For many months now, I have been a casual observer to the persistence of artists and performers who hone their craft, forge an artwork or perform a piece sometimes to a vast audience, sometimes to a handful of people, sometimes to the one or two loyal friends and family. And regardless the vast array of reactions ranging from smothering adoration, superficial approval, rarefied resonance, hasty indifference to despotic criticism, they go back and do it again. I count myself somewhere in this group, and often wonder what is it, this urge, this instinct to communicate through art. My sense is that it is beyond the few instances of resonance experienced by my viewers. As I have also witnessed a deadening to those artists and performers who can’t find solitude away from their audiences.
Izutsu writes in regards to the playwright Zeami, “The person who creates form is lonely, but through his creativity he is able to endure his loneliness. This is because form — though achieving completion through the eyes of others — is originally created by a single individual alone in a place not directly concerned with others. In the process of creating form, the artist must deal directly with something higher than mere others.”
And then I discover a profound example of this enigmatic and unarticulated higher entity, which illustrates what Steiner says is art’s strength to convey — the moments when the “metaphor of resurrection is given its edge of felt conjecture.”
In Seoul, South Korea, a silent, young girl in traditional Korean clothing sits upright in a wooden chair, almost expressionless, directly facing the Japanese Embassy across the street. She is cast in bronze, a public art piece, the emblem of an inner child both resilient and vulnerable to the systematic acts of inhumanity that would come to pass against her being. It is this art piece installed for, and around which, a dwindling group of women, now in their 80’s and 90’s, gathered for the 1000th time to demand recompense for their years as sexual slaves to Japanese soldiers during World War II. On today, the 1000th protest, the Japanese government closed the blinds to their windows, as they have for the 999 protests before this one, an act needing no further metaphor. This closing off and away of the Embassy deepens the aching beseech of the lone bronze girl, the emotional and spiritual stand-in for the few remaining victims who want justice before they die.
Next to the seated, bronze girl is an empty chair. Does the seat beckon for you and me — that we could easily have found ourselves in such a haunting circumstance, given a few twists of fate? Or is it a place holder for the other little girls, no longer living, eternally at a loss for the obviously inherent and deserved dignity unfortunately absent from so many places on this planet.
Regardless, next to the empty chair, the solitary, little girl will remain motionless and mute as if open to all possibility, but with the deafening presence of her 200,000 fellow victims amongst us in the ethers.
Today’s Advice: “Our nature is to be overcome. (Society does not have to be overcome, but disobeyed.)” Stanley Cavell