Mami Kataoka – Articulating the Invisible

Last Friday night (March 15) I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario for the Mami Kataoka lecture. She’s the Chief Curator of the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo, one of my favourite museums.

Her talk, Contemporary Art in Japan: Visions and Views of the Universe, was part of the Asia Contemporary Speaker Series organized jointly by the Canadian Art Foundation and the Asia Pacific Foundation. For me, there were three big ideas of the evening:

  • Japan is an uneasy presence in Asia: In some ways, Japan is still struggling with modernity, for as Mami pointed out, “Japan modernized without becoming Westernized”.  This has shaped the national consciousness which in turn impacts the work of Japanese contemporary artists;
  • The possibility of a pan-Asian aesthetic is circumscribed by Asian sensibilities based on Asian philosophy, religion, and  values: This seems to be what makes Asian contemporary art unique – Mami was careful not to overstate any formal or stylistic qualities in the works she spoke of;
  • The rest of Asia is going through what Japan went through over 100 years ago (and is arguably still going through): by tracing the trajectory of Japanese art production as it evolved behind, beside, in front of, and at times in a head-on collision with modernity, she traced the contours of her curatorial vision and her views on contemporary Asian art. If the rest of Asia is now going through the process of modernization as Japan has done what then are the implications for the region? And how are Asian artists responding to modernization?


I found these concepts to be quite interesting especially as they relate to the topic of her lecture Contemporary Art in Japan: Visions and Views of the Universe.

Some of the artists that she briefly touched upon were: Haruo Mitsuta, Makoto Aida, Sachiko Kazama, Meiro Koizumi and Chiharu Shiota. According to Mami these artists are, “trying to articulate the invisible”. This idea stayed with me as did the notion that they are grappling with the “operation of the universe in a larger view”.


Sachiko Kazama, 風雲13号地 182×412cm unique woodblock print (panel, Japanese paper, sumi ink) Image from: Image from

Sachiko Kazama, 風雲13号地 182×412cm unique woodblock print (panel, Japanese paper, sumi ink) Image from: Image from


From my untutored perspective, these artists seem to explore a broader relational view of the world. The works she discussed seem to explore phenomena or concepts without insisting on the work’s visibility in and of itself (though of course the work exists and is sensible). The works seem to call forth a hidden essence, whether exploring unseen natural phenomena, social relationships, the hidden world of dreams, or recovering the past through traditional production techniques.

They evoke something that exists horizontally and beside the realities of what is already known and present. By trying to articulate the invisible these artists make visible the continuities of tradition, philosophies of interconnectedness/interdependency and balance.

If there is such thing as a pan-Asian aesthetic or sensibility then it is rooted in the ties the bind us to the past, and because modernity doesn’t necessarily come with outright Westernization then the patterns of artistic production that are emerging in Asia might well show us visions and views of a universe that is yet unknown (which I understand as not colonized by Western modernity and the world that emerged from it).

I think this is what she meant when she spoke of the urgency for contemporary Asian artists to continue to create side by side and to respond in their unique way to the changes on the continent and around the world.

As with all good lectures, I left feeling enlivened by the ideas Mami espoused, but also unsettled because there was so much to grapple with and to think about. I look forward to August when she’ll be back to install Ai Wei Wei: According to What? (August 17 – October 27, 2013) at the AGO.



Confectionary Consensus? Nope!

My friend Vesna turned me onto the work of Polish Artist Artur Żmijewski recently. The particular piece she recommended was called, Them (2007), which was shown at Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany so it’s pretty old.

Still, it’s an interesting piece especially in light of all the participatory, relational aesthetics-y, socially engaged arts-y stuff you typically (constantly) hear about. It made me think about all the things I’m learning in my Negotiations and Communications class. What happens when people approach each other based on positions (mine versus yours), rather than an openness to shared interests?

What if, in the end, you and I, us and them, are ultimately incommensurable? And with that thought, I bid you good evening. Here’s to another week!




Dollop of Foucault. Dash of Gramsci.

Wow, haven’t posted in a while. Too many things going on! Top of mind right now — environmental scan of best practices in museum displays of ethnographic collections! YAY!

Here’s a short excerpt from an article called, Exhibiting Indigenous Heritage in the Age of Cultural Property, by professor Michael F. Brown of Williams College. It’s perfectly pithy which really brightens up the whole research process.

“Postcolonial scholarship on museums suffers from exasperating
flaws. Its language is often overblown, depicting curators as foot soldiers
in the trenches of colonial oppression. Its rhetorical strategy is tiresomely
predictable: comb the archives for objectionable, racist declarations by
long-dead museum employees, mix in a bit of authorial hand wringing
about a troubling exhibit label or two, flavor with a dollop of Foucault and
a dash of Gramsci, shake vigorously, serve. From the sinister confines of
the museum and the grasping hands of its expert staff, heritage-everyone’s
heritage, it seems-must be “reclaimed” and “liberated.”

Stay tuned for my next post — which will be beer related. Cheers!

EDIT: The above, taken out of context, may sound a bit snarky, but it’s a thoughtful article and I do recommend it for those interested in the subject at hand.

Bikes and MOOCs On My Mind

Alright, Sunday heralds the end of another productive weekend. I (mostly) got over a flu, exacerbated my illness by cycling in -14 weather, then recovered by the power of sleep and whiskey.

I also attended the Toronto International Bicycle Show. This is exciting because it means the start of another cycling season (get thee behind me devil/TTC!). Spring is neigh people – there, I said it.

Seat I covet.

Seat I covet.

Bikes I covet.

Bikes I covet.

The other thing on my mind is the Coursera MOOC course on the Foundations of Business Strategy that is live NOW. I’ve taken distance learning courses in the past, but never a “massive” one. Things I’ll be looking out for as a learner include: content delivery mechanisms, how the social aspects of learning are integrated, quality of content in a massive learning environment/context (ie., differentials in previous knowledge, language barriers etc.), and generally reviewing the “worthwhileness” of the course (ie., would I recommend it or take another course).

I’ll also try to critically examine my own position as an educated North American and full-time working professional. How does my specific context impact learning outcomes and my expectations? In principle, I’m 100% for free and open online learning and I’m hyped about this experience. More to come.