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. Two pieces in particular, "Rocking Chair and Window" by Mayumi Terada and "Untitled" by Satoru Eguchi, can be used to start a discussion on constructing identities. How do our relationships define us? How do we define ourselves? How do these two concepts intersect/remain distinct?
Information about the Artists
The artist Mayumi Terada was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1958. She moved to New York 2001 and currently lives and works in Manhattan.
Terada is simultaneously both a sculptor and a photographer. She creates works like the one here by constructing scale models of scenes and photographing these artificial spaces. By photographing her models, particularly with black and white film, she begins to obscure their truly miniature size and brings them into the reality of our scale. Terada’s scenes contain no human figures, yet evidence of recent human presence is often implied, contributing to the haunting atmosphere of these works.
The artist Satoru Eguchi was born in Shibata, Niigata Prefecture, Japan in 1973. He moved to New York 1998 and currently lives and works in Brooklyn.
Eguchi is an artist in the early stages of his career who has already achieved critical acclaim. He often creates sculptures or other works that are somewhere between the second and third dimensions; not quite flat, but not quite completed forms. His processes involve various explorations of the concepts of construction and deconstruction.
The image shown here is a model for STUDIO, the work included in the Japan Society Gallery exhibition Making a Home. The actual piece is a full-size reconstruction of the artist’s actual studio in Brooklyn, executed in everyday materials such as cardboard and wood, painted to replicate reality. All details of the studio space are included in the final work at Japan Society, including furniture, accessories and tools; all sculpted by the artist.
1. Students will compare the ways these artists approach the idea of "home."
2. Students will explore the connection between physical objects and personal identity.
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.
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 Rocking Chair and Window by Mayumi Terada.
- Describe the place that you see in this photograph. Where do you think this is?
- Who do you think lives here? What do you see that makes you say that?
To create this artwork, the artist, Mayumi Terada, sculpted a small model of a room and then photographed it.
- Describe the mood of this photograph using at least three adjectives. How does the artist communicate this mood?
- Referring to the list of words that you just generated, choose a new mood word that is the opposite of one of the words you just used. How could you change the photograph to communicate this new mood?
2. Inquiry for Untitled by Satoru Eguchi.
- What is this? What does it remind you of?
- Write a short scene that involves a person or people interacting in or
with this space.
This is a model of artist Satoru Eguchi’s studio, which he made himself.
- Describe the physical features of the studio that you see.
- Do you think that this would be an easy or hard space to work in as an artist? Why?
- Describe or design your idea of the ideal artist’s studio.
Summative Activity Ideas.
Both of these artists have created models of interior spaces. When finished, Terada chose to photograph her model in a theatrical way, while Eguchi lets his sculpture stand on its own.
- Which artwork would you say is more permanent? Which is more “real?”
- How is each artwork an expression of the idea of “home?”
- In what ways do rooms express things about the people who live in or use them? Do rooms tell you everything about a person? Why or why not?
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.”