MARK STILES (curator) received his PhD from the University of NSW in 2010. He first visited Japan in 1967 when his parents were posted to the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, and he has returned many times since. In 2013 Mark curated the successful exhibition at the Incinerator Art Space to mark the centenary of the designers of Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin.
The culture of Japan has influenced Western artists and architects since the late nineteenth century. There is a particular link between modern architecture and Japan, a link first established by the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright before the First World War and followed by many others since.
In Australia architectural interest in Japan was stimulated by the Arts and Crafts movement and is one thread in the story of the Federation house. Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin brought the American version of the Arts and Crafts to Australia when they won the competition for the design of Canberra in 1912. Between the wars it was print-makers and ceramic artists who maintained a creative connection to Japan, though Arthur Lindsay Sadler, a professor at the University of Sydney, published a major study of Japanese architecture, one of the most thorough to appear in English, in 1941.
Australian architects began to take a renewed interest in Japan after the Second World War, prompted by the continuing prestige of Frank Lloyd Wright and the work of the postwar generation of Japanese architects led by Kenzo Tange and Kunio Maekawa. The publication of new English translations of classic Zen texts such as The Book of Tea and In Praise of Shadows as well as studies of the Japanese vernacular by Teiji Itoh and others furthered Western interest. Critics such as Robin Boyd, Adrian Snodgrass and Jennifer Taylor carried this into Australian architecture schools through their teaching and writing, Boyd on Kenzo Tange, Taylor on Fumihiko Maki and Snodgrass on traditional Japanese architecture in particular.
But it was the direct experience of Japan by Australian architects that has had the most enduring effect, starting with the Sydney architect Peter Muller in the 1950s. Not all followed Muller’s example of initiation into a Zen sect but the exposure to the noble traditions of Japanese architecture – its truth to materials, its simplicity, respect for landscape, and brilliant use of space – has been an ongoing revelation for Australians. From the Sydney School of the 1960s until today, Australian architects have found what Wright famously found in Japanese architecture long ago – the elimination of the insignificant, a material means to a spiritual end and an unending source of inspiration for their own work.
Other art forms have discovered the power of these principles too, and this exhibition presents some recent examples of this most productive connection. Each of the exhibitors was asked to reflect on their relationship to Japan in their own way.