The Aesthetics of Intimacy and Opacity + Waiting Room

from You Saw Nothing: Sight, Digital Video, Post-3.11 Japan

On intellect, Shoshana Rosenberg and Hannah Reardon-Smith state that “much of the contemporary western sociopolitical landscape has been shaped by ways of thinking and doing that place high value on the notion of objectivity”.* This objectivist view of the world is driven for finding truth. Truth is “formed with a particular set of bodies, practices and ways of thinking in mind, dictated by the ‘common sense’ of the time and place”.** “Therefore, bodies, practices and ways of thinking that exist outside of this ‘common sense’ are inevitably Othered, leading to exclusion, marginalisation and victimisation.”***

Rosenberg and Reardon-Smith argue against objectivism and its exclusivist characteristic as a location of power. The dualism in this research also functions to refute the dominant power designation. The aesthetics of intimacy and opacity is an example of resistance against the dominant designation in knowledge and representation, a dominance of“transparency” in philosopher Édouard Glissant’s words.****

The aesthetics of intimacy and opacity is a product of the critical uses of the duality: the oscillation and destabilisation of the boundary between the two oppositional positionalities and the resistance against the hegemony, the dominant power designation. It is an aesthetics originated and politicised from the sense of intimacy and opacity experienced in the production of digital video in the three Japanese peripheries of Fukushima, Niigata, and Okinawa. Through this aestheticisation of the sense of intimacy and opacity as a form of resistance, the periphery aesthetically emerges from its subjugated, marginalised, and sacrificed position. Both the studio-practice and this written component are not a report of fieldwork research, the production of an objective transparent truth, but an aesthetic practice of decentring the dominance of the objectification and transparency and accommodating intimacy and opacity. It centres the artist.

In her argument on the seemingly closed distance of postmodernity, Russell refers to “unknowability”.***** In her framework of argument, unknowability is aligned in the following way: “The uncanniness of the Other in representation is the knowledge of its unknowability, the knowledge that to see is not, after all, to know.” Although she goes on to say, “from that unknowability unfolds a resistance in and of representation”, and seems to accept the concept of opacity claimed by philosopher Édouard Glissant.˜ Coming from the former French colony of Martinique, Glissant’s concept of opacity is shaped by his experience of the post-colonial transcultural and globalised context of the 1980s and 1990s and argues against the prevailing sense of knowability. He states:

There still exist centers of domination, but it is generally acknowledged that there are no exclusive, lofty realms of learning or metropolises of knowledge left standing. Henceforward, this knowledge, composed of abstract generality and linked to the spirit of conquest and discovery, has the presence of human cultures in their solid materiality superimposed upon it. And knowledge, or at least the epistemology we produce for ourselves from it, has been changed by this. Its transparency, in fact, its legitimacy is no longer based on a Right.˜˜

Glissant conceptualises transparency and opacity:

Transparency no longer seems like the bottom of the mirror in which Western humanity reflected the world in its own image. There is opacity now at the bottom of the mirror, a whole alluvium deposited by populations, silt that is fertile but, in actual fact, indistinct and unexplored even today, denied or insulted more often than not, and with an insistent presence that we are incapable of not experiencing.˜˜˜

“The right to opacity” is an ethical and political claim against the reductive and transparency-imposing force of the dominant culture.˜˜˜˜ Glissant also states that “difference itself can still contrive to reduce things to the Transparent”.˜˜˜˜˜ In this thesis, I use the word translucency to connotate the same meaning as transparency in Glissant’s sense.

Marxist philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, in his After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes (2014), argues that the quantification of disasters leads to the notion of their being exchangeable and comparable, dismissing their non-equivalent nature. Citing Marx’s conception of exchangeability, Nancy states:

The word value should not make us think of those idealist entities that were and for some still are ‘values’, those fetishes, reductions of meanings called ‘homeland’ or ‘honor,’ ‘justice’ or ‘family,’ ‘man’ or ‘care.’ Meaning here is reduced, since it is fixed in place, registered, represented – and these representations are precisely the reified residue of the loss of meaning that takes place in the endless fluxes of equivalence.°

Nancy says this reduction is “the law of our civilisation”.°° He further states:

The incalculable is calculated as general equivalence. This also means that the incalculable is the calculation itself, that of money and at the same time, by a profound solidarity, that of ends and means, that of ends without end, that of producers and products, that of technologies and profits, that of profits and creations, and so on.°°°

Chapter 2 particularly investigates the reductive representations of family and solidarity in post-3.11 Japan within Nancy’s observations on the notion of incommensurability in the calculation. He comments on the nuclear accident of the 3.11 disasters in terms of the incommensurability:

The incommensurability of the same and the other cannot be related to the incalculability of what challenges our power to decide. No one can truly calculate the consequences of Fukushima, for humans, for the region, the earth, the streams, and the sea, for the energy economy of Japan, for calling into question, abandoning, or increasing control of nuclear reactors all over the world, and thus for the energy economy worldwide. But all this is incalculable because it challenges the capacities of calculation whereas, at the same time, what we plan or project remains within the order of calculation, even if it is out of our reach.°°°°

Nancy further states that “The incommensurable is of a different nature: It is not even involved in the order of calculation; it opens onto the absolute distance and difference of what is other.”°°°°° From this point, the notion of the incommensurability is similar to the transparency in Glissant’s concept of opacity. It also refutes the notion of knowable in the objectivism of intellect. The aesthetics of intimacy and opacity that I practice here reject the force of reduction, namely equivalation, objectivism and transparency. Hence the concepts of the irreducibility, the incommensurability, and the unknowability emerge as paramount in the aesthetics of intimacy and opacity.

