TrAIN Reading Groups

The 2014-15 academic year welcomes two reading groups from TrAIN Research Centre: Reading East Asian Design (READ) led by Dr Yuko Kikuchi, CCW Reader, and Historiographies of the Contemporary led by Dr Michael Asbury, CCW Reader.


There have been remarkable design activities in East Asia (Mainland China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan), but design histories have not been written (or are currently underway, as in Japan), and design has not been critically studied.  This is a reading group which will provide an opportunity to read essays on some aspects on modern and contemporary design in East Asia and discuss critical issues and methodologies specific to this region.  The group is open to all UAL MA and PhD students having some knowledge and interest in East Asia.  We also welcome the students with East Asian backgrounds to develop critical reading skills in English through this group.  The only requirement is to read the assigned article before coming to the session, in order to participate in the group discussion.

For further detail and texts, please check the Reading East Asia website, which will be frequently updated.

Tuesday 28th October 2014: Kikuchi, Yuko. ‘Hybridity and the Oriental Orientalism of Mingei Theory’, Journal of Design History, 10-4 (1997): 343-354.

Tuesday 11th November 2014: Kida, Takuya. ‘Kitarō Kunii’s Discourse on Indigenous Industrial Arts: “Japaneseness” and Modern Design in 1930s Japan’, Design History 7 (2011): 47-92.

Tuesday 27th January 2015: Ling, Wessie. ‘Harmony and Concealment: How Chinese Women Fashioned the Qipao in 1930s China. In: Material Women, 1750-1950: Consuming Desires and Collecting Practices. Ashgate, Farnham, 2009, 209-225.

Tuesday 24th February 2015: Mori, Junko. ‘Modern Seating, Modern Sitting: Japanese Women and the Use of the Chair’, Design History 5 (2007): 99-124.

Tuesday 24th March 2015: Kojima, Kaoru. ‘The Woman in Kimono: An Ambivalent Image of Modern Japanese Identity’, Jissen Women’s College Aesthetics and Art History, 25 (2011): 1-15.

Tuesday 19th May 2015Shih, Shu-mei, Chapter 1: ‘Against Diaspora: The Sinophone as Places of Cultural Production’. In Shu-mei Shih, Chien-hsin Tsai and Brian Bernards, eds., Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader, New York: Columbia University Press, 2013, 25-42.

Tuesday 23rd June 2015: Chen, Kuan-Hsing, Chapter 5 ‘Asia as Method: Overcoming the Present Conditions of Knowledge Production’. In Chen Kuan-Hsing, Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010, 211-255.


Historiographies of the Contemporary

What is contemporary in contemporary art? The simplicity of the question is deceitful. It is a question that begs the answer of another equally unanswerable question: what is art in the contemporary? As Peter Osborne recently argued:

The construction of a critical concept of contemporary art requires, as its premise, the construction of a more general concept of the contemporary. […] The contemporary appears [in history], first, structurally, as idea, problem and task; and second, historically, in its most recent guise as the time of the globally transnational.

Keeping Osborne’s ‘Anywhere or not at all: philosophy of contemporary art’ (Verso, 2014) as the key reference, the reading group will put some of these articulations of the contemporary to test through an exploration of a historiography of the contemporary within selected writings throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Participants are encouraged to contribute further comments on other writings. Sessions will be weekly (Mondays 6-8pm room 305 Chelsea E block), starting on the 6th of October and ending on the 8th December 2014 (10 sessions in total), with further sessions to be confirmed depending on the group’s willingness and availability. Please email Michael Asbury if you wish to participate (numbers are limited).

Manual of instructions:

The reading group can be thought of as a game with ten sessions and ten (or just a few more) ‘players’. For each session one text will be given and each ‘player’ is asked to bring along another text, from the same decade, that s/he has read and which will be used in the discussion as a counter-argument to (or confirmation of ideas in) the text already provided: 10 x 10 = 100. We are not expected to read all of these, only the one provided and the one selected by yourself. To facilitate the task – since you all have better things to do with your time – it is advisable that we use, Harrison and Wood’s Art in Theory. This way we all have the means of referring to the texts mentioned/read by other members in the group if we wish (during the session or later). There are many copies of these in the library and I am assuming that many of you might already have a copy yourselves. The idea is that the reading group does not demand too much of your time. Texts are most often than not short and can be read on public transport to and from the Monday sessions if necessary. Of course, if you wish to ‘customise’ these sessions to your particular line of research, please feel free to go beyond the reference source suggested, the only rule in this case would be to keep the texts within the decade discussed in each session. The purpose of the exercise is to encourages us to think of methods and ideologies, as processes in flux through time: ie. historiographically.

6 October: 1910s- Fernand Leger, ‘Contemporary Achievements in Painting’ 1914 p. 159

13 October: 1920s- José Ortega y Gasset ‘The Dehumanisation of Art’ 1925 p.323

20 October: 1930s- Adolf Hitler ‘Speech for the great exhibition of German art’ 1937 p.439

27 October: 1940s- Harold Rosenberg ‘The style of today’ 1940 p.549

3 November: 1950s- Alloway ‘The arts and the mass media’ 1958 p.715

10 November: 1960s- Raymond Williams ‘The Analysis of Culture’ 1961 p.729

17 November: 1970s- Michael Foucault ‘A Lecture’ 1976 p.989

24 November: 1980s- Victor Burgin ‘The Absence of Presence’ 1984 p.1068

1 December: 1990s- Stephen Bann ‘Introduction to Global Conceptualisms’ exhibition catalogue, Queens Museum of Art, New York, 1990 (not in Art in Theory)

8 December: 2000s- Peter Osbourne ‘The fiction of the contemporary’, introduction and chapter 1 in: Anywhere or not at all, Verso, 2014 (not in Art in Theory)

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