It felt incredible to print a 70-page dissertation out, bind it and hand it in. A massive load off my shoulders, off my head, off my mind and soul…

In all honesty I am incredibly happy I got to do something as consuming. I learned so much in the process… not only by going through something like 30 books at least, but also by thinking back on the process and how it all came together piece by piece.

Strangely enough, now that I’ve been through this, it feels like I’m ready for another challenge. Further research into what I was already talking about (which feels like it could turn into a lifetime’s worth of works) or something new to dive into. Well. For now, I’m happy to be done with it. It’s good to not be stressing over academic writing.


Once I finished this piece, I went out on the look for frames. I knew I didn’t want this drawing to be forgotten away somewhere in a sketchbook or an album, and I wanted to give it an honourable place in my room. 

Reflections on Constellation, year 2

After last year I came back expecting something similar but that made much more sense and focus. At first it was all a bit confusing because we were being taught about dissertations all of a sudden and being pushed to think of an option we’d like to be in. It was all a bit overwhelming, like we didn’t really understand what was happening, because it was just one thing over another. A few of the options were especially alluring to me, like Goddesses and Monsters, led by Cath Davies, Puzzling out Contemporary Art, by Jonathan Clarkson, Understanding Humour in the Context of Art and Design, with Theo Humphries, and last but definitely not least, Mannerism, with Mahnaz Shah.

I wasn’t confident at first whether I want to be in exactly that group, even though I am incredibly interested in Renaissance art, but I trusted my friend when she said Mahnaz was brilliant, after she’d been in her group last year. And I was convinced almost immediately. You wouldn’t expect to be taught in such a manner and it seems surprising at first but then by the time you really start enjoying yourself amidst the discussion, idea-sharing, contradictions and connections, Mahnaz is already giving you an assignment or something to research at home and talking about next week. You realize it’s finished too quickly, and then you can’t wait until next Friday… Time flies by when you’re having fun.

By viewing artworks from the old masters (Michelangelo, da Vinci, Bronzino) paralleled with ancient philosophy, and then finding the similarities and differences with art and design from 1880 to 1945, we gain a deeper understanding of the true meaning, intention and thought which exist intertwined within all of art. With the practice of listing what we disagree with what Mahnaz was showing us, we began to really grasp the concept of a multitude of meanings and the uniqueness of perception. Focusing on the ‘beautiful’, ’strange’, and ’ugly’, we managed to draw conclusions vital to the life of art and the place of art in life – what is strange, ugly or beautiful is only subject to our own perception.

Our lectures were always exciting and incredibly interesting to take part in. I was always amazed at how brilliant old art is, how incredibly intelligent and educated Mannerist were, not to mention the philosophers of antiquity. With our ‘homework’ we got to explore the topics from the lectures even further, such as the assignment on the Platonic Solids, and the collage artwork she let us make, depicting ‘our reality’, which helped really understand and experience everything we were learning.

With the end of our ‘option’ lectures, marked by our essays on the definition of the strange and the ugly, came the beginning of our dissertation prep, namely, the first lectures on what exactly a dissertation is, why we are doing one and how we should be going about it. It felt like an unpleasantly abrupt transition from the captivating learning process we had just undergone (in preparation of what was to follow) to the sometimes frustratingly long and almost confusingly detailed lectures which oft times left us in an even greater state of panic and awe of the cataclysmic tsunami that we were about to get to surf on, which was our dissertation. The more they tried to tell us it was not that scary, the more frightening it became. In fear of insufficient time I borrowed a pyramid of books to start off my research, my topic still uncertain – I wanted to write about something I know I can’t become bored of, something that I wish to find out more about, and something which I could relate to my own knowledge, ideas and work.

