Module Outline (updated 09.05.18)

This module will examine art, architecture and visual cultures in Japan from the 18th century to the present day, with a primary focus on Edo/Tokyo, though also touching upon art from the cities of Osaka, Yokohama, Kobe and others.. We will examine the relationships between art, urbanism, politics and popular culture in the Japanese context, and track flows of influence both from and into Japan from its Western and Eastern neighbours. The module will intersect fine art painting, sculpture and drawing with performance art, digital and new media work, and visual and material culture including fashion, film, photography, decorative arts, architecture and animation.

By the 18th century, the former small fishing village of Edo had grown to be one of the largest capitals in the world, with over 1 million residents, and today, as Tokyo, it sits at the heart of the most populous metropolitan area in the world. For centuries, Japan was isolated from Western trade and influence, developing a set of unique artistic and cultural traditions which would explode onto the global arts scene in the middle of the 19th century and define an entire culture in the global imagination.

Edo/Tokyo is an urban, imperial capital city whose history is run through with the strata of waves of historical devastation – it was battered by volcanic eruption in 1707, decimated by major earthquakes in 1855 and 1923, and was heavily bombarded from the air during the defeat in WWII. Both architecturally and culturally, centuries of political and physical upheaval have rendered Edo/Tokyo a fertile site for radical art practices, from the sybaritic and hedonistic watercolour scenes of the ukiyo “floating world” and its imfamous shunga scenes, through the symbiotic y"ïga ("Western-style") and Nihonga (“Japanese style”) paintings of the early 20th century trading Eastern and Western influences, to the brutally stark, twisted reportage paintings of the 1950s and body-performances of the 1960s. Stock market bubbles in the 80s propelled new, experimental architectural and cultural styles which would inspire both utopian and dystopian science-fiction authors and filmmakers, as well as fashion designers and animators. The economic stagnation from the 1990s has given birth to a style of cynical, digital flatness as exemplified by the work of Takashi Murakami, and countless contemporary artists drawing upon and critiquing historical tendencies.

The aims of the module are:

1. to provide students with a grounding in urban material culture;
2. to elucidate the role of art and architecture in the formation of urban identity;
3. to develop skills of visual and conceptual analysis for concepts of considerable critical difficulty; and
4. to encourage debate about the place of art and architecture in society.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this module the student should have:

1. a sound grasp of a historical period in the life of several cities;
2. the ability to interpret works and texts based on sound knowledge of the appropriate historical and interpretative contexts;
3. the confidence to subject the texts studied to critical analysis;
4. good bibliographical and basic research skills; and
5. the ability to communicate complex ideas concerning urban history, concepts of urban modernity, of art, architecture and photography.

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

1. define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;
2. seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information;
3. process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;
4. compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;
5. write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;
6. be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;
7. think 'laterally' and creatively (i.e., to explore interesting connections and possibilities, and to present these clearly rather than as vague hunches);
8. maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position based on feedback;
9. think critically and constructively.