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Lee Ufan and the Art of Mono-ha in Postwar Japan (1968-1972)

  • Author(s): Yoshitake, Mika Monique
  • Advisor(s): Kwon, Miwon;
  • Baker, George T
  • et al.

Lee Ufan and the Art of Mono-ha in Postwar Japan (1968-1972) is the first English-language study on the late 1960s Japanese artistic phenomenon, Mono-ha (School of Things). Appearing at a moment of political crisis during the period of protests against the Vietnam War, Mono-ha stands at a juncture when the utopian energies of Japan's postwar avant-garde had reached an endpoint. Trained in continental philosophy, Mono-ha's key ideologue, Lee Ufan introduced a theory of perception that was informed by an integration of structuralism and phenomenology. Based on Lee's interpretation, Mono-ha strove to radically redefine the relationship between man and nature beyond the foundational dualism in western metaphysics and modern aesthetics. His theory rejected the act of creating as an expression of the subject's will and emphasized the structure surrounding the work's existence instead.

This dissertation charts the Japanese avant-garde prior to Mono-ha and maps the transitional moments when artists began to destabilize visual perception through distortions of dimensional space in order to separate the real and the perceived. Beginning with Lee's interpretive analysis of the work that launched the movement, Phase-Mother Earth (1968) by Sekine Nobuo, the dissertation presents Lee's notions of gesture, corporeality, and topos, all foundational to an understanding of Mono-ha. The dissertation further analyzes Lee's Relatum series through his theorization of "encounter," another key concept in which the very idea of an object shifts from a permanent body to an anticipatory passage. Finally, the dissertation considers Mono-ha's other central artist/theoretician, Suga Kishio, whose interest in semantic structures distance his practice from Lee's focus on the phenomenology of seeing, offering a different interpretive framework for Mono-ha. In addition to archival and contemporary art historical analysis, the dissertation includes an appendix comprised of brief biographies of relevant artists and new translations of selected texts on Mono-ha from 1969 to 1987.

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