Media Histories: Japan

Origins of Japanese Media Art – Artists Embracing Technology from 1950s to Early 1970s by Machiko Kusahara/ GUTAI Movement in Japan and Art Afterwards. Towards New Understanding of Current Media Art by Rie Saito/ Rediscovering Hiroshi Kawano – Japan’s Pioneer of Computer Art by Simone Gristwood
Thursday, 15 September, 2011 - 17:00 - 18:00
Chair Person: 
Willem Velthoven
Machiko Kusahara
Rie Saito
Simone Gristwood

Origins of Japanese Media Art – Artists Embracing Technology from 1950s to Early 1970s

by Machiko Kusahara

This paper excavates and analyzes works of Japanese artists from 1950s to early 1970s that anticipated media art to come, with original ideas and innovative use of technology.

It is never clear when and where “media art” started. However, it is important to trace back its history and examine what may be called “pre media art” in order to better understand media art today. By exploring postwar Japanese art history retrospectively from today’s media art point of view, elements that have been neglected or put aside can be rediscovered with different meanings.

For example, musique concrete composed by Toru Takemitsu and his collaborators using tape recorders was a part of multidimensional performance that integrated latest electronic audiovisual technology of the time, rather than purely musical experiment. The Gutai artist Akira Kanayama’s drawings using remote-controlled cars with paint tanks were by then introduced as alike of Jackson Pollock’s “all-over” style in the art world outside Japan, neglecting the interesting questions that arose about originality and the role of technology in art. It is important to explore how Japanese artists of the time regarded technology and its relationship to art in the fast-changing postwar society.

The author has been writing, curating and teaching in the field of media art and media studies since early 1980s, meeting many of the pioneers in experimental art. She has presented a paper titled A Turning Point in Japanese Avant-garde Art, 1964-1970 at re:place conference in 2007, which was later included in the book Place Studies in Art, Media, Science and Technology published by VDG-Weimar in 2008, edited by Andreas Broeckmann and Gunalan Nadarajan. This paper is partly the further development of the previous paper, yet written from a different angle and with new research.


GUTAI Movement in Japan and Art Afterwards. Towards New Understanding of Current Media Art

by Rie Saito

 Is contemporary art still functioning as a role to propose the issue in a current society?  In a complex world like today, it is difficult to answer this question and to think about the relationship between art and society.  However, when think about the art movement that occurred after postwar in Japan, it is obvious that the specific intention and certain actions were happening in a chaotic situation.  One of the most important movement took place in Japan was GUTAI.

 This paper will investigate GUTAI movement in 1950s and the correlation with today’s media art.  The first reason why it is important to reconsider GUTAI is that the uniqueness of this movement.  For example, Atsuko Tanaka, one of the female members internationally known as her work of “Electric Dress” was the most successful person in GUTAI, although it was not easy for her to keep continuing her work.  How contemporary art react to the society from personal point of view and how it connect to public is the theme of this paper.

 The second reason is the importance to rethink about the pre history of media art.  It is critical to examine the postwar avant-garde art movement such as GUTAI to understand how it affected today’s media art especially in Japan. 

 The paper will explore about GUTAI and Japanese avant-garde art from 1950s to 1970s from cultural and sociological view to reconsider contemporary role of art and the relationship between culture and society.  The paper will open a path to new understanding of media art in today’s situation. 

Rediscovering Hiroshi Kawano – Japan’s Pioneer of Computer Art

by Simone Gristwood

It is well known that the 1960s was a pioneering decade in the history of computer art, particularly in the West. However, little attention has so far been paid to equally important work being undertaken in Japan. This paper aims to introduce the innovative work that was taking place in Japan at this time, and its origins and activities. With the aim of highlighting the importance of this little known history, particular attention will be paid to the work of Hiroshi Kawano. Kawano is a philosopher and aesthetician who was interested in both visual art and music, with the first publication of his visual art as early as 1964 in the IBM Review, making him one of the earliest pioneers experimenting with computing technologies in art. The paper will discuss how he first became interested in using computers as a way to apply his theory inspired by Max Bense and Claude Shannon, to visual art. His early theories, influences and experiments in the 1960s will be considered as well as his participation in the First Computer Art Contest Exhibition in Tokyo in 1968 and his first solo exhibition that took place in Tokyo in 1970.

Through research undertaken in Japan as well as in the Hiroshi Kawano archive that was acquired by ZKM|Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie in 2010, this paper will bring to light the impressive contribution to computer arts history that has been made by Japanese pioneers such as Kawano, and how his work did not go unrecognised then, and should be remembered today.