KAB Dialogue


ConversationAugust 4, 2014 UP

The public nature of “freedom of expression”

Report 2 on the Open Network for Performing Arts Management Symposium “Regarding Freedom of Expression”

  • Speaker 1:Takahiro Saito (“Let’s DANCE” Petition Promotion Committee joint representative and lawyer (Saito Law Office))
  • Speaker 2:Tomoharu Hara (Culture and Arts Planning Section, Culture and Arts City Promotion Office, Culture and Citizens Affairs Bureau, Kyoto City)
  • Speaker 3:Hiroshi Yoshioka (Professor in the Graduate School of Letters (Dept. of Aesthetics and Art Theory), Faculty of Letters, Kyoto University)
  • Speaker 4:Hiromi Maruoka (President of the Japan Center, Pacific Basin Arts Communication (PARC), Vice President of the Open Network for Performing Arts Management)
  • Moderator:Yusuke Hashimoto (KYOTO EXPERIMENT Program Director, President of the Open Network for Performing Arts Management)

→ Continued from Report 1 on the Open Network for Performing Arts Management Symposium “Regarding Freedom of Expression”

Self-imposed Restrictions on Expression

Hashimoto:I'd like to consider the situation where someone self-regulates because they believe that someone might be hurt by such expression. Talking about KYOTO EXPERIMENT, just before we heard Yoshioka-san's story about the artist Tadasu Takamine, whose work was performed in front of Kyoto City Hall. The point of controversy wasn't excessive noise, but rather the work's theme, the so-called “Japan Syndrome,” which depicted the social state of Japan after the Tohoku disaster. In summary, it raised a debate about performing a work including a political message in a public space. However, we argued repeatedly in our negotiations to realize the performance of the work that it was indeed just such public spaces as in front of the City Hall where differing opinions should confront each other, thereby further enhancing the depth of meaning of the work.
I'd like to ask Hara-san about this, too. From the political standpoint, which occupies a large part of the public space, how does one step back from a work containing expressions of politics, sex or violence and decide whether or not to perform it?

Hara:There are several judgment criteria, I think. One of them is of course the problem of legality. For example it's written in the Constitution that expression that doesn't infringe on public welfare is acceptable. And of course, civil servants, with their duty to protect the law, must pose such questions, like “What is public welfare?” and “What do the flesh-and-blood citizens in front of me think?” For example, they have to decide whether it's okay if a performance featuring naked dance goes ahead as long as it has an age limit.
This is not simply an artistic problem: the expressive content itself, when it conveys a message, basically cannot be judged. You see, the administration doesn't have clear criteria with which to make a judgment about whether or not a certain expression will be problematic. For instance, while precedents around obscenity have built up over a long period of time, allowing for set criteria for evaluation, inapplicable problems arise one after the other, and when no judgment criteria exist for them, it's difficult for the administration just to arbitrarily ban them. Administrations support arts and culture through grants and so on. But they keep quiet on the content. They support as a silent partner, as it were.
Which means there is one more thing we need to consider, which is the situation in which conflicting values cause a problem. For example, regarding the debate over Tadasu Takamine's performance in front of the City Hall, many apprehensive voices were raised even within City Hall itself. For example, while the work dealt with nuclear energy, it was not judgmental about it; however, a casual observer on the street might have been left with the misapprehension that City Hall was condemning or, conversely, promoting nuclear energy. However, after heated debate, it was adjudged that the “department responsible for arts and culture was not in a position to pass judgment on the content.” What I mean is that conflicts over the value of something can arise in such a way, but at such times what is vitally important is “communication.” For example, if there’s the sound of an explosion in front of City Hall at night, efforts must be made to communicate with the residents and shopkeepers in the vicinity. Rather than avoiding value judgments, one should communicate to establish what kinds of value exists. This is probably the real meaning of self-restraint. This is not a case of majority rule, but rather the establishment of a relationship of trust through earnest discussion.

Hashimoto:The keyword “communication” has just come up in Hara-san's comments. He was saying that when a certain form of expression creates a clash over its value, it's important that a resolution is reached through communication with the parties concerned, not the imposition of rules. But it's questions about the very forms of communication, with their growing number of rules, and their state of flux with the advent of, say, cyberspace, which I'd like Yoshioka-san to address now.
Changes to the character of communication lead to clashes over the value of something. It would be good if such changes moved us towards resolution, but in fact new forms of media are inviting futile clashes: the Net sometime descends into a site for mere bickering. I believe that such things are having an effect on expression as well. What are your feelings on this?

