Art Works Blog

Symposium on Transvergence in the Arts and Media

Julie Watai is a performance artist and idol in Japan and Italy who is forging a connection between the fashion world of Shibuya and the technology world of Akihabara. She declared at a recent symposium that young people no longer go to museums, and that it is important for them to have an entry point to search for their muses. She said this while expressively gesturing with her smartphone (which one speaker called a “shrine to the muses”).

Thus began a November 2012 dialogue in Tokyo at the Symposium on Transvergence in the Arts and Media on how to design a museum for the 21st century. The discussion initially concerned what it would take to create a virtual museum, as we were working on another project to build a media platform that would act as a cultural gateway from Japan to the world at large. A virtual museum would be an appealing addition to that platform. In order to design a virtual museum that would not just be a replica of an existing physical museum, we needed to think beyond simply applying technology to enhance the experience. This quest led us to many other questions such as what is the meaning of a museum in the 21st century? Do museums and arts presenting organizations differ in various parts of the world? With these and many other questions emerging, we determined that it was necessary to return to the fundamental ideas that shaped museums so that our conceptual work would address deeper and broader issues that challenge us and provide a longer-lasting solution.

And so what initially began as a technology enhancement project turned into something far more fascinating and conceptually exciting. We assembled artists, scholars, and business people in the fields of art, architecture, and media from Japan and the West for two days of presentations and dialogue, which mainly explored the meaning of museums in a global, turbulent environment of rapid technological and social change.

Marcos Novak (UCSB, artist and architect) and Kostas Terzidis (scholar, architect, writer, co-founder of The Meme design firm) began the conversation by explaining that in Ancient Greece there were no museums, and that instead they had temples dedicated to the muses, the patron divinities of the arts in Greek mythology. Nor were there any museums in Japan until after contact with Europe, according to Yukiko Shikata, a curator and scholar. For both civilizations, art was integrated into their daily lives, in which there was no need for museums. Their world was filled with kami or muses---spirits that inspired literature, arts, and science, forces that brought a holistic integration with nature and the world.

During those ancient times, the legendary Silk Road linked different cultures, enriching the lives, crafts, and arts from the Mediterranean all the way to the far side of the Asian land mass and beyond. Today’s Silk Road is the optical fibers that connect the peoples of the world through the Internet. And just as it did in ancient times, is allows cultures to converge and fusion cultures to develop. Novak calls this act of convergence and subsequent creation of entirely new cultural expressions transvergence.

This transvergence is apparent in one of the most popular brands today: Apple. Novak recalled for us that Steve Jobs was a Zen Buddhist, and that the beauty of Apple product designs are not an accident---they are a result of Zen and, thus, represent that value system. Our problem is that the system of values within which ideas are embedded changes those ideas and products/objects. Novak stressed that when we talk of creating a 21st-century museum, we are having the wrong conversation. Our current conversation about applying new technologies, various forms of media, and stimulating architectural design will not get us out of our current box. We need to have a conversation about changing the value system, the system of beliefs that govern our life and how we design museums and arts presentations.

Shikata posited that the orientation of European culture tries to articulate everything by word, by space, and by time, and that this is more “flat-based” and non-flexible. With the emergence of the Internet, information flows have become more movement and energy flow-based---more flexible.

Now let’s get back to Julie Watai’s comment. Novak responded by noting that smartphones are essentially shrines for the muses or kami, and called for encouraging the emergence of all the kami and all the muses throughout the world. Instead of one correct god, one correct art, or one correct museum, there must be many. Arts leaders must closely examine the regional culture of their organization’s existence, analyze how it has changed, and recognize new emerging patterns. They then need to see how this fits with the larger global networked world that we live in. Permanent plans, although still required, must be augmented by experimentation and sending out probes or scouts into unknown territory and establishing pioneering outposts in this new turbulent world.  Design, planning and strategy must adapt to this new emerging turbulent streaming environment.

A report of the symposium, including video, will be available at in the spring of 2013. Museums and presenting arts organizations interested in learning more about our project and team may contact us at

Larry Kubota is a professor at Komazawa University’s Global Media Studies Faculty. Previously, he directed leading multimedia research at UCLA, and directed policy, planning, and budget at the National Endowment for the Arts. He was also a former member of the planning and international teams at the National Institute of Education.


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