musical instrument, against which you have kept claiming its potential to play with airwaves; in such many workshops, the hosts did not well prepare for them in spite of the fact that you had made a request several times; and most participants were happy to finish making the transmitter on their own and went home at the moment they were now ready to begin involving in some radioart. More importantly, in your radioart performances, the sound or video should be just a mediator to speculate the material nature of and play with airwaves, but they have ended up the main concern in most occasions. In a word, literally translating an aphorism, 見指忘月, people gaze not at the moon but at your hands pointing to it. Contrary to this metaphor, the hands, particularly ones which “think”, have been little paid attention. Thus, you may conclude that there is basically a fissure between our brain’ thinking and hands’. This is what I keep finding interesting and meaningful throughout your book: a motor to make the intersection of body, city, machine, activism and art alive and forward.
From this, a question comes out: what has made your hands think in a different way your brain does? Perhaps your book title and the first chapter (忘却のアキバ, 망각의 아키바) have already answered to this. Yet, I wonder if you can please elaborate the way how your hands have long raised to come to think and to do so asynchronously, assuming that all the hands could not automatically start to think from scratch or at least we do not tend to think our hands think.
Tetsuo: when we are talking especially like in this kind of discussion, we use “brain words,” we are thinking by our brain. But is it true? By words especially by theoretical words of concepts, it is difficult to express what your hands say or wants to express. Every brain-word would simplify and abstract it. When you say “my hands think” or “I think by my hands,” you have to borrow the brain-word and brain-conceptualization “think.” However, every language has its horizons to imply something beyond. It would be the fields of emotion and feeling but more than that. There are arguments that our skin is full of “brains.” Also, Guattari and Deleuze provide in their book “What is Philosophy”, the new concept of “micro-brain” (micro-cerveau). Our body has the numerous “micro-brains”. Why don’t you look at and describe such “micro-brains” in your hands? Of course, it’s not the problem of changing words. It must lead to a different way of “thinking”. That is hand-work and in my case building transmitters. Transmitter has a similarity with our brain as well as our skin. You know the term neurotransmitter. Also, we have to talk about memory in terms of brain and hands, I could add “micro-brain” and skin. Our memory is not the same with electronic memory devices which are the container of algorithmic data. You might erase your brain memory, but can’t do your hands-memory.
Dongwon: on the other hand, from the perspective of your hands’ thinking, what do you hope this book with those conflicts (I said above) would tell us about the Japanese society where there has been for example “a distorted and deflected sensibility in its post-modern condition.”
‘개별적이고 싶지만 모두와 함께 있고 싶기도 하다.’ 이런 딜레마가 일본의 포스트 근대가 지닌 뒤틀리고 굴절된 감성이라고 본다. (189-190)
Tetsuo: I am not sure of your exact question, but we could talk about some kind of “crisscross” from the perspective of society, cultures and history. For instance in the 50s and in Akihabara, most of the visitors were more closer to their hand-culture and building radio-circuits by their own hands. In Korea, I found more richer hand-gestures than in Japan. The meaning would be multiple. The Western culture tends to try to express everything by words. Therefore John Cage insisted on the Silence. He was influenced by Daisetsu Suzuki and Zen thought. In the period of electronic communication, why many symptoms of Hikikomori and autism are common? Why is a therapy letting a patient using hands creatively considered relevant?
4. Electronics markets and hands’ thinking
Dongwon: surely, this book is mainly about your radioart and historical activities. I strongly believe it also tells a lot about the history of the electronics market as well. Actually, my research approach has shifted to the applied fields based on such urban space as their background and context. i.e. radio receiver assembling, game copying, computer cloning and the like. Among them, indeed, radio is the very media technology as the beginning of everything in the history of Cheonggyecheon electronics market (aka Sewoon Sangga), as it seems to be so in Akihabara according to what I read from your book.
Above you mention “[y]ou probably think who the old person at the starting story. Between this old man and the boy in the next paragraphs there should be an untold story. To imagine it would be readers’ work. … I can’t read the Korean version so that I have no idea how such nuances are translated. …” As for the translation work, I think it is well done. However, I can not judge if I have captured such nuanced. You may not be willing to explain your intention in the indicative mood, but I’d like to ask you to do so to the extent that you do not go over the “reader’s work”. For that first episode, as a reader I feel that our body and the city (Akihabara in this case) are of the similar shape of life cycle; however, particularly when the latter is continuously redeveloped and specifically regenerated, their bodily/urban memory, history, or future possibility of above conflicts as the motor have been completely contained like your description below, which ends up in dementia.