The freedom to write about anything we choose was almost unreal to me at the start. Apart from the final essay from last year, any academic writing I’ve done has been uniform for everyone and the excitement is always about how your friends approached the question and what they wrote. Now the great excitement, and fear, comes from what everyone else is going to write about – if everyone can write about anything, what would they come up with? what would I come up with? what if I end up writing about the same thing as someone else? With outlining  where my own interests lie, I felt like I had to make sure my research idea was special, otherwise I could not see the point of it. I am so delighted and even though I suffer with it, same as everyone else, it is an almost masochistic suffering which makes me incredibly happy on the inside. I appreciate the work, the knowledge and the research,  and I am very excitedly looking forward to where it will take me.

Venus and Adonis ©Cy Twombly. source:

Apollo and the Artist, 1975 source: © Cy Twombly

Dissertation Prep / weeks 1&2

Shattered. urban/natural glass composition (as found on the way home)

We’ve had two lectures so far (as usual on Fridays) about what a dissertation is, why we have to write one and how we should be going about it. Ashley Morgan has been presenting in both sessions, trying to explain to us what it is all about.

I don’t know why, but I’ve noticed that in both lectures what she was talking about was pretty much the same, only the second time there were more actual examples. Somehow people don’t seem to grasp what they are supposed to be doing, which to me seems absolutely ridiculous, as a dissertation is what EVERYONE does at the end of their course. There is only so many ways to describe what a dissertation is, and after repeating herself about seven times, you can see why I started finding the lecture a bit frustrating…

For some reason, a number of fellow students still haven’t grasped the idea of having a blog and how we are all expected to fill it, which is fairly surprising as we’re in the middle of our 3-year course and it is what we have all been marked on for the last year and a half. Questions like “how many words are we supposed to write on our blog in the Constellation section” seem downright ignorant while we’re trying to talk about our dissertation.

Personally I’ve been stressing out quite a lot. I decided to hand in the pre-proposal form next week since I’m still too unsure about my ideas. I feel like there are so many things I want to write about that if I choose one, I’ll immediately regret not choosing another. Ashley rightly noted that we should focus on something that we love, something that we find interesting and exciting, because we’re going to be spending a lot of time on it from now until this time next year, and I completely agree…. But at the same time it feels like my interest in things is boundless.

(I will add another post or two or twenty about my ideas and how I plan to go about them… both to share it and to give it at least some form of basic outline, on which I can focus my research. )

Whoof. Exciting stuff, am I right?



Defining the Strange and the Ugly (final assignment)

How would you define the concept of the ‘strange’ and the ‘ugly’ within your subject specialism?

What is the difference?  How can it inform your practice?
How did the Mannerist apply it in their works?

A short essay by Sara Christova


“If I was strange and strange were my figures,
Such strangeness is a source of both grace and art;
And whoever adds strangeness here and there to his style,
Gives life, force and spirit to his paintings.”
Piero di Cosimo, 1521

In this short essay I will be questioning what exactly is ‘strange’ and what is ‘ugly’ in order to find their ‘true’ meaning. I will be focusing on understanding the definitions and social implications of ‘strange’ and ‘ugly’. With the concepts in question I will look for relations to Mannerist art and my own Illustration practice. Personally, I simply can’t call anything ‘strange’ or ‘ugly’. Everything (that could be considered such by the ‘public opinion’) has its own unique properties, its own imperfections and attributes. Anything can become genuinely interesting and magically curious and wonderful for its own reason. The ability to allow yourself to be positively impressed by what you’d normally judge or overlook in a negative manner is one of the most essential skills an illustration student can acquire.

To know what is ‘strange’ or ‘ugly’ one should already have a defined idea of what is ‘normal’ or ‘beautiful’, as they are opposite. However the components of the two pairs correlate with each other as well. If we look at ‘strange’ and ‘ugly’ from a different perspective, the term ‘ugly’ would represent something so intensely unfamiliar and mystifyingly different, that it can morph the ‘strange’ into ‘ugly’, in which case we can agree that the two embody the same impression with a different degree of intensity.