The readers of this thesis, therefore, will experience the intimacy and opacity of the lived experience of art making as a form of aesthetics at various phases: from examination to materialisation, and from the production of digital video to text. Rosenberg and Reardon- Smith suggest:

Frameworks of intellect leak into every aspect of western society, including the sonic arts. This sound use of intellect reflects its parent framework, supplanting the ‘messiness’ of sound users’ lived experiences, and their interactions with the wider sonic ecosystem, for technical and hyper-intellectualised content which seeks ‘objective’ value.*

The aesthetics of intimacy and opacity is a resistance against the kind of supplanting described by Rosenberg and Reardon-Smith. The aesthetics of intimacy and opacity respects the lived experience of the known/researched/represented and acts from their position. As emphasised, this written component is not a presentation of research outcomes but is a practice of exercising the aesthetics. In the remaining paragraphs in this section, we look at examples of various phases where the aesthetics is exercised and what the reader should expect.

As the writer of my own artworks, I deliberately leave the intimacy and opacity in the text, and the employment of visual images in this thesis as an artwork leaves space for the audience and does not objectively explain what it is, how it should be felt, and why it would be felt in that way. It does not answer these questions for the audience. Katy Macleod and Lin Holdridge also comment on the nature of art within the frame of the PhD academic degree in their Thinking through Art: Reflections on Art as Research, stating that “artworks should not be merely illustrative to the written text”.** Citing Christopher Frayling’s influential concept of “research for art” from his “Research in Art and Design”, they conceptualise “research as art”. Frayling defines “research for art” as:

Where the end product is an artefact – where the thinking is, so to speak, embedded in the artefact, where the goal is not communicable knowledge in the sense of verbal communication, but in the sense of iconic or imagistic communication.***

From this perspective of “research for/as art”, the aesthetics of intimacy and opacity respects the nature of art, and this research, the end product of the studio-practice and this written text, embodies the aesthetics of intimacy and opacity as art.

From this point, we will look again at the relationship between the nature of art and the written text in part 3. Part 3 at the end of this introduction discusses how this thesis entwines the studio-practice and this written text within the realm of sight to conceive the terminology of this thesis at the tension of visibility–invisibility (the unknowability). In the procedural level of presentation, the visual images of the artworks of studio-practice are not provided with full captions and respect the characteristic of the non-illustrative relation between artworks and text. Therefore, each chapter also refrains from illustrating the artworks and confines the descriptions to theoretical coalescence.


Waiting Room


However, this thesis offers Waiting Room, an intermediate section between chapters. In this space, I write as an artist on my own artworks, preoccupations, and processes of thinking and production. This intermediate space also offers a bilateral relation between chapters from the perspective of the evolvement of studio-practice, highlighting the process and the interrelation between my art production and society. Waiting Room appears three times and can be read on its own separately from the chapters. Waiting Room centres the artist’s lived experience of making art within this PhD research.


Tied to the act of waiting as a negative virtue in the apotheosis of speed in our culture, Waiting Room embodies an irreducible space between the chains of the productions of art the artist spends time on. The readers of this thesis are theatrically involved in this intermediate text of Waiting Room, where they are made to wait. It embodies a disruptive space in between the chapters, an opaque space in the translucency of deciphering art as a research subject, and an artist’s studio that centres the lived experience of the art production against the canon of intellect, logic, and Truth. Waiting Room presents the irreducible details of the art production as the knowledge of the unknowability. With such participation, tension, and aesthetics being embodied by Waiting Room, this PhD thesis employs and unfolds on this doubled modality of writing.


*Shoshana Rosenberg and Hannah Reardon-Smith, “Of Body, of Emotion: A Toolkit for Transformative Sound Use”, TEMPO 74 (292) 64–73, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. p. 65.
**Ibid. ***Ibid.
****Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing, Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1997.
*****Catherine Russell, Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. p. 25.
˜Glissant, ibid.
˜˜Ibid., p.111. ˜˜˜Ibid., p.111. ˜˜˜˜Ibid., p. 189. ˜˜˜˜˜Ibid., p. 189.
°Jean-Luc Nancy, After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes, New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2014. pp. 31–32.
°°Ibid., p. 32.  °°°Ibid., p. 32. °°°° Ibid., p. 27. °°°°°Ibid., p. 27.
*Rosenberg and Reardon-Smith, ibid., p. 64.
**Katy Macleod and Lin Holdridge, “Introduction”, in Thinking through Art: Reflections on Art as Research, ed. Katy Macleod and Lin Holdridge. London: Routledge, 2013, p. 3.
***Christopher Frayling, “Research in Art and Design”, Royal College of Art Research Papers, Vol. 1. No. 1 pp. 1– 5, 1993/4, p. 5.
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