거기에서는 모든 기억이 테플론 가공(금속의 표면 마찰계수를 줄이거나 부식을 방지하기 위해서 금속 표면에 불소수지를 도포하는 공법)의 매끄러운 표면처럼 튕겨져 나가고, 벽과 도로와 광장도 기억이 스며드는 대신 아주 새롭고 청량한 제로 상태가 유지될 것이다. 그 곳에서 사람들은 일종의 치매 상태가 되어 ‘광장공포’에 떨지도 모른다.) (31)
Tetsuo: again, I am not sure of what your question is. In the Korean translation, how do you interpret the old man in the earlier page, what is the connection with the boy that one may identify with me? Who is the old man?
Dongwon: I think it is my specific interpretation rather than the translation issue. That anecdote or fictional story would be so fascinating start of the book.
By the way, concerning the comparable life cycle of man and machine, your life-long tinkering with radio is not just about a personal history, but about a specific history of radio itself in terms of media, technology, industry and culture.
Tetsuo: I don’t intend to expand my (or <I>’s in this book) personal history to a generation general. But of course every single matter has its social horizons.
5. Akihabara: history and nature
Dongwon: I wonder what is the difference between Akiba and Akihabara, as you put it.
Tetsuo: Akiba is an abbreviated form (clipping) of Akihabara, as you know. But in this clipping process, I find not only today’s trend to clip the words and expressions (ex. Advertising → ad, television → TV) but also some sort of Japanese hiding tradition. Look, “Sumaho” is a clipping from “smart phone” in Japan. But can it be understood internationally? “Ad” was made not in the Japanese context. As a clipping is done in Japan, the new transformed words are quite difficult for the “outsider”. Akiba is a kind of jargon. This means that Japanese clippings are not open to everybody. It has a lot to do with a kind of hiding and secret-oriented, less-open, exclusive character of Japanese society.
Dongwon: among all your books and articles, is there better one that focuses on Akihabara in detail than this book? In any cases, I wonder if you might think of writing a new piece about Akihabara or even its relations to Asian counterparts, which is partly dealt with in this book?
Tetsuo: in my Akiba book you are reading, I wrote that Akihabara is becoming a mere “sigh” Akiba and described how the used-to-be vital aspects are lost. So, if something could happen in future, I will not write about Akihabara again. As a city and even a model of our future city, Akihabara can not give me any impact now.
Dongwon: concerning your specific modifier, suspicious (うさんくささ, 수상쩍은), I figure out what it refers to, but I wonder if there is any specific reason why you pick it up and use for signifying some aspects of Akiba and your experiences there.
Tetsuo: as I explained in my books, “Usankusasa” may be my specific and idiosyncratic term. In my understanding it has a lot to do with our body and body cultures. Thus, it cannot be translated into English by “suspicious”. If it is considered as “suspicious or questionable” (these are the “ordinary” translation of Usankusasa), it is because every thing of “Usankusasa” (“Usankusai-mono”) is rejected in our society. But our body is essentially “Usankusai”. Only an android and a robot (at least so far) don’t eat, make love, egest shit, urine, vomit…. Maybe this term could be translated into English partly by “mean”, “weird”, “bawdy”, “obscene” and so on. The fact that these terms are usually for something dirty, antisocial, and avoided reveals that we are accustomed and trained to have distance to our body and what we should face to.
Dongwon: what is special in your trips to Seoul, among many other interesting places, would be your visits to the electronics streets (electronic parts market), since there is few such place in your travelogues elsewhere. Yet, a few passages leaves me something lacking: your explorations to Cheonggyecheon electronics market (also known as Sewoon Sangga) should have been much better organized and guided. Specific hands’ ability to think has been raised and developed in Seoul, Korea, could be compared to your Akiba hands’ thinking. It has suffered from amnesia, as well. Nevertheless, you offer many hints and ideas here and there for us to investigate (East) Asian electronics markets further and deeper for the better understanding of translocal modernizations from the below with electronic media and culture in the region during the second half of the last century.
Tetsuo: in this book, I didn’t much concretely talk about the older Akihabara where I was so inspired from the Junk-shops. I mentioned more on my workshops. You are more interested in the city aspect to the hands-thinking. Akihabara used to have such a stimulation. City is not free from the change. For instance in New York, at least until the early 80s there used to be over 10 radio-parts shop. Therefor Num Jun Paik often visited Canal Street. Since I had met him in the late 70s in New York, I met and had 3 or 4 public interviews with him whenever he visited Japan. We talked with him about such a story too. But he was more interested in talking with me about philosophy, information theories and micro-politics. You can read our talks in BT (Bijutsu Techo), Intercommunication and so on.
In terms of radio markets in Seoul, I visited often in my limited days, but strangely enough, it was quite difficult to find parts of transmitter. It is really strange. I wanted to know why. Generally, even in Akikhabara, in the period of Mini FM boom for instance, the shoppers of Akihabara were relatively negative to talk about the parts of transmitter especially when they knew our aim (possible “pirate” transmission).