When thinking about the Mannerist, we inevitably address their incredibly extensive and vast knowledge and awareness, and how everything they put into their works is backed by an army of ideas, meanings and associations. In making their paintings the artists had the chance to explore and question the properties, characteristics and qualities of what we see (as both ‘look at’ and ‘understand’) when we view a given artwork. Their consideration of the difference in people’s perception allowed them to engage all possible interpretations and lead the viewer on to the key message and meaning. The ‘liquidation’ of the conventional form, a principal characteristic of Mannerist art, could easily be seen as an experiment, a probation of how far a deformity can go unnoticed by the viewer. A test of the mass perception and the social boundaries of ‘strangeness’, ‘ugliness’, ‘beauty’, ‘monstrosity’, ‘divinity’…

In a way, the Mannerist have presented us with an incredibly intricate exploration of the human body and all of its unpredictability, its structure, form and curvature, and their variations between each  individual, same as snowflakes and trees, which may look similar, but upon closer inspection each one proves to be undoubtedly unique. Why do we, humans, put what’s around us  into little categories of grades of positives and negatives when everything is essentially exactly the same – different, extraordinary and unique, despite the similarities. This leads us to a meaning, a statement, a conclusion, incorporated into Mannerist art, amongst everything else: what is strange, ugly or beautiful is only subject to our own perception.

Through their work, the Mannerist question the revered strive for perfection for they know there is no such thing – we are all perfectly imperfect. Illustration can capture those flaws and bring them forward to prove to the world how even the most dull piece of earth can become a valuable source of inspiration. It’s about showing how beautiful the ugly can be and how normal the strange really is. Our world is beautifully diverse and unpredictable, and terms like ‘strange’ and ‘ugly’ are no more than mere illusions of the clouded mind.


Definition of my Reality

We got a task to work on a collaged piece depicting our reality. We were given complete freedom for our final outcome and we were advised to check what the Platonic solids were and how they were connected to Leonardo da Vinci.

I could not have been more thrilled. The research I did re-empowered my admiration for the connections between art, science and spirituality. I was once more reassured of the importance of knowledge and the need for deep philosophical conversations and discussion.

When I started thinking about ‘my reality’ I made a little list of words. Chaotic, mind-blowing, beautiful, rushing, lone… but then I realized this was a conscious illusion, the words were coming from a very shallow place in my being. They were my reality but they were just aspects of the whole.

What I came up with is a piece which somehow actually manages to describe my reality and, at the same time, capture universal truths and knowledge, as well as referencing ideas as old as time.


This is my personal final piece.

We each got to ‘present’ our pieces to the rest of our group without saying a word about it, and letting everyone else speak up and tell us what they see, what they understand and what they can interpret, and then see if it matches our own original idea.

It’s strange how I can’t bring myself to write about this piece now; it has become a sort-of milestone of my own personal development, evidence of a moment/period of pure, complete self-awareness and analysis.

On ‘Mannerism’

This year’s option choosing proved to be quite hectic and in the end I didn’t get into my first choice… which proved to be the best thing that could’ve possibly happened because I got into the perfect option.

In Mannerism with Dr. Mahnaz Shah we get so philosophical, sometimes people get too confused by the depth of conversation. I love these lectures and each time I leave them with my mind blown to bits, and I can’t even compose sentences properly for a while after.

I can’t write about every single discussion we’ve had but we study about mannerist artists and try to objectively look at their work and understand/interpret it, see the deeper meaning behind the seemingly obvious and obscure. We look at the characteristics which make Mannerism and connect philosophies, knowledge and ideas from thousands of years ago (ancient Greek philosophy) to artworks by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Bronzino & more, and then we connect these to contemporary art (1880-today).

It is incredible how much knowledge people had and how vast and expansive it was. The mannerist artists were so much more than just people with incredible artistic skill, they were incredibly intelligent and intellectual, they were mathematicians, architects, physicists, chemists, philosophers…

Those lectures have made me see how lacking my own knowledge is. How much history and philosophy I’m missing from my life. It’s one of those feelings of something that would take more than my entire lifetime; something that makes me sad because of its incredible immensity and utter hopelessness. All I could do is get on with it and see how far I can get.

