Want to know what it’s like to spend the night in a coffin? Culture critic Thu-Huong Ha joins us to discuss her night in avant garde artist Marina Abramovic’s Dream House in central Japan and the conversation meanders into dreams and the Gwangju Biennale before winding up on AI-generated media.

Hosted by Shaun McKenna and produced by Dave Cortez.

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Transcript note: Deep Dive is made to be listened to, and we recommend this transcript be used as an accompaniment to the episode. This transcript has been generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription, and may contain errors. Please check its accuracy against the episode.

Shaun McKenna  00:08  

Welcome to Deep Dive from The Japan Times, I'm Shaun McKenna. On today's show, we're talkin’ about art. Japan Times culture critic Thu-Huong Ha will be joining us to discuss two articles she wrote recently, both of them reviews, one on the Dream House of avant garde artist Marina Abramovic that's located in or very close to Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture, the other was the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea. But we're also going to talk about her experience as a critic, the role art criticism plays in our culture and what the implications of AI-generated art might be on that role. And I just want to take a moment to humbly request that if you like what you hear, then please rate and review this podcast. It helps others discover us more easily, and feel free to follow us at @JapanDeepDive on Twitter. Everyone interprets art differently, and we'd love to hear what you think of these pieces or any artworks that have had an impact on you lately. Anyway, onto the discussion.

Hello, Thu.

Thu-Huong Ha  01:15  

Hi Shaun. 

Shaun McKenna  01:16  

First of all, my apologies to listeners. We were off last week because I took a trip to Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture.

Thu-Huong Ha  01:23 

What were you up to there?  

Shaun McKenna  01:24  

A much-deserved mental health break. A friend of mine runs a yoga and meditation business called Mindfully More, a little plug there, sorry. And she organized a trip to Mount Koya to stay at a temple and commune with nature and all that. She's doing another one in September, if anybody listening is interested, it's all in English.

Thu-Huong Ha  01:42  

Did you have your phone?

Shaun McKenna  1:43  

OK, so I tried to do no phones, but I inevitably got sucked into…

Thu-Huong Ha  01:47 


Shaun McKenna  01:48  

…the drama about Wagner and Russia.

Thu-Huong Ha  01:50 

I don’t think you understand!

Shaun McKenna  01:53  

And then I had to use it for the New York Times Spelling Bee app. 

Thu-Huong Ha  01:58

What did you do there? 

Shaun McKenna  01:59  

We stayed at a temple called Yochi-in and woke up at 4:30 every day to do yoga at sunrise and the temple complex. It was really peaceful. We also did night tours of the temples and toured Oku-no-in cemetery where there's a lot of famous samurai buried but, more importantly, Mount Koya is where the monk Kukai is enshrined and the monks there believe he is not dead, but in a state of eternal meditation.

Thu-Huong Ha  02:24  

Yeah, I think I saw him wandering around.

Shaun McKenna  02:26  

You did? Have you been to Koya-san?

Thu-Huong Ha  02:30  

I have. I found it to be very peaceful and strict.

Shaun McKenna  02:34  

OK, strict. I get that but explain.

Thu-Huong Ha  02:38  

I think that's how they keep it so peaceful. There is a sense I think, there is like a sacredness that's like maintained by not letting people be like loud or like there's like no tomfoolery allowed. I say strict because I think that like they've let tourists in. But I think it's not really meant to be a place for tourists. So they have to be like extra sort of mean?

Shaun McKenna  02:58  

Right, right. Right, careful. Yeah, I've been to a lot of temples and shrines in Japan, but this place like it just feels more serious and you can really feel the impact that Buddhism has on Japan when you're there. The only other time I've ever had such a strong sense of religion and its power was kind of like when I visited Il Duomo in Florence, Italy. 

Thu-Huong Ha  03:21  

Did you do the waterfall meditation?

Shaun McKenna  03:23  

Yes, mizugyo, yeah, so we had to stand well, squat, under a waterfall because the waterfall was kind of short. And we repeated the sutra, “Namu daishi henjou kongo,” which is in honor of Kukai. The more daring of us tried the longer Heart Sutra.

Anyway, it was very peaceful. I feel nice and refreshed, coming back to my usual pile of work. But, you know, Thu, you and I are here today to talk about a different kind of retreat. 

Thu-Huong Ha  03:58  

Yes, we are. 