Yoshioka:Before addressing that, to avoid misunderstanding, I want to make it clear that while I was talking about value and artistic expression, I'm not saying only things with value should be freely allowed, but rather that it's important to talk about value. That's just what I think Hara-san was just talking about, that's there’s a conflict over value. I myself, when I was doing the Kyoto Biennale, I asked administrators and everyday people to let me do various things on the site. There are certainly conflicts over value, but more predominant than conflict is a sense whereby one isn't sure how one thinks of what the other side considers to have value, but there is a vague sense of anxiety. It's in such a case that I thought communication was important.
So regarding the problem of new limits to expression in the context of the development of the Internet and social media, just as Hashimoto-san said, they are described as communication tools, but they may equally be tools that impede communication. Ninety-something percent of online discourse has no value. Of course some of it has value, but it is difficult to sort out what does. For example, there's the kind of hate speech discussed before, and websites like 2 Channel, which I find hard to look at, it's so odious. I think online discourse works at times and doesn't at others, so it's not something one should put much stock in. It's been little more than a decade since the average person started sending mail on their phone throughout the day, hasn't it. Our bodies and lifestyles haven't yet caught up with this, hence the current state of confusion we're in. We're still at the stage where etiquette has yet to consolidate around expression in social media, and we are applying face-to-face oral-communication models to it and overreacting to online discourse. I think this is why we have such cases as children slandered on the Net who commit suicide. So there are those moving towards restrictions, but this is a problem restrictions alone can't solve. It's a question of online communication, as well as us having cool heads and taking a step back from lives totally immersed in the online world. I think most restrictions have the opposite effect intended. Though of course we need to restrict the most egregiously bad things.

The “public sphere” in the performing arts

Hashimoto:I see. Thank you very much. I'd like us to think about the “public sphere” in the expressive space, or rather the very expression “public” itself. A public place, particularly in the performing arts, is most generally taken to refer basically to a certain space where at a certain time a group of the general public assembles and a work is performed. Now I'd like us to discuss in more depth whose space a public theater is, and what the “public sphere” is that it points to. I'd like to go on to ask how people whose field is not the performing arts think about the “public sphere” in a place like a theater.

Yoshioka:In my Masters thesis, I wrote about the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. Among his works was the famous volume The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. To put it simply, with the “public sphere” he was talking about a place where discussion may arise as various people present their personal opinions, and react to those of others, but at some point, amid the rapid development of consumer society, it is transformed into a place where one is not permitted to express anything but a “like.” We often hear criticism about “airing one's laundry in public” and the like, but originally the public space was a place to say personal things. How this differed from a simple personal conversation was that, for instance, if I were to give my opinion, there would be a response to it, and a discussion would ensue, maintaining the public sphere. The meaning of “responsibility” is “the ability to respond”: in short, when you say something, there should be some sort of response. In regard to this, I think self-restraint means only saying something that will not evoke a response.

Hara:Looking at it from the standpoint of the administration, Kyoto City Hall, they have to somehow envisage that nebulous, undifferentiated group known as “citizens.” There are 1.47 million of them in Kyoto. If one isn't careful, the public sphere will become something treated similarly vaguely. What I think one should do in such a situation is imagine, to the extent one can, the individuals furthest from one’s own ken. For example, I'm a man in his thirties, living in a nuclear family, who is pretty enthusiastic about the performing arts. I try as hard as I can to envisage the person most removed from my situation. Then even if that person were to criticize the existence of City Hall, I wouldn't allow a breakdown in communication; rather, I'd need to conceive of a space where it could continue. And isn't that the public sphere? Theaters and stages are surely the places to experience the most radical forms of such communication. I believe this is an intrinsic part of the meaning of such spaces.

Saito:This is another legal example, but guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution is not only the freedom of expression, on the production side, but also its obverse, on the reception side: the right to know. The need to regard these as a set has been commonly accepted for a long time. What is necessary for such expressive interaction is described as the “public forum” within the realm of the Constitution, but what is absolutely essential in this is a public place in which communication is always bidirectional. Take for example a nightclub playing dance music, a relatively small-scale, box-like space where anything goes, one can relax, and financial concerns are secondary. Such a space gives rise to the mutual, varied expression of trivialities. In some cases this two-way expression extends out into some major space, so such places act as veritable breeding grounds for it. Perhaps theaters are similar in this regard. What’s important here isn't just entertaining the greatest number of people, it's also having a place where people can learn the anticipatory pleasure of not knowing what is going to happen. The audience may in fact come out of it not really understanding what they've seen, but this will expand their horizons and open their eyes to more new things. Rather than being satisfied with the comfortable status quo of Leibniz’s “pre-established harmony,” they may go out and attend a class on some subject completely foreign to them. That sounds great to me.

Painting a vision for the industry

Hashimoto:I'd like to move on to the final topic for discussion. As Maruoka-san suggested, it's necessary to be prepared and ready to act when something happens. A real-world example in the case of club music and dance is the formation of the Let's DANCE Petition Promotion Committee and its activism in establishing the Dance Culture Promotion Diet Member Alliance. But in the area of drama, just as with dance, one can't rule out the possibility of certain circumstances making it impossible to continue activities as usual. Using views on the Let's DANCE issue as our point of departure, I'd like to discuss what we can consider in preparing for concrete actions in such an eventuality. While it's pretty amazing that Let's DANCE has collected 150,000 signatures and created the alliance of Diet members, it's equally incredible that such an anachronistic Entertainment Business Act still remains on the books in the first place. It's not as if the creation of the organization and its actions have quickly led to changes to the law. It is likely to be a long and difficult process.