Life is beautiful and full of knowledge just waiting to be shared.

I could not be more inspired.



Obsession: the Drive of the Harajuku Subculture


In this essay I have investigated different aspects of the Harajuku street style, focusing on what shapes the fashion and what drives the people of Harajuku to look the way they do. In my research I found out that the two most influential factors are the kawaii, the cute, and the Western trends. The Japanese obsession with cuteness exists in both mainstream and underground cultures and, depending on how it’s displayed, it is therefore praised or disliked by society. During my research on Japan and the West and their influences it became clear that both sides take from one another, rather than just one being influenced by the other. The West is just as big an obsession in Japan as Japan is in the West. We live in a system of constant style-swapping where ‘nothing is purely innovative or imitative and the process of repetition always introduces an element of metamorphosis’ (Groom, 2011). The Japanese have proved to exceed at changing the meaning and mixing and matching items which do not suit one another at a first glance. Like their city, they combine East and West, past and present with a skill which speaks of an un-rushed intensity.


Obsession: the Drive of the Harajuku Subculture

an essay by Sara Christova

lecturer: Cath Davies



When visiting Japan, Tokyo is stop number one and in Tokyo the Harajuku area, Shibuya and Shinjuku are some of the most interesting places to see. As the epicentre of street fashion, they can be considered stages for the unprofessional enthusiasm of the Japanese who have been branded as the weird, the strange, the quirky; the deviants of Tokyo. The Harajuku subculture, if we could call it such, can be easily recognized by the vivid, unorthodox outfits of its followers, which are personally, carefully designed to stand out. Although when we refer to it as a single subculture we make a mistake, for the different styles, fashions and trends within it are too distinct to be filed under the same category. Each subculture is centred around a certain idea, an idea which has become the obsession of its members – the kawaii, or the ‘cute’ of the Decora, the anime and manga of the Otaku, the lace and Victorian-era clothing of the Lolitas, the leather and crazy hairstyles of the Punk.  The subcultures of Harajuku, however different from one another, also possess similar qualities – they all have a complicated web of connotations, enforced by the numerous layers, accessories, colours and patterns that they use, where each and every item or piece of clothing comes with its own meaning and personal value. These items are specifically chosen, mixed and matched with others and placed in a distinct way in order to give a certain impression or invoke different thoughts or emotions.

The un-rushed delicate intensity with which the Japanese go about their everyday lives is what makes the style what it is.  Picking and combining the right accessories is a time-consuming practice which proves the dedication and reverence with which these people regard their style. The trends are religion, the accessories are relics and the best dressed people are deities.

Kawaii, the Fatal Attraction to Cuteness

338892-kyary-pamyu-pamyu-kyary-and-harajuku-kawaiiEver-changing, ever-growing and developing, the Harajuku fashion is dictated by its own followers. This is the place where the fashion icons aren’t the models on the billboards but the very people on the streets we walk on. It is common in Tokyo to be approached by photographers who want to take pictures of you for one magazine or other. It’s what drives these teenagers to dress the way they do. The brighter you shine, the better your chance is of being noticed, of being recognized as different. Like most young adults in the world, that is one of our strongest drives – the wish to be seen as unique but also to be accepted as such. Harajuku is a place that is in a way dedicated to that purpose. As a part of Tokyo, the Harajuku style is strongly influenced by, the kawaii, or the ‘cute’, as it is an obsession that goes from the most commercial mainstream circles to the deepest underground communities. The idea behind it may be twisted and represented in different lights depending on the individual preferences and ideas of each person, but it exists everywhere.

Kawaii usually translates to “cute”. Whenever a girl sees something she really likes and/or finds cute, she would exclaim that word. Whatever you may think, kawaii isn’t a brand or a style in which something is made. Kawaii is, according to a girl in the Shibuya district “a state of mind and a lifestyle. My whole life is about being kawaii. I’m always thinking about how I can make myself even more kawaii.” (Kawamura, 2006, p795) Kawaii cannot be exactly defined but ‘a feeling’ is a good way to describe it. You can’t explain it, but when you see it you’ll immediately know.

