History of Art


UCL History of Art student Wen Xiao curates "Kissaten/Tea Room" exhibition in UCL's Japanese Gardens

24 June 2022

The exhibition took place on Friday 10th June & featured six emerging London-based Asian artists: Bo Sun, Kimie Minobe, 00 Zhang, Nanzhen Yang, Rieko Whitfield & Yudai Ono. The History of Art department was delighted to support this event, which was curated by finalist Wen Xiao.

Emily Floyd, Wen Xiao and Bob Mills

Featured Image: Dr Emily Floyd, Wen Xiao and Professor Bob Mills, UCL History of Art. 

[Adapted from the original exhibition press release, written by Wen Xiao]

“Kissaten/Tea Room” was the first ever art exhibition to be held at UCL Japanese Garden and the adjacent Student Centre, which opened in 2019. The exhibition title speaks to the cultural entanglements between East and West, as “Kissaten” is a Japanese appropriation of the aesthetic of European cafés, whereas “tea” is woven into the fabric of Western lifestyle through colonialism in Asia.

The Japanese Garden epitomises a history of exchange, adaptation, and assimilation. At its fringe stands the memorial of “Choshu Five” and “Satsuma Fourteen”, the earliest Japanese students in the UK who studied under Alexander William Williamson at UCL during the 1860s. It is easy to say that it all started here, when these young men risked their lives to travel to the UK for its epistemological promises. Such knowledge obtained in the West, of course, was utilized to usher Japan into nationalised “modernisation”.However, overlooked are Asia’s traumatising encounters with Western imperialism and the Eurocentric discourse of “modernity”; left out are the voiceless Asian women who were coerced into progressivism and victimized by expansionism.

“Kissaten/Tea Room”, therefore, worked to reconsider the narrative articulated by UCL Japanese Garden. The legacies of these Japanese alumni, as historically impactful as they are, necessitate an up-to-date re-interpretation from within. As current East Asian students at UCL, we asked where we have come from, what we have learnt, and what is left to say. We questioned the glorious yet, for many, painful stories triggered by these men, who were forerunners, revolutionists, criminals— whatever titles that have been appended by historiography— who were once students just like us.

Spanning across the Mezzanine floor of Student Centre and the Japanese Garden, “Kissaten/Tea Room” diffused into the daily routines of current UCL students and resonated with existing public art projects in these spaces. Featuring six emerging London-based Asian artists, Bo Sun, Kimie Minobe, 00 Zhang, Nanzhen Yang, Rieko Whitfield and Yudai Ono, this exhibition strove to amplify the voices of historically marginalized groups within the university and drew linkages between the past and present. By telling a story of migration, transformation and coming of age, it shed light on the unspoken experiences of Asian students who have been present since the institution’s early days.

Featured Artists


Bo Sun’s work bespeaks the convergence of anatomy and mechanics in the post-human era. He reconstructs biomorphic forms from industrial materials, such as aluminium, perspex and metal fixtures. Through a fusion of incompatible materials, Bo re-evaluates the articulation between bone structures and fabricated objects, with an emphasis on insectile exoskeletons and patterns within industrial design. Bo has exhibited at Ridley Road Project Space, Changing Room Gallery, 213 Kupfer Project and other creative venues across England.


Bo Sun

“Scale” by Bo Sun. Bo Sun's sculpture manifests a butterfly eclosing from its chrysalis. While echoing the botanic scenery of the Japanese Garden, this work explores the concepts of “regeneration” and “cycles of history”.


Kimie Minobe specializes in films that “engage the audience through confession, and candid displays of vulnerability that incite humour and empathy”. Her latest works explore racial alterity, and the performativity of identity within transcultural communities. Her awards include the Bloomberg New Contemporaries Award 2020 and the Henriques Scholarship Prize 2020. She is a graduate of CIRCA 2020, and has exhibited in and worked with institutions such as the South London Gallery, Slash Arts Gallery and the Paul Melon Centre.


Kimie Minobe

Audience viewing “Curse of the Chameleon”, a film by Kimie Minobe (an alumna of the Slade). Kimie Minobe unveils the exclusions and racism that she experiences as half Australian and half Japanese. “Curse of the Chameleon” focuses on the feelings of racial alterity, the performativity of identity, and her intense longing for being seen as a whole and accepted by transnational communities.


Specializing in fine art and CGI, 00 combines real-world imagery and coded virtuality to depict an integration of agent and environment. Her works span across games, installations and performances, exploring the intersubjectivity of performers, objects, the immaterial and the physical spaces. 00’s multidisciplinary narrative displays elaborated cybernetic concepts. She has exhibited at and worked with Shanghai Fashion Week 2020, The British Museum, NIKE, L’officiel Vietnam x Dior, and AND Festival Liverpool.


00 Zhang

"Prototype 0022-23", multimedia installation by 00 Zhang (an alumna of the Bartlett). "Prototype 0022-23" invites visitors to participate in memory archiving and exchange. The images and texts that each audience uploads to 00 Zhang’s cloud will generate collective data to be sent to CERES-1: a satellite that is currently orbiting around Earth. The mechanical butterfly serves as a tangible manifestation of all diverse memories. 


Nanzhen Yang is a DJ, producer and multidisciplinary artist based in London, graduated from sculpture RCA in 2020. Her practices weave together sound, video installation, and CGI-based audiovisual works. Nanzhen’s works embody experimental sound, sound installations and mixing set. She explores field recordings, musical narratives and uncertain rhythmic sound, fabricating a drone field of chords entwined with spoken-words. Nanzhen’s performances have taken place at Iklecticklab, Wells Project and Koppel Project Space. She has been in residence at Ergo Collective (Athens) and Aaja Music (London).


Nanzhen Yang

Nanzhen Yang performing “18:02:00-19:03:10” and “Water Etiquette”. 18:02:00-19:03:10 is a set of ambient noise that incorporates traditional East Asian instruments, historical speeches, and live recordings. It creates a multi-layered sonic environment that unsettles the Japanese Garden’s original context. Water Etiquette combines gestures from traditional tea ceremonies, which are crucial for expressing respect and appreciation. This performance also explores the sonic effect of flowing water and tinkles from the collision of tea sets.


Through embodiment of supernatural avatars in her performance art, Rieko Whitfield explores ideas such as the symbiotic relationship between artist and avatar and “radical optimism in a time of collective transformation”. She celebrates intersectional solidarity through the performance platform Diasporas Now, and has recently worked with institutions such as South London Gallery, Mimosa House, and LUX.


Reiko Whitfield

Rieko Whitfield performing “Monuments for Dead Men” with Jared Bennett, costume provided by Yudai Ono. “Monuments for Dead Men” is Whitfield’s interlocution with her ancestors. Whitfield’s great great grandfather, Machida Hisanari, was a member of the “Satsuma Fourteen” who studied at UCL during the 1860s and was the first director of Tokyo National Museum. 


Yudai Ono experiments with the materiality and spatiality of textiles. His recent works utilise wires to construct shapes unprecedented in fashion design. Solely pursuing monochromatic colour schemes, he intensifies the visuality of silhouettes and emphasizes the adornments on fabrics. Motifs and patterns in Yudai’s work are inspired by Japanese subcultures, such as Kaiju, character culture, robots in anime and manga, as well as the gothic night scene in London. Yudai’s garments are provided to performance artists based in London and beyond, notably FKA Twigs and Noah Cyrus.


Yudai Ono

“Show Garment (white)” by Yudai Ono. Yudai Ono uses wires to construct wing-like shapes, fabricating a visual resonance with the idea of "emancipation" addressed by other participating artists. The reflective surfaces also allow colours to evolve with their surroundings.