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.

Convalescence, the Internet and MOOCs

So, in between fever dreams over these past few flu-ravaged days I managed to miss work and my second Negotiations class with Misha Glouberman. Super choked as it was supposed to be a really excellent one where we would role-play a negotiations scenario and test our strategies. Alas, life and microbes had other plans for me.

However, thanks to the power of the internet I did manage to sign up for some awesome courses on Coursera, one of the key players in the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) movement. In a few days I’ll be starting my remote online course on, Foundations of Business Strategy taught by Michael J. Lennox, Samuel L. Slover Professor of Business, University of Virginia.

One of the benefits of being sick is that, in addition to feeling like hell, you have a lot of time to think. So what have I come up with? Well, gentle reader, I’ve decided (decisively!) that more is more – hence the MOOC courses (and whatever the hell else will end up on this blog). Who knows where this open education movement will take us. It’s exciting to be a part of this ongoing global experiment. My friend Vesna once said to me that, and I’m paraphrasing, there’s so much media to consume, but so little time. This is true of media and of life, but I wanna see and do it all so let’s get to it!

Harry Potter said it best, “We’ll take the lot!”…yes Harry, we WILL take the lot! LOL.

It’s not about running away. It’s TOTALLY about running away.

This weekend was exhausting, but in a good way. In addition to my unofficial, Toronto version of Cultivated Wit’s #whiskeyfriday (unofficial because it was really just a regular TGIF hangout session, super unofficial because I forgot to mention to the group that it was #whiskeyfriday), I went and checked out a film at the Canadian Art Foundation’s Reel Artists Film Festival at the TIFF Lightbox.

The documentary I saw was about photog. Alex Soth called, Somewhere to Disappear (directed by, Laure Flammarion & Arnaud Uyttenhove). The tag line for the film, “It’s not about running away, it’s about the desire to run away.” basically sums it up. I guess I was expecting a film that explores a romantic notion of escape – the flaneurs of the world losing themselves in vast expanses of space and time – dreams, cities and endlessly winding streets. This was not that.

It’s an interesting film though – slow, meandering, handheld, choppy. Somewhere to Disappear is a meditation on the desire to escape through a series of encounters orchestrated by Alex Soth as he travels around the U.S. is his minivan documenting various places of escape and the people who have effected their own escape.

The encounters that unfold are sometimes unsettling and often moving. On the one hand there’s the reality of (troubled) individuals who have chosen to foreswear society  for various reasons. On the other, there’s this artist who claims time and again that his project is not about actually escaping, only the idea of escaping. And yet, as the film ambles on the viewer gets the sense that Alex is himself on the cusp of disappearing.

As we follow him on his creative journey we are witnessing his actual escape into the world he constructs. You realize that although motivations for escape differ the end result is not romantic, rather, it’s lonely, isolating and ultimately that there may be no return.

Adhocracy NOW!

In the course of my morning routine of moping around until I find the perfect Songza playlist (today is Sunshine Indie Pop) I came across a new (at least for me) word – Adhocracy. Not only does it sound awesome, but there’s actually substance to its meaning. Once you read the wiki page for adhocracy, you’ll probably recognize a lot of its principles repeated in countless HR blogs and stuff you’d read about management and innovation on a daily basis on LinkedIn.

While the word is often used in theories of organizational management, I came across it because it was also the name of an exhibition for Istanbul Design Week (October 13 – December 12, 2012) that was showing at Galata Greek Primary School.

Exhibition view, Adhocracy. photo: flickr_Fablab Torino

Exhibition view, Adhocracy. photo: flickr_Fablab Torino

The spirit of adhocracy really resonates with me because it’s also what compelled me to start this blog and to revisit my creative practice. It’s process-driven, self reflexive, against bureaucracy and rigid structure, craft-based (as in artisanal, quality, opposition to mass produced), fluid and open. It’s an approach to work, and in the case of the exhibition – design, that while not altogether new is worth naming.

As Joseph Grima, co-curator of the Biennial notes, “Design is an act of observing, internalising, questioning and rethinking the prescribed responses to these queries, and thereby giving form to everyday life and collective space.”

So yes, adhocracy will be on my mind for the rest of the day…and hopefully something the Directors Collective will think on as we build something together.

Swoon from afar…

I’ve been monitoring Random International’s Rain Room at the Barbican Centre since it’s launch, secretly hoping that work, or personal life, would somehow contrive to send me to London. Alas, with 12 days left and counting it seems I’ll not be able to experience it for myself. Still, it’s one of the most innovative experiences I’ve seen in recent memory and trust me, I spend a LOT of time scanning the web for trends in visitor experiences.

I’ll sum up quickly what I think is most effective about Rain Room in three words: primordial, visceral, poetic. Random International takes something that we are all familiar with (rain) and makes it unexpected (ie – inside the Barbican Centre, and a rain that doesn’t make us wet). Conceptually simple, technically flawless. Perfection.

The Art of Talk

The day has just begun and already I’m mourning the end of this long weekend. But, it’s OK because tomorrow night is the first meeting of Misha Glouberman’s negotiation and communications course entitled, “How to Talk to People About Things”.

As an artist there’s nothing more comforting than taking a time-out from the constant banter of the world and locking yourself up in the studio. As a consultant, sometimes I have to talk whether I feel like it or not. I’m not often at a loss for words, but I’m def. looking forward to meeting some new people and learning some new ways of taking the art of conversation (and negotiation) to the next level.

The Globe and Mail recently interviewed Misha about the upcoming course. Check it out here.

Let’s all get happy with Stefan Sagmeister.

Took a break today from the slog to hit up the Design Exchange and Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Show. I wasn’t too sure what to expect. On the one hand, Sagmeister = automatic high expectations. On the other, a thematic show about happiness? Could go either way.

My friend probably summed it up best: “If it doesn’t make me happy I’m gonna punch Sagmeister in the throat!”

True to form it was a nicely designed show utilizing environmental graphics to full effect. It wasn’t so much a philosophical treatise on the nature of happiness (a good thing) as a light musing on the subject. Social scientific facts punctuated by Sagmeister’s perspective on work, creativity and what he’s learned about how to be happy. I think this exhibition will especially resonate with designers, artists and other creative types (I def. overheard a lot of murmurs of agreement), namely those who put their hearts on the line for a project/pay cheque.

It’s a good looking exhibit, there’s candy involved, and there’s a bike-powered interactive. Why the hell not? It runs until March 3, 2013.