The network of Berlin-based Japanese visual artists: Their use of languages to form connections to formal institutions

Kaori Takahashi, Shinichi Aizawa


Since the publication of the classical work of White & White (1965), artists’ relationships have been a popular topic in network analysis. Such relationships are essential for artists to succeed in economic and art per se and are often utilized as they travel the world to find a better place to create and sell their artwork. This research uses an ethnographic approach to examine the stratification of artists’ networks using interviews. We analyze the voices of thirteen Japanese visual artists in Berlin, where many artistic and creative people are attracted. Although social networks have many layers, we identify two layers that are essential to continue their activities in Berlin. The first layer is the languages. The languages are crucial to develop their networks for artistic activities. Berlin is an international city, so English is the most vital language. If artists want to be famous around the world, the connections created in English may lead them to higher stages of their careers. However, two other languages are also important. Their mother tongue, Japanese, keeps them connected to information from Japan and allows them to help each other through difficulties in Berlin. The local language, German, allows them to take part in the local community and to exhibit their work in Germany. Their choice of languages determines which networks they are connected. The second layer is the connections to formal institutions such as art schools and residency programs. Artists may be able to receive public subsidies or to participate in residency programs through the mediators or curators who give the artists appropriate advice. Artists who have few or no relationships with institutions must experience a hard time to earn money by selling their work and skills. Eventually, they connect with each other and with a variety of people. These informal connections can be a safety net, but they are more vulnerable than institutional relationships. This study tries to describe artists’ networks. The network of Japanese artists in Berlin appears to be international, but two local connections are important. Those local connections provide them with formal support to ensure a longer, more stable stay in Berlin. We also find their logic and reasoning for ways of living. It is the first step of our research, whose goal is to conduct a mixed-method network analysis of artists in the globalization era.



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