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Manuel Schilcher

Appropriate Japan. How Western Art Prepared a Nation for War

Abschluss des PhD-Programms / Completion of the PhD-Program: SS 2019

Betreuung / Supervision:
Thomas Macho

In this research I try to evaluate how Western art and the methods of exhibition helped to distinguish or connect the present and the future of an era with preferred visions of the past to build a modern nation and national consciousness. I argue that Japan initially followed the European developmental pattern of Nation-building, in which art and exhibitions became key elements that paved the way for the formation of new ideological and political concepts. In order to convey a modern nation-state and its identity to the people of Japan, its colonies and Western audiences, various scenarios had to be created through shared and invented stories, myths, and common experiences. What was propagated as modern common culture and shared values was transformed by the aesthetic categories of Neo-Kantian theory into an ethical system that provided an alternative to Western moral concepts.Furthermore I will show how Western art and presentation methods were used to generate this socially constructed myth of a national character so that people would perceive themselves as part of this group or be seen as this national body from a Western perspective. To this end, I will focus on the period of the Great Japanese Empire, from the adoption of the Western concept of art in the late 19th century to its use to promote fascism in the 1940s.This work is based on the study of cultural relations and exchange programs with the Axis partners Germany and Italy and how the appropriation of modern art by the fascists played an important role in the dissemination of their common ideology. In doing so, the analysis focuses on the relationship between modernism and fascism in Japanese cultural politics and shows how this ideology was mediated through the visual field of art. The work examines the extent to which Japanese intellectuals who spent time in the West, particularly Germany, learned to articulate themselves in philosophy, and how the experience in their own context changed the articulation of Japanese collective memory and created a new shared history. In addition, the text looks at the emblematic exchange of political ideas through artistic methods and the importation of cultural practices from the fascist West and how this was transferred to the Japanese context. The most diverse facets of artistic commitment are shown and the protagonists are freed from ideological models. Insofar as the Japanese regime used fascist methods to oppress their own population as well as their colonies, no hostilities took place in the intellectual mainland until shortly before the end of the war. In contrast to Italy and Germany, it was never the task of art to support a cult of leaders or to portray soldiers in general as idealized heroes. The strengthening of the community, their mutual willingness to sacrifice, under the protective care of the emperor, but never questioning the emperor himself, was the task of art, idealizing these sufferings, paying homage to them to the death, manifesting them in an almost religious manner.

Kurz-Biographie / Short Bio:
study University of Arts Linz 1990-95 | co-directing AEC Futurelab | 2 year residency New York @ The Kitchen & The Thing LLC| co-directing artspace Transpublic Linz | editor Xing- cultural magazine | 15y exhibition design for different national museums, international galleries and Expo Milano | State Design Award Austria

Email-Adresse / Email-Address:


First Presentation in Tokyo 2016 © Manuel Schilcher