Mary L., 18, who is familiar with the Japanese culture and subcultures from firsthand experience, explained that the people of Harajuku are viewed as degenerate and appalling by the non-Harajuku Japanese. There is a parallel between Harajuku and kawaii, but there is a thin line separating what is acceptable and what isn’t, since kawaii is part of the mainstream culture as well as the Harajuku subcultures – it is expected of  Japanese girls to be kawaii, and if they aren’t they are considered too masculine. If they have ‘too much kawaii’, like the Decoras for example, they are frowned upon. Just like how you have to be weird to fit in at Harajuku/Shibuya/Shinjuku, you have to be normal to fit in everywhere else. It is incredibly uncommon to see a person dressed in Harajuku fashion outside their designated territories and it’s slightly less uncommon to see a person like that on a weekday during work hours anywhere, even in the defined Harajuku places (except for the people that work in the industries catering to these styles, like the shops on Takeshita Dori).

Obsession with Style

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A former managing editor of Tokion, a fashion and art magazine in Tokyo, Alex Wagner, says that “Japanese culture is very ritualistic. They get hung up on one thing and then it becomes this feverish race to get as many of those things as possible’ (Kawamura, 2006). Once they decide a certain person is a fashion icon, they religiously keep up with every little piece of information – like the latest Tweeter posts, Instagram photos or Facebook status updates. In a world dominated by technology, social networking has become one of the easiest ways to get the latest info on the newest items and the freshest trends.

The world of Harajuku, just like any other, is ruled by clique exclusivity, and different styles occupy different territories.  Upon closer inspection you see a division between the members of the subculture. In Shinjuku people mostly dress up as Goths and Lolitas; in Shibuya the leading fashion is western subculture fashion (Punk, B-boy, Emo, Mod, Skinhead, etc.) either on its own but exaggerated, naturally, or fused with newer, more popular, sometimes even more mainstream, fashion. The result can be stunning and frightening and sometimes both at the same time.

While people (foreigners or locals with less knowledge of the subcultural trends and tendencies) often refer to the three parts as the singular Harajuku, the actual Harajuku area is where the most interesting and creative mixes often appear. The streets there are the home of the Shironuri (or ‘whiteface’) and Decora (from ‘decoration’). Both being very similar in their over-decorative tendencies – Shironuri and Decora just can’t get enough accessories! Hundreds of pins, bracelets, socks with different patterns, lengths and styles, countless pins and key chains, and earrings, and ribbons, and hairbands, and every possible mini-accessory; they’re just not enough. The only significant difference between the Shironuri and the Decora for us, the unenlightened, is that the faces of the Shironuri are painted in white.

Minori is a very famous Shironuri in Harajuku, who, despite her unearthly appearance, is an ordinary 23 year-old girl with exceptional skills as an artist (she is her own makeup artist, her own designer, decorator, she makes her own clothes and works in her own style to create series of conceptual photographs starring her in different artistically captivating outfits, also an illustrator in the meantime). Not everyone will appreciate the lengths to which this girl is willing to go in order to maintain the image she has created for herself in society – she wears amounts of makeup that even actors and clowns don’t wear, and she does that every single day just in order to feel like herself. It sounds hard but when someone’s obsession is how they look, they will do whatever they can to feel comfortable and if that includes wearing a ton of makeup and unorthodox, flowing dresses and gowns, and looking cute, then so be it.

Apart from the Shironuri and the Decora, there are a lot more fashion groups that roam the streets of Harajuku. One of them would be the people who dress in the latest western fashion, but of course, that comes with the Japanese specialty of mix & match. Harajuku-type hipsters and people who look like they could model on the pages of world renowned fashion magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire or Elle walk casually, waiting for people to go say hi and talk to them, and appreciate each other’s kawaii-ness. There is actually a series of photos of some Harajuku fashion innovators, which were originally shot for, during the Tokyo Fashion Week in March (, 2014) and as we know, to say that Vogue is a leading influence on Western fashion would be an understatement.

