A Remade Environment

A Remade Environment

Background Information.

Editor's Note: This lesson was designed to supplement the Japan Society Gallery exhibition Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York (October 5, 2007 - January 13, 2008). To see the lesson in its original form, please click here.  A modified verion of the lesson to be used without visiting the exhibition is below.

For an overview of the issues facing contemporary Japan, please read Professor Peter Frost's essay Contemporary Japan, 1989–Present.  Additional relevant essays can be found in our Essays section, and artwork and photos can be found in our Resources section.

What is "Japanese contemporary art?" The Japan Society Gallery exhibition Making a Home sought to expand viewers' concepts of this term by presenting Japanese-born artists who were currently living and working in New York City.  One way to analyze their work is through the lense of landscape and environment.  The landscape of New York includes its topography, the built environment, and the individuals and groups that populate these spaces.  Artists may be inspired by or respond to their environment, but in many ways, the artists included in this lesson reconceptualize and remake the landscape through their works. 

Information about the Artists
Katsuhiro Saiki
The artist Katsuhiro Saiki was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1969. He moved to New York in 2002 and currently lives and works in Queens.

Saiki began his career as a painter, but was soon fascinated by the transient possibilities of the medium of photography. Turning away from the concept that photography is necessarily a realistic mode of expression; Saiki explores the conceptual and illusory potential of photographic images without the use of technological photo manipulation. (1)

In many of his recent works, Saiki retains the realistic integrity of his photographic images, while manually reforming them by cutting and merging portions of each picture. The works in the exhibition Making a Home are part of a series the artist is currently working on, Study for Metropolis, in which he photographically documents Modernist architecture in New York City. Saiki then physically constructs these photographs into 3-dimensional, geometric, sculptural forms. In this way, the artist also repurposes the camera from a device used to capture verisimilitude to a device used to alter reality.

Junko Yoda
Artist Junko Yoda was born in Miyoshi-gun, Tokushima Prefecture, Japan in 1943. She moved to New York in the late 1960s and currently lives and works in Manhattan.

For Junko Yoda, both the finished product and the process of creation are significant.  Yoda moved to New York City from Japan in response to an exhibition of Abstract Expressionist artwork that she viewed in Tokyo. In the artists’ own words, responding to a question of why she was prompted to leave Japan:

In 1966, there was a great exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. It was called Two Decades of American Painting. It was an important exhibition that introduced American paintings to Japanese people for the first time. The show included works by Pollock, De Kooning, Morris Louis, Newman, Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol, and many other artists. I saw the paintings of all the artists for the first time. It was shocking enough for me to decide to go to New York. (2) 

Today, Yoda typically works in a style that is emotional and abstract, while simultaneously incorporating elements of craft and devoting meticulous attention to each work. As an example, her painting The Hudson was created through the painstaking layering of small bits of Japanese paper applied with dripped paint to panel.

1.  Shiner, Eric C. & Tomii, Reiko. Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York. New York: Japan Society, 2007, p.134.

2.  Ibid. p.187.

Learning Goals.

1.  Students will infer the artists' feelings about the enviroment based on their artwork.

2.  Students will study the various ways to represent or evoke a place through art, such as physical representation versus a more abstract approach.

Common Core Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening K-5

  •  Standard 2.   Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language K-5

  •   Standard 1.  Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading 6-12

  • Standard 7.  Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening  6-12

  •  Standard 1.  Prepare for and participate effectively in a range  of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Key Concept.  

Essential Question. How is artwork affected by its immediate environment?  How are different artists affected by and how do they affect their immediate environment?

Primary Source.  

Thought Questions.  



Focus Activity Ideas.  

Main Lesson Activity Ideas.

The goal of the following activity is to engage your students in an open-ended dialogue about works of art, leading to learning in several disciplines. This material may be used verbatim by teachers of students in grades 7-12, though the questions are broad enough to be modified easily for grades K-6 with the substitution of less advanced vocabulary. Use the presented comparisons and Inquiry as bases for discussion of the images with your students. You need not follow these questions as a script, though you may. You may also choose to have students respond to questions in written form. For more advice on ways to use these activities, please click here.

1.  Inquiry for Study for Metropolis #2 by Katsuhiro Saiki.

  • What is photography?
  • Why do you take photographs? Why do artists take photographs? Are these reasons similar to or different from one another?  

In this series, Saiki photographs buildings in the city close-up and then cuts, joins and folds the images into 3-dimensional forms.

  • Imagine that instead of photographing buildings in New York City, he instead photographed people or natural objects, and then reformed them. How might his finished piece be different? How might it be the same?
  • Using only this work of art as evidence, describe how you think the artist feels about the buildings that he photographs. Why do you think so?

2. Inquiry for The Hudson (Detail) by Junko Yoda.

  • What patterns can you identify in this painting?
  • What do you think is the focal point of this painting? Why do you say that?

Explain that Yoda moved to New York City from Japan around 1966, when she was in her early 20s. She painted this painting of an aerial view of the Hudson River much later (in 2006) in response to flying over Ithica & the Finger Lakes.

  • Based on this painting, what do you think were the artist’s impressions of this area?
  • What comes to mind when you think about the Hudson River? (Even if you’ve never been there). What comes to mind when you think about New York City? Make a T-chart of your associations with these two places.

Summative Activity Ideas.

Compare both pieces.

  • In what ways do both of these works of art represent a “remaking” of the artist’s environment?
  • Which is a more “accurate” representation of the original subject; the sculpted photograph of a skyscraper’s surface, or the painting of an aerial view of the Hudson River? Why do you think so?
  • Which piece would you say is more abstract? Why?

In looking at these two works of art, notice that one artist is using a very urban and corporate environment as his subject; while the other is using a natural landscape as her subject.

  • Taking this into consideration, which piece, in your opinion, is a better representation of “New York?”



Resources for Educators/Older Students
Blohm, Judith M. & Lapinsky, Terri. Kids Like Me: Voices of the Immigrant Experience. Boston: Intercultural Press, 2006.
Essays by children and teens describe their experiences acclimating to life in America. Also includes accompanying questions and activities for educators; includes photos and illustrations.

Bode, Janet. New Kids on the Block: Oral Histories of Immigrant Teens. London: Franklin Watts, 1989.
In these narratives, teenagers from all over the world talk about their reactions to being immigrants to the United States, highlighting each individual’s personal responses.

Danquah, Meri Nana-Ama. Becoming American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women. New York: Hyperion, 2000.
Essays by women making a home after immigrating to the United States.  Provides the perspectives of upper- and middle-class immigrant experiences.

Dublin, Thomas (ed.). Becoming American, Becoming Ethnic: College Students Explore Their Roots. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
These essays were written by college students exploring their ethnic heritage; covering the historical immigrant experiences of their family members, to their reflections on their contemporary lives and efforts to define themselves/be defined.

Foner, Nancy (ed.). New Immigrants in New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
Essays related to current immigrant groups to New York and how these groups are shaping the city.

Resources for Younger Students
A website maintained and written by students and faculty of a public elementary school in Bellingham, Washington. Of particular interest may be “Our Immigration Wing,” in which students from the school relay their families’ personal expereinces as contemporary immigrants to America.

Rosenberg, Maxine. Making a New Home in America. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1986.
Young boys and girls talk about immigrating to the United States; a photoessay.

Say, Allen. Grandfather’s Journey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.
Caldecott Medal-winning account of the author’s grandfather's life in Japan and the United States.

Say, Allen. Tea with Milk. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Elegantly-illustrated story of a young woman’s search for “home.”