Categories and Space

Margo Machida’s Unsettled Visions probes the idea of a category as either imposed from outside or constructed from within. She shows how, for the development of the category of Asian American, it was often seen as prescriptive rather than descriptive. In other words, the category as an identity was used as a restriction. What if, as seen in her text, we used categories more as resources? As we have discussed in class, and as Machida also notes, there is an undeniable need for categories because they make sense of the world around us; however, it is easy – especially with the passage of time – to become blinded by these habitual categories. So much so that we fail to see the world for what it is, and see it through the categories – as the categories would want us to see it. Thus, Machida raises some very pertinent questions about the category of “Asian American Art.” As it combines an ethnic and an artistic aspect, which is the primary one? What does it mean for art to be only seen through the lens of ethnicity? What does that do for the audience of these artists and their work? Instead of being a place for finding a community, a place of belonging, or where one can bring to tangible form the way Asian artists can define themselves, does the category become alienating?
I also liked what Machida said of Zarina’s Atlas of My World – that flying large distances means traversing a terrain without actually experiencing the terrain, and that it is then experienced through an abstraction like a map or a globe. This ties in with her earlier discussion of space being divided into conceived, perceived, and lived space. In relation to our final projects, this got me thinking about how one can translate one type of space into other – in this case, lived space into perceived space. Finally, the lines between these three categories are naturally blurred, and so – how much of our lived space is actually conceived space? This last question is really just another iteration of the problem with categories – after a while, we begin seeing what we want to see (aka what we conceive) and that affects – in varying degrees of seriousness – the reality of it all (aka lived space).