Asia is home to some of the world’s largest mega-cities whose fast-pace development is spurring considerable economic growth while reconfiguring and often unsettling social and cultural practices. Asian urban areas have become large-scale testing grounds for the re/invention of traditions and the questioning of cultural values. Cities in Asia are also subject to massive ecological challenges as for instance recurrent cases of flooding in Bangkok or Jakarta, or the recent Kathmandu earthquake.
Efforts to understand urban environments in light of future dramatic climate and economic challenges have ignited debates over issues of urban planning, privatization of public spaces and services, housing, infrastructures, urban heritage, et al, as well as their association to a linear “productivist”, growth-obsessed conception of development. The process of constant expansion and transformation of Asian cities, if a testament to the region’s economic success, also generates precarity as articulated in social fragmentations, ecological and psychological insecurities, economic poverty and other traits of “modern” alienations. Rebuilding after natural disasters, coping with environmental degradations, dealing with political and civil unrests, urban migration fluxes, and unaccountable forms of governance, have become growing concerns among Asian city dwellers.
Questions have emerged over cities’ resilience and the kind of social dialogues within their midst. How can these dialogues guide and inform their future directions? And importantly, what – social and political – role do aesthetics including artistic and architectural interventions play in imagining the present and future city? This unique IIAS-CSEAS coordinated international winter school proposes to explore the theme of “mapping the aesthetics of urban life in Asian cities” in South, Southeast and Northeast Asia by examining how the Arts can contribute to the re-conceptualization of urban spaces.
The winter school’s conveners believe that the unprecedented wave of urbanization in Asia can potentially open new spaces of interventions, not only for architects, city planners and designers, but also for artists and intellectuals committed to stimulate public engagements. Artists do it through various modes of performativity ranging from urban art, literature, performances, music, filmmaking et al. One key question emerges from these interventions: how can the urban landscape of the city be a template to think about both modern and traditional aesthetics in Asia or challenge that distinction, and how are aesthetics constitutive of the Asian city?
Observing the aesthetics of urban life within Asia allows us to connect with people’s perceptions of space, beauty, harmony, sound, emotional quality and comfort. All these and their opposites inform, if not govern or police, the logics of living and interacting in cities. An engagement with diverse aesthetic interventions in the context of the Asian city may help us to think about urbanity from new angles. The Arts can be used to (re-)conceptualize the intense changes sweeping over Asia’s cities. Already, there are numerous often under-studied examples of artistic interventions that have sought to visibly alter urban spaces or explicitly question concrete practices of belonging. For example, artistic flash mobs disturb the flow of the city, just as ephemeral public art practices can turn a pavement into a dance theatre. These works of art in the city should be recognized for their capacity to instill democratic values and social sharing in the public space.
As a production process, including public and performing arts, art-in-the-city draws attention to urban transformations and reconstruction. It involves communities and can challenge social harms such as poverty, rootlessness and so forth to bring about concrete social changes in Asia’s highly populated urban centers. It helps to ask the critical question: who has the right to the city, and who do not, and how can we challenge this state of things? In sum, Art-in-the-city informs us about the right to the city. It is a practice that can potentially invent alternative, un-marketable, forms of citizenship.
By focusing in on different modes of urban-art interventions, including the role of sound-art in re-mapping the city, the re/usage of empty urban spaces and the city as a visual and creative spectacle, the January 2016 Kyoto winter school seeks to explore how arts and popular urban cultures can converge to act as agents of social inclusion in Asian cities.
The 6 day workshop set in the changing – yet highly historical and cultural- urban environment of Kyoto, Japan, will bring together three conveners – one cultural studies scholar, one artist/educator, and one architect - to guide a group of doctoral candidates from Asia and other regions to exchange on the role of the Arts in the (re)building of Asian cities. Two days will be set aside for fieldwork excursions within Kyoto.
Header and inline image © Charlie Fong 冯成