Saito:Here's what I think is the most important issue. If the industry doesn't have something like a vision, it's apt to head off in some terrible direction. We collected 150,000 signatures reflecting the will of citizens and artists and delivered them to the Diet with the request for a change in the law. Diet members took this on board and completely accepted the idea that dance has rapidly become an integral part of culture and education, and is a cultural form with great potential to communicate at world standards and even have a positive effect on the economy. But is it sufficient just to change the law? The problem is even a revision to the Act may not in itself create a tenable position for the club and dance industries. It's always been a gray zone until now, but if the law changes, then, for example, a large, capital-rich company might come in and, in an extreme case, might, say, create a club as large as Disneyland. A place where kids to grandparents can enjoy themselves. Of course I wouldn't want to ban such a place, but it might well produce very low-quality music. I just thought up this case off the top of my head, so I'm not saying it's a likely proposition, but something similar could eventuate, or alternatively some antisocial individuals might come into the industry with the objective of making money from booze and women. This is why the industry must seriously address the idea of having a vision and fostering the future of dance culture. Clubbers, dance lovers, and artists who play in that environment have ideas about how they want things to go, but this is an area where the clubbing industry itself is loath to tread, and represents what I believe is the biggest current barrier to revision of the Act. In the same vein, imagine that the clubbing industry bands together and communicates a certain opinion to the politicians. This is connected with the possibility or otherwise of having a consistent vision and presenting it to Diet members, but it seems to be a real sticking point. That's why such a gathering of performing-arts managers will be very significant going forward.
What I want to emphasize more is that if the industry doesn't band together to some extent and create a vision, when it comes to how the law should be revised there may be a mismatch. The risk exists that someone with the loudest voice in the industry might co-opt particular Diet members and with their assistance end up shaping the direction of the entire industry by changing the law.

Hashimoto:Thank you everyone. We've had a long and fascinating discussion today.

■Transcript of a meeting held at the Kyoto Art Center, Japanese-style Hall, October 14, 2013


Takahiro Saito

“Let’s DANCE” Petition Promotion Committee joint representative and lawyer (Saito Law Office).
Conducts a wide range of legal work from general civil suits to corporate law, and is also active in the area of law supporting music and the arts in the form of copyright law and the Entertainment Business Act.
So as to commit himself to developing infrastructure to support music and art outside of the field of law, he is also associated with the Japanese branch of the Los Angeles internet radio station “dublab,” called “dublab.jp,” which has launched many young artists with its unique methods.
Recently he has tackled the problem of the Entertainment Business Act restricting dance in clubs and dance studios, collecting over 150,000 signatures for a petition demanding revisions to the law, and is joint representative of the “Let’s DANCE” Petition Promotion Committee, which has reported to the Dance Culture Promotion Diet Member Alliance.

Tomoharu Hara

Culture and Arts Planning Section, Culture and Arts City Promotion Office, Culture and Citizens Affairs Bureau, Kyoto City. Born in Kyoto City in 1980. Graduated from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Kyoto University. Worked at Sony Ericsson before entering Kyoto City Hall in 2007. Currently in charge of Cultural Adminstration.
Supervisor of the NPO art-lifestyle research institute “hanare.” Major article “Hip-hop’s hard core” in GRL KYOTO MAGAZINE, 2011.

Hiroshi Yoshioka

Has lectured at Konan University and the Institute of Advanced Media Arts and Science (IAMAS); currently a Professor of Aesthetics and Art Theory in the Graduate School of Letters, Faculty of Letters, Kyoto University. Specialties are aesthetics and information-culture theory. Major publications are Information and Life: Brain, Computer, Universe (Shinyosha, 1993), Current Forms of “Thought”: Complex Systems, Cyberspace, Affordance (Kodansha, 1997), etc. Japanese translations of R. Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, H. Foster, The Anti-Aesthetic, M. Foster, The Information Subject, Bruce Mazlish, The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-evolution of Humans and Machines, etc. Editor of the critical journals Diatxt. (published by the Kyoto Art Center), issues 1–8, and Diatxt./Yamaguchi Yorobon (Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media). General Director of Kyoto Biennale (2003) and Gifu Ogaki Biennale (2006). Chairman, Japanese Association for Semiotic Studies. Vice chairman, Aesthetics Committee.

Hiromi Maruoka

President of the Japan Center, Pacific Basin Arts Communication (PARC). Director of TPAM (from 2011, Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama) since 2005. Founded the Post-Mainstream Performing Arts Festival (PPAF) in 2003. Convened the IETM Satellite Meeting at TPAM in 2008 and 2011. Ran the Sound Live Tokyo festival (focusing on sound) in 2012, working as Director. Vice President of the Open Network for Performing Arts Management (ON-PAM).

Yusuke Hashimoto

KYOTO EXPERIMENT Program Director since 2010. Born in Fukuoka in 1976. Has participated in drama since college, and since then produced various events centered in Kyoto.

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