Collaborative Projects at the Sainsbury Institute: The Norwich Connection
I have an unusual relationship to Japanese Studies. I am not at all a trained Japanologist – actually I am more of a “Europeanist”, a specialist on migration in Europe – and only started seriously doing research about Japan in 2006, when I was working in California at UCLA. A year in Japan as an SSRC-Japan Foundation Abe Fellow enabled me to develop a whole new research agenda on the globalisation of contemporary Japanese culture, specifically leading to a quite deep and close engagement with the world of contemporary art in Tokyo. Writing about contemporary art in blogs and then magazines, has led over the years to a steady engagement with academic art historians of Japan, as well as to work about art and artists in cities and regions all around Japan. I have been lucky to be able to publish in a field that I maintain as a sideline to my “day job” of research on the politics of immigration and urban development. I put all of my “Japan” publications online here.
My connection with the Sainsbury Institute dates back to the autumn of 2015, when I was invited to spend time at the Institute as a Professorial Academic Associate. I came here to work on a book project about contemporary art and architecture in Japan during the “post-growth” era since 1990. As part of a move that year from Sciences Po, Paris, to a Chair in Sociology and Social Theory at the University of Leeds, I was able to negotiate an informal sabbatical from the university and spent four months “in residence” at the Institute, partly insulated from the everyday hassles of departmental life. To my delight, the initial invitation led on to the extension of this role during 2016 and 2017. I have also been continuing the research and writing on the book, with a funding from the Toshiba International Foundation.
The Sainsbury Institute of course has long been held in esteem for its precious collections and expertise in the classical arts, archaeology and a range of historical periods. But in recent years, the Institute has also come to be known for an innovative programme crossing over interdisciplinary cultural studies and contemporary social sciences. Many of the younger fellows joining the Institute yearly have expanded the range of interests in culture, in areas such as film, anime and politicised art.
This growing contemporary interest obviously has meant more that my own culturally attuned expertise in the social sciences can be put to use in the context of various Sainsbury Institute projects. I am also able to provide occasional help in a supporting advisory role as an external professor.
Two significant projects came about during the past two and half years as an associate of the Sainsbury Institute.
In December 2015, we jointly held a workshop, Contemporary Art, Activism and Social Crisis in Japan Echigo Tsumari, Setouchi and Beyond. This was an evening event where we presented the work of the renowned art producer and curator Fram Kitagawa, who is the organisational visionary behind huge public art projects in Japan such as the Echigo-Tsumari triennale in Niigata. The following day, with invited curators, artists and scholars, we debated the politics and social effects of this trend towards socially engaged art in Japan, particularly since the triple earthquake disaster of March 2011.
In Nov 2016, I helped organise a follow-up workshop entitled Young Generations inJapan and Europe: Crisis, Mobility and Creativity. This was built around the visit of Professor Yamada Masahiro of Chuo University to the Institute, whose work focuses on the struggles of “lost generation” youth in Japan. One feature of the day, was a very uplifting talk from young Japanese artists based in Japan about their experiences of forging careers in difficult times.
From these two projects, I am developing a proposal for a special edition of the UEA edited journal World Art. Two rising names in Japanese art curation, Takahashi Mizuki and Endo Mizuki, gave presentations at the first workshop that questioned some of the political agenda linked to socially engaged art projects in Japan. The Japanese government has been keen to fund art that can be seen to contribute to building national spirit or spurring economic growth, but that can also pose restrictions on the critical dimension of art. Museums are also negotiating their way through budgets cut. We hope to introduce some of sociologist Fujita Naoya’s widely discussed criticisms of these tendencies, with the current debate in Japan introduced by the philosopher and art writer Hoshino Futoshi. This alternate view on socially engaged art will complement a recent special edition of the online journal FIELD, to which I have contributed an article out of my research and writing at the Institute in the autumn of 2015
I very much hope to maintain and extend my connections in Norwich and UEA, and with the Institute colleagues we are working on further ideas for future projects or events.
One would be to conceive some kind of event about arts after the triple disaster. I gave a well attended talk this month to the London Japanese Art Circle at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation. I was presenting a newly written final part of my 2012 book Before and After Superflat, which I hope to be publishing in Japanese translation in early 2018. As with our workshop in November last year, I put an emphasis on the surprising resilience and positivity of younger artists – working in collectives that include experiments with share houses and self-created art schools – and whose art practice has become almost an exercise in imaginative survival.
Another idea we are working on is to hold some kind of event around the theme of Japanese contemporary architecture at the Institute. The recent exhibition Japanese House at the Barbican saw overwhelmingly numbers of visitors, and it is an area of contemporary culture where Japanese architects are undoubtedly world leaders. It is another project with which we could build an interesting collaboration with Norwich University of the Arts.
With all the projects I have been involved in with the Institute, I have seen them as an opportunity to try to connect and engage people from the various educational and cultural institutions in Norwich. I have been consistently impressed about how enthusiastically open to ideas and cooperation everyone has been, for example working with curators at the Sainsbury Centre or translation experts at the Writers’ Centre, at Dragon Hall. I think it is a particular feature of the city which makes Norwich a quite unique space for culture.
All in all, I think there will be plenty more reasons in future to regularly board the train south from Leeds (via Peterborough), and make the long trek across the fens.
Professorial Academic Associate
(Professor in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds)
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