Behind the Scenes

Our numerous lecture series

Mami Mizutori, Executive Director

Mami Mizutori
Executive Director

I would not be surprised if our Sainsbury friends told me that they have in the past been disappointed by the poor presentation style or the shallow content of a recent lecture attended somewhere else. In our day and age, there is already an easy abundance of information accessible with just one click on the computer, an activity possible without even leaving one’s house! It is also increasingly the case that even for lectures, a listener can be part of the audience thanks to live-streaming without actually being physically present in the lecture theatre. It is probable that in the future all talks might be recorded by a lecturer in his or her office and then posted on-line by the organisers so that whomever wanted to listen could do so at their leisure. The question thus becomes: do we actually need more public lectures organised in the traditional way? Are they still in demand? And more importantly do they have any influence as cultural and academic events worth the money to organise them and worth the audience’s time?

I believe the short answer is yes, and that is why at the Sainsbury Institute we have not one but five on-going lecture series! Before introducing the specific lectures we organise, let me try to explain why we think public lectures continue to be an important tool for outreach and what separates a good lecture from a poor one.

Giving a lecture is an activity that I would place within the genre of live performance art. When a lecturer faces the audience he or she is obliged to entertain and inspire the listeners in the same manner as an actor, musician or dancer. The material for a lecturer are his/her thoughts, the sound of one’s voice, and the mastery of one’s oratory skills. These days more and more lecturers use powerpoint and rely on images but there should be a limit to how much these can be employed. After all, once upon a time lecturers had to impress their audiences without this dependence on technology. Even a good microphone is a fairly recent phenomenon.

You may be thinking that with everything I have mentioned it is still possible to enjoy a lecture even if you listen to a recorded version from you house. This is almost true but not quite. The second most important element of an event is the Q&A session, an aspect that really livens-up any performance. And you can only take an active part in this if you are physically present. It is normally the case that a good lecture is followed by a robust Q&A session. An inspired audience will ask questions that will bring even more insight out from the lecturer. It is also true that lecturers are frequently inspired by the questions they face. I have heard many of our speakers say that a certain question opened up their minds to something they had never previously focused on. This impromptu interaction is what makes a public lecture event significant and this is when you know whether a lecture has made an impact both on the audience and on the lecturer. That is why we always have a Q&A session at our lectures.

Our five on-going lecture series are as follows:

The popular Third Thursday Lecture Series, which began in the late 90s, is held each month in Norwich

The popular Third Thursday Lecture Series, which began in the early 2000s, is held each month in Norwich

The Sainsbury Institute started the Third Thursday lecture series soon after the Institute’s creation. Bringing in a public lecture series on Japanese arts and cultures to Norwich, which still harboured anti-Japanese sentiment in the late 1990s, was a deliberate decision. The TTLs, as we call them, are now well established as our flagship outreach activity sponsored by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Yakult UK Ltd. We are connected with the local community through these lectures and the number of lecture delivered so far have reached more than 160. The line-up for the rest of the year includes lectures on western tableware used by the Imperial family of Japan, Japanese literature, Japanese contemporary art and the 400 year history of Japanese porcelain.

Our second longest running lecture series is sponsored by the Toshiba International Foundation. After ten years of focusing on lectures concerning the Japanese arts and delivered by world renown scholars in the field, we started a new Toshiba Lecture series on Japanese Arts and Science.

This year the theme is on robotics, which help us overcome many of our social challenges. We will bring in an engineer and a designer who work as a team to produce robots and they will also bring with them a robot they have co-produced. The lectures will take place on 19 and 20 November at the Norwich Cathedral Hostry and the Science Museum in London respectively.

Every July we celebrate the memory of the late Japanologist in religion and folklore studies, Dr Carmen Blacker, with the Carmen Blacker Lecture series co-organised with the Japan Society in London. In July we held the sixth lecture of this series delivered by Professor John Breen from the International Research Centre for Japanese Studies in Kyoto. Professor Breen gave a truly riveting lecture on the modern and contemporary history of the Ise Shrine and how its position within the public sphere of postwar Japan has changed and continues to evolve. Who said religion has died out in Japan? According to Professor Breen’s research this is patently not the case.

Three years ago, we started a new initiative to reach out to the public in Japan. As an institute researching Japanese arts and cultures outside Japan, we realised that there must be a mission for the Sainsbury Institute to share with the Japanese public how their own cultures and arts are introduced, promoted, interpreted and displayed in the UK and Europe. The re-introduction of Japanese arts and cultures as seen through western eyes has proved to be a fresh and stimulating experience for our audience in Japan.

Oliver Craig’s lecture on archaeology at the Ishibashi Foundation Lecture 2014

Oliver Craig’s lecture on archaeology at the Ishibashi Foundation Lecture 2014

The third of this Ishibashi Foundation Lecture series will be held in March 2016 in Kyoto on Japanese gardens. We will explore the way in which Japanese gardens have been appreciated outside Japan and how that has continued over the years. Why are so many of these gardens created all over the world?

Finally, our most recent lecture series is titled Tokyo Futures, 1868-2020 and started in April. This collaborative project with the Meiji Jingu Intercultural Research Institute, the School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London (SOAS) and the Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation, University of the Arts London, aims to explore the modernization process of Japan during the 19th century Meiji period through three themes – nature, city and art. The goal is to reflect on these themes with a vision to think about Japan’s future and the second Tokyo Olympics to be held in 2020. The next lecture in this series will be given by Professor Jordan Sand on 14 October at SOAS.

Of course as in all live performance art there are good acts and ones that do not reach their potential. We aim to achieve the highest quality for all of our lecture series but of course without the audience the show cannot begin. With this in mind, please visit our website for more information on these lecture series, come to our lectures and offer us your feedback.

Mami Mizutori
Executive Director