Mapping the Aesthetics of Urban Life in Asia: A Dialogue with the Arts

IIAS-CSEAS Winter School 2016 in conjunction with the CSEAS Southeast Asian Seminar

Programme and participants list


    Asia is home to some of the world’s largest mega-cities whose fast-pace development is spurring considerable economic growth while reconfiguring and often unsettling social and cultural practices. Asian urban areas have become large-scale testing grounds for the re/invention of traditions and the questioning of cultural values. Cities in Asia are also subject to massive ecological challenges as for instance recurrent cases of flooding in Bangkok or Jakarta, or the recent Kathmandu earthquake.

    Efforts to understand urban environments in light of future dramatic climate and economic challenges have ignited debates over issues of urban planning, privatization of public spaces and services, housing, infrastructures, urban heritage, et al, as well as their association to a linear “productivist”, growth-obsessed conception of development.  The process of constant expansion and transformation of Asian cities, if a testament to the region’s economic success, also generates precarity as articulated in social fragmentations, ecological and psychological insecurities, economic poverty and other traits of “modern” alienations. Rebuilding after natural disasters, coping with environmental degradations, dealing with political and civil unrests, urban migration fluxes, and unaccountable forms of governance, have become growing concerns among Asian city dwellers.

    Questions have emerged over cities’ resilience and the kind of social dialogues within their midst. How can these dialogues guide and inform their future directions? And importantly, what – social and political – role do aesthetics including artistic and architectural interventions play in imagining the present and future city? This unique IIAS-CSEAS coordinated international winter school proposes to explore the theme of “mapping the aesthetics of urban life in Asian cities” in South, Southeast and Northeast Asia by examining how the Arts can contribute to the re-conceptualization of urban spaces.

    The winter school’s conveners believe that the unprecedented wave of urbanization in Asia can potentially open new spaces of interventions, not only for architects, city planners and designers, but also for artists and intellectuals committed to stimulate public engagements.  Artists do it through various modes of performativity ranging from urban art, literature, performances, music, filmmaking et al. One key question emerges from these interventions: how can the urban landscape of the city be a template to think about both modern and traditional aesthetics in Asia or challenge that distinction, and how are aesthetics constitutive of the Asian city?

    Observing the aesthetics of urban life within Asia allows us to connect with people’s perceptions of space, beauty, harmony, sound, emotional quality and comfort. All these and their opposites inform, if not govern or police, the logics of living and interacting in cities. An engagement with diverse aesthetic interventions in the context of the Asian city may help us to think about urbanity from new angles. The Arts can be used to (re-)conceptualize the intense changes sweeping over Asia’s cities. Already, there are numerous often under-studied examples of artistic interventions that have sought to visibly alter urban spaces or explicitly question concrete practices of belonging. For example, artistic flash mobs disturb the flow of the city, just as ephemeral public art practices can turn a pavement into a dance theatre. These works of art in the city should be recognized for their capacity to instill democratic values and social sharing in the public space.

    As a production process, including public and performing arts, art-in-the-city draws attention to urban transformations and reconstruction. It involves communities and can challenge social harms such as poverty, rootlessness and so forth to bring about concrete social changes in Asia’s highly populated urban centers. It helps to ask the critical question: who has the right to the city, and who do not, and how can we challenge this state of things? In sum, Art-in-the-city informs us about the right to the city. It is a practice that can potentially invent alternative, un-marketable, forms of citizenship.

    By focusing in on different modes of urban-art interventions, including the role of sound-art in re-mapping the city, the re/usage of empty urban spaces and the city as a visual and creative spectacle, the January 2016 Kyoto winter school seeks to explore how arts and popular urban cultures can converge to act as agents of social inclusion in Asian cities.

    The 6 day workshop set in the changing – yet highly historical and cultural- urban environment of Kyoto, Japan, will bring together three conveners – one cultural studies scholar, one artist/educator, and one architect - to guide a group of doctoral candidates from Asia and other regions to exchange on the role of the Arts in the (re)building of Asian cities. Two days will be set aside for fieldwork excursions within Kyoto.

    General information

    For whom

    The Winter Programme on Mapping the Aesthetics of Urban Life in Asia: A Dialogue with the Arts is meant for PhD Students and students following a combined PhD art, sound and/or sound art track. This means that we do not accept students other than PhD researchers.


    It is no longer possible to apply for the Winter School.

    Selection procedure

    The programme allows a maximum of 20 participants. All applicants, who registered before the deadline, will be informed about the selection before 31 August 2015. We will not correspond about the outcome of the selection procedure.

    Registration fee

    Participants should pay the following registration fee: € 250.