Shaun McKenna  04:00

You went to Marina Abramovic’s Dream House in Niigata and you wrote about the experience in an article titled, not-so subtly, “Sixteen hours in Marina Abramovic’s nightmare hotel.” What is that, is that like a three-star review?

Thu-Huong Ha  04:13  

I think if there had been a business hotel in the area, I might have preferred that.

Shaun McKenna 04:16  

OK, well, first, can you tell us who Marina Abramovic is like why did you want to spend a night in her dream house?

Thu-Huong Ha  04:22  

Want to? I don't know. I felt very drawn when I found out about this piece of art. So Marina Abramovic is probably the world's most famous performance artist; she has been practicing since the 1970s. She is boundary-pushing, pretty controversial, and does these kinds of great feats of, like, physical endurance for her works. She famously cut a pentagram into her stomach with a razor and then, like, beat herself, then lay down on a cross made of ice. She walked for three months along the Great Wall of China for a breakup — which sounds made up but is true. And I found out that she had built this house in Niigata Prefecture, and I had never heard of it before. And it turned out to have been there since 2000. So I was sort of digging around and couldn't really find very much information about it. It turned out that it was built for the Echigo Tsumari Triennale, for the inaugural edition in 2000. And they've just kept it open ever since. I saw photos and they just looked so wild and spooky, and I had to go.

Shaun McKenna  05:30  

Why is it called a dream house?

Thu-Huong Ha  05:33  

Hmm, good question. Sounds really nice, it's more like a nightmare house. The idea is that you stay there overnight and you go through a series of actions laid out by Marina and you are meant to have more enhanced dreams, which you then record in a book there in the house.

Shaun McKenna  05:54  

So what was it like? Like, what were the actions? Like how did it compare to say my yoga temple on Mount Koya?

Thu-Huong Ha  06:00  

Well, it was pretty strict. So, first of all, it's a little far. It's probably four or five hours from Tokyo and then another 30-minute drive. We get there and we park at this really creepy shed there. Were these old guys on the street who were like, Are you sure about this?

Shaun McKenna  06:17  

Oh my gosh, the harbingers in every horror movie.

Thu-Huong Ha  06:23  

So yeah, we see this, like, kind of rundown house and I was, like, yeah, it's gonna be fine. And then I look through like the slats and I see there's, like, something, like, scrawled on the walls and, like, what looks like blood. And I was, like, maybe not gonna be that chill. But then there were these, like, really nice caretakers there. And they explained many rules to me and my friend. 

Shaun McKenna  06:47 

Oh, there are rules?

Thu-Huong Ha  06:48

Oh, man, Shaun, there were so many rules.

Shaun McKenna  06:50  

What were some of the rules?

Thu-Huong Ha  06:52  

You know, you had to bathe a certain way, you were not allowed to smoke, drink, have sex — she said no indecent behavior. And also not to talk.

Shaun McKenna  07:02  

Right. OK. You're not allowed to speak? 

Thu-Huong Ha  07:05  

Yes. Well, I mean, with apologies to Marina, we did talk for journalism, but it said not to speak aloud. Yeah.

Shaun McKenna  07:14  

And just for the listeners. You went there with a friend who took photos for the stories, is that right?

Thu-Huong Ha  07:21  

Oh, yeah, I went with my friend Andrea. I think also before the pandemic there would have been meals provided but not when we went. 

Shaun McKenna  07:28  

So you had to bring your own dinner then?

Thu-Huong Ha  07:29 

We went out for dinner, yeah. 

Shaun McKenna  07:32  

  1. What do you eat when you are going to a Dream House, like I've read that foods rich with vitamin B6 and tryptophan actually enhance your dreams. So that would maybe be chicken, soybeans, turkey?

Thu-Huong Ha  07:43  

Think we had sashimi. I'll be honest, I've had the worst dreams I've had ever in my life I think came right after eating Lay's Sour Cream and Onion chips. And I thought it was a coincidence that my sister told me that like 20 years earlier the exact same thing happened to her — from the same chips!

Shaun McKenna  08:02  

Something in the sour cream and onion then. OK, dinner's done. What comes next?