The East/West Obsession Paradox

tumblr_lxnp7fEkz01qhet4lo1_500In 1954 Frank Lloyd Wright said: ‘I have never confided to you the extent to which Japanese print per se has inspired me. I never got over my first experience with it and I shall never, probably, recover. I hope I shan’t.’ Japan and the Western cultures have a long history of artistic influencing. ‘Japonisme’ is a word which best describes that relation. It was ‘coined’ by the French author and collector Philippe Burty ‘to designate a new field of study of artistic, historic and ethnographic borrowings from the arts of Japan’. To eyes sated with Neoclassicism and the Gothic revival, Japanese art was far more than a refreshing visual novelty (Lambourne, 2005). So where does that leave us today? “A Ping-Pong match between Eastern and Western” (Stefani, 2004) is a very exact way of putting it.We can see a lot of influence from Eastern street culture and a very obvious example is Gwen Stefani’s album, Love.Angel.Music.Baby.  from 2004, where the Harajuku style is openly praised, especially in the song Harajuku Girls. Another very clear example would be Avril Lavigne’s new song Hello Kitty, where she exclaims “k-k-k-kawaii!” between every verse and is dressed in what seems to be a Punk/Lolita/Decora mix fashion. The interesting part in this case is that people weren’t surprised by the style itself, because it is something we’re all familiar with, even if remotely. The big surprise came from Avril’s choice to engage in that subcultural style. The music industry today, being as dependent on appearances as it is, has started popularizing unconventional looks and behaviour, which is best represented by Lady Gaga’s unnatural and frankly shocking costumes and performances, followed by Rihanna, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj’s exaggerated looks, along with Paramore lead singer Hailey Williams and her sugary new style, shocking, unnatural and unorthodox ways of dressing have become something more usual and familiar, and therefore something easier for us to comprehend.

Just like the popularization of the Japanese comic books known as manga and their invasion in the Western market, this style breaks the boundaries of the two cultures. By influencing each other, they reach a state of constant style-swaps. They’re almost trying to outweird each other, like Johnny Depp once said about him and Helena Bonham Carter. Donald Richie writes in his book Tokyo that “…Tokyo insists on its modernity. It always has. For a century now Tokyo has been known as ‘the city of contrasts’ or ‘the capital of the old and the new’. Ever since its opening to the outside world in the middle of the last century, Tokyo has with increasing skill combined East and West, past and present.” The evidence of this statement can be seen not only in the architecture, technology and culture (sports and arts) but also in fashion, both on the billboards and in the subcultural underground scene.

Tokyo’s street fashion innovators flawlessly combine traditional Japanese items like the “kimono, obi belts, kanzashi hairpins and geta sandals” (Aoki, 2001) modern avant-garde, Japanese couture, contemporary and retro Western fashion (Groom, 2011) and thus create completely new trends (such as Wa-Mono) and original looks that are meant to be unique, innovative, interesting, and most importantly, to stand out.


Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku are doubtless interesting places to see and valuable artistic resources, no matter what people say. While the West views Harajuku as a street fashion heaven and a stage for even the weirdest of tastes, the non-Harajuku Japanese see it as a degenerative and unpleasant place. That fortifies the idea of the Harajuku subculture. Although we refer to it as a single item, the different styles, fashions and trends within it are too distinct to be filed under the same category. Harajuku can be best described as a subculture comprised of a number of different subcultures, sublimated and Japanized but subcultures nonetheless. It is undeniable that the subcultures of Harajuku possess similar qualities – they all have a complicated web of connotations, enforced by the numerous layers, accessories, colours and patterns, where each item comes with its own meaning and personal value. These items are specifically chosen, matched with others and placed in order to give a certain impression or invoke a certain thought or emotion.

