"The question I kept asking myself watching Chan's video was: why Sade? The press release for the show states that for the past few years Chan has been making work exclusively after the Marquis. One reason seems obvious. It has two names: Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. The Bush administration remains Chan's central foil, and as such Chan will probably be remembered and studied as one of the most important American artists--if not the iconic American artist--of the Bush years. That the Bush administration broke with the Geneva accords, encouraging torture among its military and governmental agencies, is a source of guilt and shame that the United States has yet to properly resolve--neither through symbolic exchange or legal retribution. One can only hope an aesthetic practice like Chan's own signals the beginning of a process of desublimation which can properly deal with the United States' ongoing crimes against humanity.
But we are also living in a time of virtuality, and the pornographic is one of the predominant mediums of virtuality. Throughout his writings and interviews, Chan makes reference to the primacy of Lacanian cultural theory for the past twenty years. This primacy does not seem a coincidence given the central idea of Lacan's theory of the subject: that the subject's "reality" is a construction of what he or she "imagines," whether this imaginary take the form of a belief structure, fantasy, or ideology. Pornography has always been an exemplary scene of imaginal encounter. And so I think Chan chooses the Marquis de Sade as muse because Sade represents an age of both extreme cruelty and virtuality (the fact that what we imagine constructs what we believe rather than the reverse)."