Thu-Huong Ha  08:07  

So after dinner, the real action starts. First there's an extremely creepy bath. It's actually two copper bathtubs that look out of like a steampunk murder chamber. They're very deep, you know, good for murdering people in one is hot and one is lukewarm. And in the lukewarm one, you put all these herbs that have been left behind inside. And the whole room is tiled with these tiny white tiles, like floor-to-ceiling. And it's just creepy. So, so creepy, Shaun.


Shaun McKenna  08:42  

So do you have to, like, step into the hot one first and then go into the lukewarm? Or is it? Is it a process? 

Thu-Huong Ha  08:46  

Yeah, there's a specific order. It's the hot one first. There's this quote “pillow,” which is basically a rock that you're supposed to lean against, it's made of quartz. And I'm pretty short, so I couldn't like rest in there comfortably. So I just kept floating up and it was very uncomfortable. So after the bath, it's time to get into the pajamas. Each person has to choose from one of four colored bedrooms, and there's pajamas that go with each color. 

Shaun McKenna  09:19  

What are the four colors? 

Thu-Huong Ha  09:20

The bedrooms are blue, green, purple and red. And the pajamas are, for some reason, slightly different. I chose green because at night it just seemed a little less murdery than the other ones.

Shaun McKenna  09:34  

Right, good choice

Thu-Huong Ha  09:35  

And my pajamas were pale yellow. First you have to put this like stocking type of like onesie on that's like white and just it's very constricting and synthetic and it's very hot in there.

Shaun McKenna  09:47  

What is the pajamas like?

Thu-Huong Ha  09:49  

They look like Teletubby outfits. If you can picture that?

Shaun McKenna  09:54  

I can totally picture that. Yeah, like a onesie with a hood and kind of like you look like a giant teddy bear almost.


Thu-Huong Ha  10:00  

I was told that the house was designed to be able to accommodate foreign men. That's how it was put. So the Teletubby suits were massive. And I was just like drowning in this like floppy, flappy pool of fabric is really hard to move around. And I was very worried about tripping and like breaking my neck. And then on top of all that there's these 12 weights that you have to put into the suit. And there's like little pockets all around the pajamas. And once you slip those into like their little sleeves, it's there's only one thing you can do after that, is lie down.

Shaun McKenna  10:35  

So what's the bed like?

Thu-Huong Ha  10:37  

“Bed” is generous? I would say it's more of a coffin.

Shaun McKenna  10:42  

A coffin? All right, is it comfy?

Thu-Huong Ha  10:43  

It was very uncomfortable. I've never been in a coffin. But it matched exactly what I think a coffin looks like. Yes.

Shaun McKenna  10:51  

All right. Did you did you end up, like, dreaming?

Thu-Huong Ha  10:54  

I did. I'm not a very good sleeper. And I am a very I remember my dreams a lot. And yeah, I mean, I was kind of like, freaked out that I wouldn't sleep and therefore make the entire project like, difficult.

Shaun McKenna  11:07  

Why would you be freaked out about sleeping in weighted pajamas in a coffin, you know?


Thu-Huong Ha  11:11  

Yeah, I mean, seems like really chill, matching my home exactly in terms of ideal sleeping conditions. Yeah. So you know, I started to panic. And I was like, Oh, am I going to do it right? And like, am I getting the art wrong? Like, am I just gonna I just was like, OK, I need to sleep in order to complete my job. I shouldn't think too hard about the murder outside my window. And in the closet — I relented, I knew that there was like an emergency bedding thing in the closet. You could sleep on the floor on like a regular futon. I didn't go that far, I just took out like a pillow. Because the pillow in the coffin was also a piece of rock. So I took out a pillow and I took out a blanket and tried to get like, medium comfortable enough that I would sleep. And I did. And I did dream. Yeah, so I wrote my dreams down in the book. And I read other people's dreams at that point. And they were, a lot of people were like, “Why did you do this to me? Why do I do this to myself? Why did I pay money?”

Shaun McKenna  12:19  

What did you think about the experience overall? You know, like I plugged the yoga retreat at the top of the show. So are you plugging this?

Thu-Huong Ha  12:26  

I would not recommend this. I think if you're a really good sleeper, and you have some extra cash and you want to do like a very strange, super scary art installation sleepover, this is the event for you. I think what makes a Marina Abramovic piece is seeing her physically, live, put herself through something pretty intense, pretty extreme. And this obviously doesn't have that. And then another important element I think of seeing her work live is that there's all these other people there kind of just kind of a communal like shock and horror that also isn't present here. So I think that as a Marina Abramovic experience, I would say it might be better to read about it instead.

