Yuken Teruya: My Father’s Favorite Game (Flipping Earth and Sky)
Yuken Teruya’s 2020 solo exhibition, WE BELONG HERE, investigated the architecture of our political and economic system. His childhood in Okinawa, a city marked by a long history of U.S. occupation, combined with his twenty-year experience in western society, allowed Teruya to witness the destructive tendencies that link institutions of consumption. These institutions are pillars of our capitalist society; banks, churches, museums, and brands all share a common blueprint for asserting control. While many works in his latest exhibition, such as his Monopoly series, directly critique these institutions, exhibiting the popular board game’s insidious objective to accrue and hoard wealth, others use icons and symbols to make less apparent comments on our current crisis. Teruya’s two large-scale wall frottages, STOP and SLOW, deliver a timely response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tireless systems of consumption and production that permeated our daily lives ground to a halt. STOP and SLOW compel us to take a step back and think critically about the consequences of our actions.
Teruya presented a video installation titled “My Father’s Favorite Game (Flipping Earth and Sky)” at the 2018 Shanghai Biennale. Two flipped cars were angled in a V formation, with two tv screens placed on the floor between them. The screens played a recording of two teams competing to flip automobiles in the fastest and most elegant manner, using only human strength. The performance and installation commemorate a charged political moment in Okinawa’s history. The Koza Riot began on December 20, 1970, when a U.S. military member caused a traffic accident, which was then mishandled by the U.S. military police. Anti-U.S. sentiments were already high in Okinawa, arising from incidents such as a U.S. soldier being acquitted of charges after killing a housewife in Itoman in a hit-and-run earlier that year in September, and a protest in Misato (now Okinawa City) demanding the removal of poison gas. What began as an angry confrontation evolved into a faceoff between the U.S. military and the Uchinanchu. Outraged citizens overturned and set fire to over 70 American MP vehicles, while the U.S. military deployed tear gas, until the riot died down early morning the next day. Witness to the 1970 Koza Riot, Eiichi Miayanga states “We cannot simply put a lid on history. History needs to be studied to pave the way for the future.” Teruya’s piece does not repeat history, but rather memorializes it and then subsequently transforms its violent and destructive nature into a creative force that unites people to overcome a shared difficulty.
In 2020 we have witnessed a pandemic sweep the globe, while political and social unrest climbs to an all time high, with many begging the question: “When will we go back to normal?” But this is the wrong question to be asking. Instead, we should ask: “How did we get here?” Centuries of perpetuating a violent system that ensures inequality and oppression of the masses, is what has led us to this point. Our failure to acknowledge these cycles of violence and oppression allows them to continue and be normalized. We cannot go back to normal. But we can unite in a movement that creates lasting positive social change by transforming our discomfort into action. Like Teruya, we must accept our history and take the lessons we learn from it to create new paths towards humanity.