    Half-board accommodation (breakfast and lunch) for seven nights is included for the selected participants.

    Travel costs

    Selected participants are expected to fund their own travel expenses. Limited (partial) scholarships are available. We recommend that you try to raise funds to cover your transportation and/or other expenses as early as possible.


    After you have received the confirmation of your participation, you will receive further information about the payment of the registration fee. You can pay with credit card (Master or Visa) and via bank transfer.  

    Cancellation policy

    Participation in the Winter School can be cancelled free of charge until 60 days before the start. If cancellation occurs within 60 days prior to the start of the programme, the fee will not be refunded.


    Participants can receive a certificate for the Winter School. 

    Who organizes the Winter School?

    The 2016 Winter School on Mapping the Aesthetics of Urban Life in Asian Cities - A Dialogue with the Arts is organized by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), Kyoto University, Japan

    The International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) is a research and exchange platform based in Leiden, the Netherlands. IIAS encourages the multi‐disciplinary and comparative study of Asia and promotes national and international cooperation, acting as an interface between academic and non‐academic partners, including cultural, social and policy organisations. The main research foci are Asian cities, dynamics of cultural heritage, and the global projection of Asia. These themes are broadly framed so as to maximise interactions and collaborative initiatives. IIAS is also open to new ideas of research and policy‐related projects.

    In keeping with the Dutch tradition of transferring goods and ideas, IIAS works both as an academically informed think tank and as a clearinghouse of knowledge. It provides information services, builds networks and sets up cooperative programmes. Among IIAS activities are the organisation of seminars, workshops and conferences, outreach programmes for the general public, the publication of an internationally renowned newsletter, support of academic publication series, and maintaining a comprehensive database of researchers and Asian studies institutions. IIAS hosts the secretariats of the European Alliance for Asian Studies and the International Convention of Asian Scholars. In this way, IIAS functions as a window on Europe for non‐European scholars, contributing to the cultural rapprochement between Asia and Europe.

    The Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) Kyoto University, is Japan’s premiere research Center for Southeast Asia. Based in Kyoto, the Center has a history spanning 50 years. Following historical and contemporary developments in the region, CSEAS works closely with partner institutions, scholars and intellectuals in Asia as well as in Europe and USA to develop a unique form of area studies: one based in fieldwork in the human and ecological landscapes of the region and engaged with the challenges facing these societies. CSEAS researchers carry out detailed and long-term studies to understand and explain the dynamic complexities of this diverse region. 


    1. The City as an Orchestra: remapping cities through sound

    Cities are very much like formal structures of musical compositions and spontaneous improvisations that emerge and unfold before us. Like the instrumental sections of an orchestra, a city is made up of numerous sections of communities. In rapidly expanding urban Asia how can remapping and examining an acoustic ecology allow us to study, create and experience, through sound, the relationship between people and their environments? What do Asian musical cultural heritages developed by communities create and add to the making of a city as part of its cultural literacy? How can we reinterpret cities in a different manner and create organically in a larger context as “large ensembles” that offer new thoughts on what historically and currently make up the environment of a city? What kind of remapping of the city in aural terms allows us to reorient our perception of the city, its liveability and the social relations we form through them? 

    2. Urban mapping and the exploration/cultivation of empty space

    Asian urbanity exists on diverse scales and dimensions and the sense and manner of the occupation of both public and private space is diverse. Yet, in cities many empty spaces, as unused or devalued land or as the result of urban decay exist and are used in many different ways. In what ways can we recognize and consider the absence or presence of intimate relations in unused or wasted urban space? How can we think about them and map the networked conditions of empty spaces in cities, by applying the collection of data? In what ways are space refilled and/or transformed and how does their use reflect people’s attitude toward public space?

    3.  Urban Precarity, revitalization, and occularcentrism

    All around the world, cities aspire to become “creative.” Even as decay spreads throughout cities, abandoned factories are turned into fashion outlets; different combinations of communities and market initiatives can produce creative districts. Previous layers of the city are reconfigured by market forces, city planners and architects for new uses and working classes are morphing into creative and consuming middle classes. These trends raise a question: if cities are all creative, then what does this creativity mean, in particular now that they have become so intimately aligned to commerce and its expansion? Simultaneously, Asian cities have also undergone urban metamorphoses into visual spectacles indicating that they are, sensory experiences that prioritizes sight. Occularcentrism, the privileging of vision over the other senses undermines other ways we spatially orient ourselves. In what ways can we remap cities through bottom-up cartographies developed by artists, activists and architects to present alternatives to conventional boundaries and streets encountered in traditional forms of mapping?