Shaun McKenna  13:23  

So on the podcast, maybe two weeks ago, I mentioned another piece you wrote that I think flew under the radar bit. A review of the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, titled, “Losing and finding my cool in Gwangju.” Thu, you went there in April, yeah?

Thu-Huong Ha  13:37  

That's right. So I went to Gwangju, which is in the south west of South Korea. It's the oldest and a lot of people consider it the most important contemporary art festival in Asia. It was started in 1995. It's in its 14th edition. And it was originally started as a commemoration of the Gwangju Uprising, which is a very important set of events that happened in the 1980s in South Korea's democratic development. This year's theme was “soft and weak like water.” How'd they come up with that theme? Is

Shaun McKenna  14:11  

How'd they come up with that theme? Is there any significance to it?

Thu-Huong Ha  14:13  

So this year’s curator of the biennale was Lee Sook-kyung. She was at the time working at the Tate Modern in London. And actually next year, she is going to be the first ever non-Japanese curator for the Japan pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which is the biggest biennale in the world. The theme is a quote from “The Way of the Dao” by Lao-tzu.

Shaun McKenna  14:34  

So with the biennale, everything would be spread out, right. Like it's a whole experience.

Thu-Huong Ha  14:39  

Yes, unlike the Dream House it's really spread out all over the city and it's it's hard to navigate and it's also hard to write about,

Shaun McKenna  14:46  

Right what kind of pieces were there. Did you see anything you liked?

Thu-Huong Ha  14:49  

Yeah, so I mean, something I was really impressed by was, there wasn't this heavy focus on Amerocentric and Eurocentric artists. The art world can feel very, very centered in specific cities — New York, Paris and London, specifically. So I was really impressed by the curation in that sense. I really liked an installation by Yuko Mohri, she's actually going to be representing Japan at the Venice Biennale next year. She does these really fun sort of musical sculpture installations, so hard to describe art. We have audio from this.

(Audio clip)

She does these really fun installations that are kind of alive with movement, it'll be like, a xylophone playing itself, a typewriter, you know, typing through reams of paper. And I really, I really liked that. I also really liked this installation by an artist from Guatemala named Edgar Calel. He set up these, it was a big spread of these of these rocks. And on top of them, he put fruit and he at the opening of the biennale, he lit incense and did a sort of like ritual, like offering to his ancestors, his Mayan ancestors. And so as time passes in, exhibit, you know, the fruit starts to rot, and it has this really pungent smell, as you can imagine, and you know, just personally, I associate rotting fruit and incense with my ancestors, because that's how we pray to them as we light incense as well. So yeah, I really liked that I liked it visually, and it sort of had a personal resonance for me as well.


Shaun McKenna  16:40  

OK, so that's interesting that you say that because, you know, reading the biennale review, I didn't come out of it kind of remembering the art as much. And it was more like, you know, the piece had a lot of detail about Gwangju’s history, the politics of the art, but it also went into a good deal of your own experiences, not even with the art, but with the theme of the biennale itself. What was behind the choice to write the piece that way?

Thu-Huong Ha  17:08  

Yeah, I'm not sure everyone liked my choice, but it was definitely a choice. You know, I've tried to take an opportunity to think about how to approach art criticism for our readers, for The Japan Times readers. You know, I also write about books, and when it comes to books, music, film, kind of know what readers want, which is a baseline, “should I buy this thing, listen to this thing, read this thing.” You know, it's straightforward. But with live events, like art, theater, opera, it's much harder to, in my opinion, to know what the purpose of that is. And I started writing about art during COVID. I was in Japan, and I was writing about, like, pop ups that were like, two, three days long, and it was like, “is anyone going to be able to see this?” I mean, you can't even get into the country. So you know, it just started to take on this very inaccessible, you know, art is already to some people, very elitist, very inaccessible. And I wondered, you know, why? Why do we do this? And what could we do better? So, I wanted to try to take out the kind of dutiful element of it. It's like, OK, this happened, here's what ABC and here's what I thought, and I'm not sure they necessarily got it, right. But I think that I wanted to see if I could emulate some of the people that I really admire, who put themselves a little bit more into the, into the criticism and not to say like, it's not like a personal essay, strictly where you're sort of like blogging about your feelings, but hopefully, to give people a way of seeing art that is highly personal, with the hope that they could do it for themselves when they when they see art.