The un-rushed delicate intensity with which the Japanese go about their everyday lives manifests itself in a completely different light in the hands of the teenagers who run the streets of Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku. As they pay attention to every little detail, picking and mixing the right accessories is a time-consuming practice. This shows how dedicated and motivated these people are and how much they rely on the outer appearance. The trends are religion, the accessories are relics and the best dressed people are deities. The people of Harajuku obsess over the trends, over accessories and people. Obsessing over things is a daily routine. Obsessing over something that is kawaii, or cute (Decora), over animes and manga (Otaku), over painting your face white (Shironuri)… The obsessions of the followers are the fuel of the subculture. They are what drives this sea of colour, this kaleidoscope of fashion (Stefani, 2004), this hyper-reality that is the Harajuku street style.




Aoki, S. (2001) Fruits, Phaidon Press Limited, London

Cooke, L. and Wollen, P. (ed.) (1995) Visual Display: Culture Beyond Appearances, Bay Press, Seattle

Elliott, D. and Ozaki, T. (2011) Bye Bye Kitty!!!, Japan Society Inc., Yale University Press

Groom, A. (2009) Fashion and Identity in Harajuku. In: Craik, J. (2009) Fashion: The Key Concepts, Berg Publishing, Oxford, pp159-161

Groom, A. (2011) Power Play and Performance in Harajuku, New Voices Volume 4, University of Technology, Sydney

Hebdige, D. (1979) Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Routledge, London and New York

Hume, N. G. (ed.) (1995) Japanese Aesthetics and Culture: A Reader, State University of New York Press, Albany

Kawamura, Y. (2006) Japanese Teens as Producers of Street Fashion, Current Sociology [Electronic] Available:, [17 Aug 1006]

Lambourne, L. (2005) Japonisme: Cultural Crossings between Japan and the West, Phaidon Press Limited, London

Okazaki, M. and Johnson, G. (2011) Kicks Japan, Mark Batty Publisher, New York

Richie, D. (1999) Tokyo, Reaktion Books Ltd, London

SILVIAN HEACH (2014) Tokyo Streets [WWW]  (18 Apr 2014)

STEFANI, G. (2004) Harajuku Girls; Love.Angel.Music.Baby, EMI Music Publishing, Warner/Chappel Music Inc.

Watanabe, H. (1992) Continutity and Change in Harajuku, Japan Quarterly, Pro Quest Art, Design and Architecture Collection, pp238-250

Woodward, K. (ed.) (2002) Identity and Difference, Sage Publications, London


List of Illustrations

TOKYOTAMASHII (2013) Kyary and Harajuku Kawaii, [WWW]

SILVIAN HEACH (2014) Tokyo Streets [WWW]  (18 Apr 2014)

SILVIAN HEACH (2014) Tokyo Streets [WWW]  (18 Apr 2014)



Constellation was the one thing about my whole university experience that didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t understand why we had to attend lectures which had nothing to do with each other and didn’t really apply to our project work either. It was only after the start of the second term, that the pieces finally came together. I was then able to enjoy the rest of my lectures in peace now that I know what they are all about.

Cath’s lectures on meaning proved to be quite interesting since they were all focused on different subcultures and styles. I now have a much deeper understanding of what makes a subculture and how those subcultures present themselves to the world.


I have noticed over the past couple of months how the theories from the Constellation lectures are reflected in my practice. I now take the practice of researching much more seriously. In order to get the detail right you have to know  everything about it – what it is, what it’s used for, what it represents, the culture it comes from, what people see it as, and so on… By knowing all these things one can make subtle statements in their work, especially in abstract works, which is something I would like to do more of over the summer and next year.

For the end of the year we had to write an essay on a topic of our choice but which had to be relevant with our Option (Smells Like Teen Spirit: Subcultures and Street Style). Since I have always been interested in Japanese culture, I saw the opportunity to write about Harajuku as one that cannot be missed. I decided to focus on what drives the subculture, what the obsessions are that make that world go round and my main inspiration for that was an issue of Fruits by Shoichi Aoki, where every page was a photograph of a different dressed up person or people and on the bottom of that page were written each person’s name, age and current obsession. I found that really interesting and it connected really well with what I already knew about Japanese culture around personal research and my favourite animes and mangas.