Dongwon: I also want to know specific reasons along with general ones. Please let me know what parts of transmitter specifically and ask around at the market.
Tetsuo: I looked for the parts for high-frequency use such as coils, power transistors, circuits for frequency counter, junk transmitters and soon. I might have visited wrong places.
Dongwon: let me investigate it and get you later. [To be updated]
On the other hand, throughout the history of Cheonggyecheon electronics market, the production (by copying at first) and distribution of electronic game machines in late 1970s have played a significant role not only in thriving itself in business while contributing to other domestic electronics industries, but in catalyzing the hands’ culture further. To the contrary, you never mention video game machines in the historical narratives of Akihabara, unlike the radio, TV and computer. Does this mean that game machines had little to do with Akihabara itself as well as your hands’ thinking, particularly around the late 1970s and early 1980s?
Tetsuo: in my Akiba book, I didn’t talk about game machines. Also, I didn’t talk much about computer either. In fact, I cut many pages on computer that initially I had a plan to include in it. It is partly because the page size was limited but mostly because computer devices including game machine has less possibility to dismantle and deconstruct. This is the same with mobile phone. Everything consists of modules. Main deconstruction could be through the software. In my words, digital DIY belongs to our brain while analogue DIY does to our hands. In future, we might forget our hands and remote culture might be ordinary. But I still stubbornly attached to my hands. Sometimes, I tried to build robot hands connecting IoT devices. The parts are more available now. To build them has not to use soldering iron but only a screw driver. Every part is a module and you just combine them. So, I miss soldering.
6. Electronics markets and media arts
Dongwon: have you happened to meet any media (radio or video) artists like you in Taiwan? In Taipei, there have been historical and huge electronics markets like ones in Tokyo and Seoul. I am curious if there are Taiwanese activists or artists based on and raised at those markets.
Tetsuo: “like you” is a difficult question. If you mean artist that I feel some solidarity or friendship, I may think about it. But in Taipei, I haven’t been there for a long years. Also I have to say that the number and the size of radio market is not always the barometer of prosperity of radioart. In Canada, for instance, there are few markets of radio parts. Instead of that, radioart is still flourishing.
Dongwon: can you imagine how your radio activism and/or radioart would be different if it were no such a place like Akihabara or if you were not Akiba radio boy? To put it differently, as you answered above like “… the number and the size of radio market is not always the barometer of prosperity of radioart. …”, if in particular locals radioart has been flourishing without nearby electronic parts market, how does it look/sound like? How different or unique could radioart at least partly based on Asiatic electronics market be from those without it? In general, you might think of the specific relationship between Akiba-like electronics market and radio culture/activism/art.
Tetsuo: first of all, I have to say that “radioart” is a new type of culture and a challenge to the existing and conventional “radio art” and “sound art” and even “art” general. It might be that most of artists especially main-stream artists never accept it. That’s why I use “radioart” instead of “radio art”. In the “Akiba” book, this is not fully developed. Is there my “A Radioart Manifesto” in the Korean translation? If yes, could you read it? If not, you could read it in my webpage: http://anarchy.translocal.jp/radioart/20080710AcousticSpaceIssue_7.html
As for my relationship to Akihabara, it was true that while walking and picking up electronic parts at the Junk-shops I was so inspired to build new transmitters and other electronic devices. It would be similar to engineers who are looking for new invention. The difference would be my interest in art. It’s a form of expression rather than usability or practical function. Imagine that for Marcel Duchamp a urinal is not for pissing but an art work. Of course his “art” must be re-defined differently from conventional “art” at the time.
Dongwon: I am interested in the specific historical relationship between radio culture/activism/art and Asiatic electronics markets. By the way, I’m fascinated by your radioart, as I read the book and also “A Radioart Manifesto” that has been translated and added at the appendix in the book.
7. Radioart, wireless imaginations, and airwaves
Dongwon: why does part three, hands’ travelogue (日付のある手の旅), begin with December 2005? Did that time mean any specific moment in your hands’ history?
Tetsuo: after 2005, my commitment to radioart was growing and deepen. Radio Kinesonus that Hiroshi Hasagawa and I had started in 2003 got going. Arts Birthday project became international, I had a lot of workshops overseas and my guest projects at TKU became active. Therefore the diary has more topics than before 2005. Also, around this period, I became more convinced on the difference of radioart from so-called “radio art”, sound art, media art and the existing art genres.
Dongwon: from your perspective of radioart, how do you appreciate the video art, Paik Nam jun’s in particular, and what are their limitations? Have they played airwaves well beyond some restrictive boundaries?