Shaun McKenna  18:48  

I do think that people should read the piece on its own. But I have to say, you know, also, that's kind of what you just laid out, that was why I liked the piece. I spoke to people about it, and they all had different reactions. Like our Deep Dive producer, Dave Cortez and I, we discussed it for quite a long time over coffee. And we were, you know, mentioning the writing style and who these characters from your past were that you were bringing in. And we both came away from it remembering those more personal aspects. Should we have come out of it speaking more about the art? I don't know, but I feel like you know, discussing the story for that length of time. Maybe it's because we know you, but I really think that speaks to the article’s own status as a piece of art. However, when you're writing as a critic, how much of yourself do you think you should put into a story?

Thu-Huong Ha  19:43  

Well, I'm so glad that I spent time talking about it. You know, I think that is the aim is to engage people who are not necessarily just coming to read about what one person thinks about piece of art. And I think it's also important to realize that critics across all ranges of media are biased. They have their own biographies, they have their own whims, they have their own tastes, and I we shouldn't ignore that. And I feel that sometimes in the strictly “objective” art reviews are these slightly more tending toward academic, you know, art magazines for art people, it really takes on this very dry tone that makes it seem overly authoritative. And I think if you introduce the narrative a bit more, as someone who's experiencing the art in a, I don't want to say in an authentic way, but I just think that most people don't approach art and with that critics hat on, and I think that's very important to the experience of art.

Shaun McKenna  20:44  

Do you think that's even more so in the social media age where kind of like, there's an emphasis on the person that's delivering the news?

Thu-Huong Ha  20:52  

I mean, that's a really good point. I think that when we talk about like personality, you know, when it's not just like a strong narrative, but an actual, like a face and a celebrity and an a personality. I do think that people, you know, for, for better or worse, I do think that people gravitate toward that. They know who they're listening to, they can see the face of the person, and it almost becomes like a cult of that person. Which, you know, again, it's good or bad. But I do think that people have something more to hold on to when there's that strong narrator.

Shaun McKenna  21:23  

Another thing I think that worked about the piece was that you made this kind of like inner conflict that you were going through relate to the broader political context of Gwangju as a city and the event itself. Can you talk about that a little bit more?

Thu-Huong Ha  21:38  

Yeah, I agree with what you said, you know, I'd really love for any interested readers to check out the piece directly, because it's a little bit hard to sum up, but I'll try. So I think, you know, with this theme about water and the way of the Tao sort of arguing for nonaction as action, passivity as action, and I thought about that, from my own life as being someone with a little bit of a short fuse. I mean, I think it's different for people who meet me now. But I can get like, quite fiery. And I was thinking through the piece about, like, the way that we all deal with our own anger, and I was always really jealous of these super calm, hyper rational guys in my classes, who seemed to get whatever they wanted, just by almost like doing nothing. And I wanted to relate that to this conflict that exists within the event, which is that this really important, violent uprising that was a defining moment for not only for the city, but for the country. There's actually the Gwangju spirit is something that is often referred to as this kind of this activist sort of democratic spirit.

Shaun McKenna  22:50  

Well, in line with that kind of like fiery spirit. You also mentioned in the piece, an act of protest that happened, like while you were there, can you explain to us what went down?

Thu-Huong Ha  22:59  

Yeah, I actually didn't notice it, because it was a very minor protest, but it did make the news regarding this biennale. So let me just back up and explain, so, a very famous Korean artist name ​​Park Seo-bo — who is very well established — had started a prize that was going to be given out every year at the biennale, and then, after this year's award was given out, they just canceled it. And the reason they gave was that there was this backlash. Maybe it wasn't like a huge protest, but there was this undercurrent of backlash, saying that the artists to establish the prize was not enough of … he basically didn't have the Gwangju spirit. He didn't support the riots and the protests enough. And they actually canceled it for that reason. I mean, maybe there's something else going on there, but that was the purported reason. And I thought that was a very interesting move, and it highlighted this kind of this tension, I think, in kind of the reason for this, this festival is, you know, this Gwangju spirit, this democratic movement, this class struggle. But at the same time, you know, an art festival is going to be elitist on some level, and this theme of sort of action through nonaction and this softness, and this water, it was an interesting curatorial choice and I think it came out in the art but as a greater experience, I think it just gave me a lot more to think about than I think a typical one would — and a lot more to write about — that fire and that water and trying to balance the two inside, that didn't really speak to me

Shaun McKenna  24:45  

When it comes to art, then what have you been interested in recently?