I found the essay quite challenging since I have never had to write anything as long in English, not academic writing anyway. It was also the first time that I had to focus on referencing. What I found most challenging was what I should write down and what I shouldn’t. As I already know a lot about Japan from before, how do I back all my theories up? I really enjoyed going to the library in Howard Gardens and the Cardiff Central Library. I lave a big love of books and choosing the right ones that would help me was a pleasant experience that relaxed me thoroughly.

I enjoyed working on this essay and I really enjoyed the lectures throughout the year. I think it would be great to try it again but probably without this much pressure, just to see what I can do. I think that there are a lot of things in the artistic world that are worth writing about and I really want to do some good research on something interesting. I think working on an idea in a collaboration with someone would also be an interesting development.

All in all I would say that now I truly started appreciating the meaning of things. I started looking at many new artists’works, searching for art with much deeper and more abstract meanings and ideas. I like finding hidden meanings and allegory in Renaissance art. I feel like I have largely expanded my field of perception and that from that I can only look forward to new artistic ideas.


Smells Like Teen Spirit

For Constellation and our final essay this year we were divided into 8 big groups, each with its own theme, so to speak. From Transparency with Mahnaz Shah, to Constructing Movements in Art and Design with Andy Broadey, to Sonic Arts with James Kent and After Modernism with Jon Clarkson. The option that attracted me the most was Smells Like Teen Spirit with Cath Davies (whom I immensely admire) which is all about subculture studies.


The first week’s lecture was all about introducing us to our future work process and pushing us into creating a weekly routine of research and text analysis. Cath also took the time to remind us how to analyze images with the help of columns – one for description (everything we see in the image), a second for connotations (what each thing means and what the combinations imply) and a third for research (the academic studies we need to look into and reference in order to support our claims from the previous column). This clean and structured approach to analysis really appeals to me as I feel I need more structuring in my work process. In that lecture we applied the Column Analysis to an image from Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour from 1990.

The second week we started focusing on Key Concepts in Subcultural Style. We talked mostly about symbolic marking (Woodward, 2002), the visual manifestation of difference, and the active organization of objects – the notion of construction. We put it all to the test by looking into Old Skool B-Boy style in 1985 and Hip Hop style, the Zoot Suit  from the 40’s, and then the Ted style from 1950 and its revival in the 70’s with the Sex Pistols. The connection between the three being the concept of rebellion and rule breaking and the refusal to be a part of the system.
Key point was: New meanings emerge because bits which have been borrowed or revived were brought together into a new and distinctive stylistic ensemble. (Clarke, Hall, Jefferson, 1975, p110)


In week three we talked about resignification of objects and dress. We followed that into the Punk subculture.  Key concepts in the lecture, all taken from Hebdige’s article on Subcultural Style and Punk were subcultural bricoleur, semiotic guerilla warfare (Eco, 1973), characteristics of the punk style and the ideological statement expressed within these stylistic qualities, and style as homology. After some time analyzing the texts and talking on those topics, we gradually went back to analyzing imagery. Cath showed us pictures of a page from Sniffin Glue, posters and fanzine covers, leaflets and the Jamie Reed cover of God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. We dissected the image into the three columns that I mentioned before and we were left with a pretty good example of resignification.
I believe this lecture was not just interesting and educating but also somehow unpredictable which I think made it all the greater. The only thing it was missing was just some good Sex Pistols or The Clash music and something burning. Two thumbs up. (Honestly, right after I got back home, I put on God Save the Queen and listened to punk rock all night.)

So far so good. I already have an idea on the topic of my final essay, and now I need to focus on finding the proper images for the official analysis. From there my spring holiday will be spent in writing and the time that’s left will be for polishing my essay.