Tetsuo: Nam Jun Paik is the great artist. I respect all of FLUXUS artists and was influenced especially Paik a lot. I was one of the jury members for Nam Jun Paik Awards of Nam Jun Paik Art Center in Yongin. In my radical interpretation, he is not only the video artist but also the radioartist. Even if he didn’t build transmitter, he always insisted in the radiation from video screen (of cathode-ray tubes). It is actual as well as metaphorical in his works. Look at “TV Buddha” in which a small Buddha statue is watching a television. The meaning and the impacts are infinite. http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/tv-buddha/images/2/
Dongwon: https://anarchy.translocal.jp — very well collected and preserved. If possible, can you select and recommend the most enlightening videos to show (1) your radio transmitter workshops and (2) your radioart performances to me and Korean readers?
Tetsuo: it is quite difficult for me because I always think that the newest attempt is the best for me: otherwise I would not have shown to the public. But it is only for me and my personal criteria. So the best thing is that you may check YouTube or Vimeo inputting “tetsuo kogawa radio” or something like that to their search window. By the way, my newest attempt of radioart is at: https://youtu.be/7-bZ9PwUwMQ
Dongwon: in Korea, there has been a community radio activism and policy intervention in early 2000s, as you mention. Unfortunately, it did not seem to mean to unleash a diversity of “wireless imaginations”, which would be necessary for activists’ agenda of media democracy as well as artists’ creativity. It looks like that most community radio stations in Korea have dwelled in a small world of the content-oriented and broadly casting systems. Profound changes, or molecular transformations if you like, should not stop at, and go beyond, the role-switching of sender and receiver.
One possible way to pursue it may be to dig into the material configuration of the systems that your transmitter-making workshops have striven to uncover. As for the radio transmitter, you intriguingly describe: although it is made up with inorganic substances-based electronic parts, once finished, it lives with complexity and delicacy like organic living things since it transmits information at once and diffuses emotions.
송신기는 무기물인 전자 부품으로 만드는데도 불구하고 일단 완성하면 유기물인 생명체처럼 복잡함과 섬세함이 살아난다. 정보를 발신하는 동시에 감정과 정념을 흩뿌리기 때문이다. (42)
How about reversing the way we see it: information with emotions can not be possible without those inorganic materials and dedicate hands’ assembling, as the transmitter-making workshops continuously demonstrate. Any further ways for the materials and parts to speak? More precisely, any critical ways for us to listen to them?
Tetsuo: as long as you talk about “community radio”, the situation would be the same all over the world. Radio with contents and without contents are different. The latter would be possible only in art at the best. Also, the problem of the size exists. As long as you have bigger size of institution than your walking or touchable distance, “wireless imagination” would be less and less. People today expect VR and AR technologies to diminish distance between the interrelating individuals. But it would be hopeless by relaying only on such tools. Even geographically long distance could create “wireless imagination” and “remote emotion”. There is no a standard know-how, but the basic point would be to insist on “here” first and to less extend the size.
Dongwon: how about circuit-bending? How do you find it in relation to your Radioart?
Tetsuo: you referred to the community radio in your country. I met only a couple of persons of such stations in Seoul. So I can just say about a generalized opinion. As I mentioned about the problem of “size”, division of labor and bureaucratic system can’t create emotion from inside. It is the same with personal actions. Even our personal mind and body can be in the division of labor and bureaucratized. As far as my radioart practice concerns, I have been trying to keep a certain micro-size action for preventing my micro-bureaucracy and micro-division-of-labor in my mind and body. To build my own tools, in short DIY work would be one solution.
Tetsuo: in the 80s and 90s, I was involved in criticizing heavy use of airwaves from the perspective of electromagnetic pollution. I researched and had interviews with researchers on it. Also, in the 80s I was deeply involved in Mini FM and micro radio partly because such a tiny radio is considered as relatively healthier than big radio stations with the 1000 times power of transmission. Also, in my experience of radioart using transmitters, I had experiences that even one watts transmitter depressed my body condition and disturbed hearing and seeing. So I am fully aware of the danger of mobile phone and I don’t use it usually now. So the point is not only 5G but every facilities of the strong airwaves. WiFi used to be considered as dangerous because of the similar frequency with microwave oven. But today few people are worried about using it.
8. Aging and DIY healthcare
Dongwon: lastly, how is your health these days?
Tetsuo: I am fine. I have been suffered by diabetes and Barometric pressure syndrome. They are not deadly diseases. Only one problem is that I don’t want to rely on doctor: I prefer my DIY cure (I would say). So I have self-organized a constant program of eating and exercising. It has been very effective and my blood glucose level becomes lower now as long as I keep eating less carbo foods and walking a lot everyday. This condition is, however, no good for travel because it would be hard to keep such a program.
Dongwon: it is so great to hear that you are fine. Well, DIY cure or DIY medicine may be one of my future research agendas.
I appreciate your dedicated radio works. Thank you very much for your insight in this interview. Take good care and stay in touch!