Thu-Huong Ha  24:49  

Well, the art world loves new things, and I think that right now a lot of people are interested in is AI generated media, as a consumer of culture and a person who values creativity and as someone who knows how hard it can be to be an artist, I'm interested in those questions regarding AI generated media, I'm not sure that I'm actually interested looking at any of it?

Shaun McKenna  25:10  

OK, what … can you expand on that a little?

Thu-Huong Ha  25:13  

So far, it's not that compelling as original art. We tend to focus on how cool it is that the tech can imitate something that we know about or mash up two things that we know about into something kind of new. If you remember last year, in the winter, there was this very, very trendy social media thing called Magic Avatars, made by this photo app called Lensa that would let you upload photos of yourself and it would spit out avatars of you know, you in the style of Harry Potter, you as an anime character, you as a watercolor. And I think it was neat. And it was really fun to see like my friends and these different styles, but I didn't really think that these were amazing pieces of art. And then there's been these huge advancements with the program's Dall-E and Stable Diffusion and the stuff that they can do, you know, you put in these prompts and it instantly can sort of create these photorealistic images, or, true to the prompt. And in the beginning, I think people were like, “Wow, it's so real. It's so accurate. It did what I said.” And I feel like we kind of got over that really fast, shockingly fast. And now I mean, at least what I find fun about it is like the kind of the prompts that people are putting in. I think I saw a photo of an emo sausage roll sitting at a bus stop in the rain waiting for a bus that may never arrive. So I think that in this sense, like, what becomes fun about it is the creativity of the prompt. Not necessarily like looking at the execution as a work of art itself.

Shaun McKenna  26:49  

Right, the art of the prompt. So you are you saying AI is kind of just a bit boring, then.

Thu-Huong Ha  26:56  

I think maybe that's by design. So there's a digital artist and digital culture critic named Lev Manovich, who points out that, you know, the programs are designed to be accurate and imitative. It's not a bad thing. You know, lots of, you know, centuries of oil paintings are actually the art of copying.

Shaun McKenna  27:14  

Well look at all the remakes Hollywood is doing right now.

Thu-Huong Ha  27:17  

But I think that the way that we've become used to consuming art really focuses on like, uniqueness and boldness of vision, and you know, breaking the form, et cetera, et cetera. When photography started becoming really accessible, a lot of critics at that time were wondering if we were going to lose this idea of authenticity and aura in originals. And, you know, I think a lot of those ideas have really stuck around. We didn't abandon them because we had photography and reproduction was really, really easy. So I think that we do still kind of cling to this cult of like, cult of the artists, you could call it. I mean, it is a holdover from modernist art and you could definitely say that there's a lot of gatekeeping that happens as a result of this, but I do think to come back to this AI question, the AI is not being trained to take all the information that it consumes and create a bold new vision. So I think in that sense, like, we're not really quite seeing things that are interesting in that way. 

Shaun McKenna  28:19  

You know, I kind of felt like most of the images I was seeing from generative media sources were like, surreal, like a duck in a suit. Or maybe it was kind of like closer to dadaism.

Thu-Huong Ha  28:32  

Well, right. I mean, that's an existing art form, right? It's not creating a new one. It's creating something familiar to you.

Shaun McKenna  28:37  

Yeah. What do you think as a critic? Would you kind of get excited about an AI only exhibition?

Thu-Huong Ha  28:43  

It really depends. I mean, it could be really exciting. I haven't seen one yet that I wanted to see. It just looks like screensavers in a gallery? I'm not really sure if I want to pay for that. But yeah, I definitely do want to read it off either.

Shaun McKenna  29:01  

So is this all a lot of doomsaying? And there's like not actually a risk to developing these technologies?

