Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Project

This summer we’ll be working on a project that was taught during the fall and spring semesters both here in Tokyo and back in the states called “Neighborhood Narratives. “

This project aims to explore the local Tokyo community through both a critical and creative approach. This approach will involve elements of visual and cultural anthropology, as well as exploratory styles found in experimental video and studio art. The form and shape your projects take are limitless and own no boundaries. Students are encouraged to explore their own visions and personal styles.

This course was originally conceived by documentarian and artist Hana Iverson and is presently taught on Temple’s Main Campus, as well as taught here by Ronald Carr. Here is what Ms. Iverson has to say about the course:

“The goal of the Neighborhood Narratives course is to introduce students to the concept of locative media by researching and creating a set of connected annotations about a specific neighborhood of the city…These place-based annotations will be connected and archived using a variety of digital technologies…the predominant focus will be on creating and understanding different viewpoints about the city.”

“Locative” media is concerned with how space and community are related, how our lives are affected by the physical and cultural space that surround us. As you can imagine, the unique characteristics of one’s personal and social space has a profound affect upon one’s day-to-day existence—our personal narrative!—and plays an important role in defining our identities.

During this workshop you will wear many hats: researcher, geographer, recorder and artist, all of which play an important function in discovering the internal workings of a community. You will study how the past leaves an indelible imprint upon the present and how each human being carries with them a story that is both profound in its own way, and miraculously connected to each of us.

The Assignment:

Everyone will choice one block of MInato-ku to use as the subject of your project. For example, choose a single block to work from; then explore this block through photography, maps, oral recordings and digital video. Look for patterns or influences, whether ideological, cultural or stylistic. The readings in Lateral View are very helpful in understanding cultural underdone.

There will be 2 components of each project. The first component will be a digital media piece. This can be anything from video to an audio documentation of the block selected. The second component you have an option of a print piece that packages the cd/dvd housing your digital media project, or a website that accompanies and houses it.

To Get Started: During the semester the following exercises will be ongoing and integrate into your projects:

Journals: All students will keep journals over the course of the semester. I’d like everyone to sign up for a blog on blogger.com. I’ve set up a blog at http://japansummer06.blogspot.com, you will find the syllabus as well as updated information on this page. I will also link to all of your blogs. Once you set up your blog, please email me at
abby@designiswar.com with your blog name so I can add your link. We’ll use this journal as a way to track research and data collected as well as a way to document your summer in japan. Everyone is required to keep these blogs. You must put up at least 2 postings a week to total 12 at the end of the workshop.

Field Trips: We’ll take field trips once a week to explore different neighborhoods of tokyo.

Reading: If you have not already done so, everyone is to read the following exerts from A Lateral View by Donald Richie. The exerts are: “Tokyo, the Impermanent Capital,” “The City Home,” “Walking in Tokyo,” “Tokyo Style,” and “Signs and Symbols.”

Goals of the course:

• A critical understanding of previous writings and projects on looking at the city and urban landscapes, and their integration into your final project.

• Documentation and permanent archiving of research which will ultimately result in a project of international scope.

• A basic understanding of the creative possibilities of analogue and digital technology as mediums for Locative


In this class a minimum standard of research and critical thinking will be required when completing your projects. This is important for a number of reasons:

Your work is observational and requires that you draw reasonable conclusions from your data. A “pen is a pen” andNOT a pencil, so you will need to get your facts straight and to learn how to differentiate between subjective and objective perception. (One of the most difficult things you will learn in this class is how to evaluate others “subjectively” while yourself “objectively”. If you can do this by the end of the semester you will have evolved significantly both as an artist and as a human being).

You have enormous freedom in the approach you take with your projects. Because of this freedom you need to be extra careful about the foundations on which your projects are based. Be extra careful about logical connections, cause and effect, accuracy and continuity. Always ask the question, “Does this make sense to someone else?” If it doesn’t then you need to go back and ask why not. If it only makes sense to you it is not a project but a diary.

Finally, you owe it to your subjects to be accurate.

Final Projects: A final project will be required from the student. Here are some examples of ways to approach the final project. Students are encouraged to design their own projects, so long as they meet minimum criteria. We will have 2 shows to exhibit your final project. This could anything from an installation piece to a simple way of displaying your book/website and digital media piece. The first show will be on June 23rd, the last day of workshop classes. The second one will be held this fall at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. We’ll talk more about these as they approach.

Landscaping Perception: Choose a subject who is an outsider to a community—immigrant worker, tourist—and collect articles that you imagine this individual will need to live, and place this in a book. Then create a mini-documentary on a real life subject to see how accurate or inaccurate your perceptions are.

Connecting the Dots: Log the annotations found within a given sector of a neighborhood and create a physical/digital structure that reveals its essential qualities. This can include a historical tracking of events that shape the present. For example, what popular culture from the west has significantly affected Japanese skateboard culture? Or, how has the constant cycle of uncontrolled tearing down and rebuilding of Tokyo affected neighborhoods?

Urban Mining through Oral History: Investigate a particular aspect of a neighborhood and produce a web-based audio narrative. Along with interviews of the subject, narratives will include ambient sounds and music that are integral to the life of the subject. Considering that each neighborhood has its own unique sounds, your narratives can recreate the invisible rhythms that surround us each day.

Community Histories involve creating multi-layered documents of the ethnographic history of a block within a neighborhood through techniques of interviewing and historical research. This approach integrates traditional
methods found in documentary film and visual anthropology, such as interviewing, collecting data, using snapshots and archival material. These projects tend to use research that has been collected over an extended period of time.

Urban Prospecting views a small sector of a block of a neighborhood by focusing on particular cultural artifacts. This narrow approach is useful for new visitors to a city, in that the focus is on a specific aspect of a given community. For example, in Minato-ku Ward we find a long history of small die factories. These die factories have gradually vanished, yet their impact on the community’s present economic and social fabric remain significant.

Psycho geography explores the relationship between physical space and the individual. This approach follows the theoretical teachings of the Siuationists. This approach allows for the observer more freedom of perspective and interpretation than found in traditional documentary. The observer will place emphasis on exploring personal relationships with the community in focus. For example, living in a homeless community and creating a blog that chronicles your day-to-day activities whereby you literally integrate yourself into a preexisting community.

Street Games are digital-based visual games that examine visible and invisible characteristics of a city.

As you can see there are infinite possibilities. You are more than welcome to use the above suggestions or come up with your own.

To get started:

16, 17 May: We’ll spend time in class setting up your blogs, discussing how to get started and doing field trip research. I’d like each student to have 5 ideas on places to visit on our field trip days. We’ll make a master list and narrow it down.

22 May: Come to class prepared for the first critique. Start by gathering source material and sketching out ideas of how your piece may be executed. I would like to see at least two ways your idea could work. This could be for two separate topics or two design explorations for one topic. You should be thinking about how both your digital media piece as well as your print piece/website will work. By the 22nd, you should also have some visual documentation of your block, and 2 blog postings. One of these postings should discuss the process of choosing your block and the other should discuss the readings in A Lateral View.

02 June: The first exercise for your block is to place something into the block and observe peoples interactions with it. Be prepared to review the progress of your project as well as discuss documentation of this exercise.

08 June: First Critique of Summer Workshop posters. As this gets closer we’ll discuss this in more detail.

Grading Policy:

10% - Participation in Field Trips
10% - Participation in Guest Lecture / Workshop
10% - Art History
70% - Design Workshop Project

Attendance Policy for Studio Classes:
3 unexcused absences your grade drops one letter, if you miss 4 classes you will fail. Missing the final critique will also result in failing the workshop.


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