New Geographies of Feminist Art: China, Asia, and the World

Tactics versus Strategies: Asian Women Artists and the Production of Urban Space

Namiko Kunimoto

Chen Qiulin, Ellipsis, No1, 2002, color photography, edition of 8, 82.9×122.2cm, from Meulensteen’s website.

“To practice space is thus to repeat the joyful and silent experience of childhood: it is, in a place, to be other and to move toward the other.” – Michel de Certeau, Walking in the City.

While Michel de Certeau posits the city as a space where the common individual may pursue micro-tactics as a means to assert personal autonomy, Henri Lefebvre has described the capitalist city as a space of dominance. Borrowing de Certeau’s language of tactics and strategies, this paper seeks to explore the problem of agency as it manifests in the artwork of Japan and China. Do artists use their art to find agency within circumstances that limit autonomy, or does their practice reveal the ways space and subject adhere to the demands of capitalist production? This presentation will address these questions while specifically examining the work of Tanaka Atsuko (1932-2005), from Osaka, Japan, and Chen Qiulin (b. 1975), from Chengdu, China.

Although the two women created art decades apart and in different countries, both respond to historic processes of urban/social change in terms of female subjectivity. Rather than simply a response to urban change, however, I examine how spatial practices within performance art can be understood as a transnational phenomenon that is nonetheless grounded in a specific regional context.