Thu-Huong Ha  29:08  

Well, I think that the biggest concern that's voiced from creative people is that first of all, a lot of these AI were trained on images that artists made that didn't give their permission. And so now, the reason the AI is so sophisticated is it used the intellectual property of people who didn't give their permission and didn't get compensated for it. That was kind of the initial backlash from artists and creative people. And then of course, there's, you know, job viability in the future and think that there's a lot of people, visual artists, anyone who does like commercial work to sustain their livelihood, you know: animators, concept artists, illustrators who do movie art, or credits. They can just be replaced really quickly, and it's already a pretty difficult industry, as you can imagine. We don't really value our artists and our creative people. It just makes it all the less sustainable. But you know, I'm not like a Luddite and I don't think you just need … the only legitimate artists are the ones who like toiling away with their oil paints like day and night. I think it's a very compelling tool and we shouldn't just, you know, write it off per se. You know, like, I don't use TikTok but like, I think it's amazing …

Shaun McKenna  30:20  

I use Tik Tok like an adult. Two weeks late and on Instagram.

Thu-Huong Ha  30:24  

I also use Tik Tok on Instagram. I think what it's brought out and I kind of felt this way about Snapchat, but less so, but just like, it's a creative constraint. People have this little tiny screens that they're working in, or that they're going to present themselves in. And they have to work within these very strict confines: they haven't certain number of seconds, they have a certain expectation in the medium. And just very weird, funny stuff comes out of there. I think it's just, people are intentionally generating these true aesthetic experiences that kind of surpass our everyday lives. And that's just what art is.

Shaun McKenna  31:04  

So final question. Do you think ChatGPT is going to take your job?

Thu-Huong Ha  31:10  

I mean, probably. But what I've seen so far, I don't think so. I'm not like, obviously, like a technologist, and I'm not deep in there. But, I have asked ChatGPT to review books or TV and at the moment, it says, “it can't give personal thoughts and opinions.” So at a basic level, I don't know how it can replace reviewers. It can’t give a judgment or an evaluation. It can summarize what other people have said, but you know, that means that it has to wait for that information to be out there. I've asked it to produce a book review of things that exist, like not to give its opinion, but to write a book review of something, but everything comes back as like, basically pure copy. It's like very breathless, and it's like, “everything is brilliant, impeccable, like truly memorable, highly enjoyable, binge worthy,” like “sure to leave you entertained.” I think that I would be very concerned if all of our book reviews started looking like that, because readers would not know who to trust and whether there was any legitimacy to what they were reading. I think it does come back to what we were talking about earlier, which is like, “why do people read reviews?” And I think if you're looking for you know at, you know, three out of five stars, should I buy or should I, I'm not sure that ChatGPT is going to be able to give you that right now. And then the other thing we were talking about which is like reviews that are themselves kind of like works of art or like additive in some way, I really don't think that that's available right now. I'm sure there's a programmer somewhere listening who's like, “we're coming for you.” But for now, this human is gonna keep working

Shaun McKenna  32:54  

Well Thu, thanks very much for coming back on Deep Dive. It was a brilliant, impeccable and truly memorable. Thanks very much.

Thu-Huong Ha  33:04 

Thank you.

Shaun McKenna  33:10  

My thanks again to Thu. I'll put links to her articles in the show notes. Elsewhere in The Japan Times, the International Atomic Energy Agency endorsed Japan's plan to release treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean. The controversial plan was first announced in 2021 and still remains a point of contention. On one hand, Japan and the IAEA show confidence in the filtration system that will be used to keep the discharged water’s toxin levels below unsafe levels. On the other hand, reproach from international neighbors and local Fukushima fishermen raised concerns over transparency and reputational damage to the prefecture’S seafood. The plan is expected to roll out this summer. In Kyushu, torrential downpours Monday in Kumamoto Prefecture caused a bridge to collapse in the town of Yamato, as 360,000 of the city's residents were ordered to evacuate. Fourteen other municipalities were given evacuation orders as well as other areas in neighboring prefectures. And Japan Times staff writer Alex K.T. Martin went to Japan's oldest village, Nanmoku, in Gunma Prefecture, where 67.5% of residents are 65 years or older. Japan is currently struggling with how to handle its aging and shrinking population, with Nanmoku, offering a glimpse of what the future could look like if authorities don't act soon. Deep Dive is produced and edited by Dave Cortez, with writing and research by Himari Shemans. Our outgoing track was written and produced by Oscar Boyd and our theme song is by the Japanese musician LLLL. Until next time, I'm Shaun McKenna, podtsukaresama.