Community and Care at the Edges of Modernity

Wednesday, 22 May 2024
10:30AM - 12:00PM (AEST)
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A lecture on the importance of community-art projects in contemporary Japanese art.

My research focuses on art, story-telling, place-making, performance and other forms of value creation that mostly take place outside or adjacent to museums and other modern institutions. The work I study is sometimes called socially engaged art or community art in North America, or āto purojekuto (art projects) in Japan. The works are usually conceived to represent or address a specific community, not something as abstract and generalized as a national or global audience. Authorship differs from the individual-creator of modern art, yet is not as anonymous as folk art. Projects tend to be open-ended and negotiated, causing them to overspill the boundaries of objecthood or even an event. These art forms, so messy for modern institutions, are I believe, signs of new forms of cultural creation and transmission that I loosely term post-growth aesthetics.

I will introduce three organizations that are all in the care field in Japan: one is a day-space for developmentally disabled youth (C.S. Lets), the second serves former day-laborers who live on public assistance (the Cocoroom), and the third is a day-space whose clientele suffer from chronic mental illness (Harmony). All three organizations serve clients who are “unproductive” by capitalist standards. All three devise diverse projects, events, and forms of display that open up time-spaces where individual expression is recognized and encouraged to grow, and where the work of value creation is shared by the receivers: audiences must be active and playful in finding value in what they encounter. Although these initiatives appear on the fringes of art institutions, I believe they offer clues for thinking about expression and its preservation: from the local, cumulative, open-ended practices of collection and display, to valuing the diversity of undercapitalized communities, to raising new challenges for transgenerational transmission.

Image: Entrance to the Cocoroom Guest House and Cafe. Photo courtesy of the Cocoroom (


Series convened by Olivier Krischer and Yvonne Low, and co-presented by the Power Institute and VisAsia at the Art Gallery of NSW.


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Justin Jesty

Justin Jesty researches the relationship between art and social movements in postwar Japan. His book Art and Engagement in Early Postwar Japan (Cornell University Press 2018) was awarded the 2019 ASAP Book Prize by the Association for the Study of Arts of the Present. He is currently researching contemporary socially engaged art in Japan. In 2017 he edited a two-part special issue on the topic in FIELD: A Journal of Socially-Engaged Art Criticism. He has also published several articles on postwar social documentary. All articles are available at