Teacher portal: 08 Raw Materials

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In Japanese culture the space between objects is as important as the objects themselves. Tan Boon Hui explains that, for East Asian artists, space is not left over, it is created.

Alison visits the house of Lee U-fan, leader of the Mono-ha movement in the 1960s in Japan. Lee U-fan talks about he aims of the Mono-ha artists. They used raw materials and tried to ‘not make’ the art, by allowing the materials to express themselves. He shows Alison some of his sculptural works in his garden.

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Interviewees in this episode

Lee U-fan – Japan


Lee U-fan was born in Korea in 1936 and came to Japan to live in 1956 where he still lives, just outside Kamakura.  Starting with his leadership of the Mono-ha movement in Japan in the late 1960s, his work has been acclaimed internationally at over 100 solo exhibitions alone, including recently at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. Mono-ha, or the ‘School of Things’, sought to remove the ‘meaning’ placed on individual objects and see everything as part of an equally balanced continuum.

Tan Boon Hui – Singapore

Curator, writer and arts administrator, Tan Boon Hui has recently left the Directorship of the Singapore Art Museum to move higher in the Singapore Government’s arts hierarchy. He took on the SAM role after work at the National Museum of Singapore and the Asian Civilizations Museum. A keen advocate for South East Asian contemporary art, and for Singapore’s role in showing, discussing and promoting it, his achievements have included major exhibitions organised by SAM, including the 2013 Singapore Biennale and developing the museum’s collection to be, he says, the best collection of South East Asian contemporary art in the world.

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Experiment Topic 1

Consider a space. What is there already before you entered it? What happens when an object, perhaps a raw material object, is placed in the space? How has the tension between the objects in the space changed? What happens when you introduce sound or light or temperature or perhaps yourself into the space?

Discussion Topic 2

How might you work with the energy of a space? How can you create the tension of an empty space in your own work?

Discussion Topic 3

Explore what might be meant by ‘not making the work’. Does the idea of a conversation help? Make a work which is a conversation between the ‘me’ and the ‘not-me’, between the object and the space it exists within.

Discussion Topic 4

Discuss Lee U-fan’s comment on his art practice: ‘…instead I reach out to what is around me and external to myself, ‘non-me.’’ What does this mean to you? How might you engage that idea in your own practice?







Mono-ah art movement



Lee U-fan