Body Image to/from Media. Rethinking Japanese Avant-Garde Art.

The presentation will mainly focus on the postwar Japanese avant-garde art. Three topics will be presented to reconsider the body image in contemporary arts, especially from the view of media and the art as a performance. The work of Atsuko Tanaka from GUTAI, Katsuhiro Yamaguchi and the work of Kenji Yanobe will be examined.
Friday, 16 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Rie Saito
Chair Person: 
Miyuki Endo
Chair Person: 
Machiko Kusahara

Chair: Rie Saito
2nd Chair: Miyuki Endo
3rd Chair: Machiko Kusahara

What was the critical point of Japanese postwar avant-garde art when re-looking today's art scene?  How have they influenced contemporary art, culture, and society until present?

The presentation will mainly focus on the postwar Japanese avant-garde art.  Three topics will be presented to reconsider the body image in contemporary arts, especially from the view of media and the art as a performance.

The first presentation will mainly focus on the work of Atsuko Tanaka (1932-2005), one of the main artists of GUTAI movement that occurred in western region of Japan in 1950’s.  By analyzing her works from cultural and sociological context, fluidity and ambiguity in gender and the body within the context of current media art will be examined.  Re-thinking early emergence of Japanese postwar art and focusing on the genealogy of contemporary avant-garde art will bring a new meaning in a present new media art. Moreover, Japanese multimedia art performance group called "Dumb Type" will be discussed from the current media context to clarify the ambiguous body image in Japanese contemporary art.

The second presentation will focus on Japanese artist Kenji Yanobe (1965~) and his work. Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, 03, 11 caused serious damage and shocked all over the world. Besides radiation leak from nuclear power plant reminds us the incident of Chernobyl in 1986, and also the radioactive contamination to neighboring area is terribly serious in Japan. Moreover from atomic bomb in 1945 and thermonuclear test of Bikini Atoll in 1954, to nuclear-power disaster in this time, it is difficult to talk about Japanese country and culture without problem of nuclear power. In this presentation, Kenji Yanobe, who considers surviving in the world contaminated by radiation and tries to express his idea in his work, will be introduced. Many artists made action to express anti-atomic power after 1950s in Japan. Referring to the history of them, this presentation discusses body image in his performance and installation.

The third presentation will focus on Katsuhiro Yamaguchi, who is internationally known as a video artist, has played a major role in Japanese media art history. Already in 1950s he was a central figure in Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) along with Toru Takemitsu and others experimenting the latest technology of the time in their own performances and exhibitions as well as for experimental ballet theaters. After designing a most innovative pavilion at the 1970 Osaka World Exposition he co-founded Video Hiroba that invited people to use video to express their own voices. This presentation discusses intentional absence of his own body in Yamaguchi’s works in contrast to the demonstration of body-ness among his contemporary avant-garde artists such as buto dancers. Creating an environment (a “garden”) for the viewers/participants to be explored using their own bodies was his concept, which led to the emergence of interactive art in Japan.

Through these presentations, the importance of Japanese postwar avant-garde art will be clarified and how they affected the current art will be discussed in detail.

Paper Abstracts

The Consequences of GUTAI Movement in Japan and its Influence in the Art Scene.  Towards New Understanding of Current Media Art

by Rie Saito

Is contemporary art still functioning as a role to propose an 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 thinking about the art movement that occurred after postwar in Japan, it is obvious that the specific intention and certain actions happened in a chaotic situation. One of the most important movement took place in Japan was GUTAI.

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

The second reason is the importance to rethink about the prehistory 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 the 1950s to 1970s, from cultural and sociological point of view, to reconsider contemporary role of art and the relationship between culture and society.  The paper will opena new path for understanding media art in today’s situation.

Bios of the Participants

Rie Saito

Rie Saito has been specializing her research in the field of contemporary arts, media arts and cultural studies as a Ph.D. candidate at WASEDA University.
After working for a PR Marketinf in IBM Japan, she graduated her master course at Tokyo Univ. of the Arts and wrote a highly acclaimed dissertation whose the title was "An Experimental Approach in the Video Works of Pipilotti Rist and the Query of the Public and Private in Video Installation".
She has been working as a research assistant at Tokyo University of Arts and as a Global COE Associate Fellow at The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, WASEDA University, Global COE Program (International Institute for Education and Research in Theatre and Film Arts). 

Her research method mainly consists of fieldwork and she has done many on-site research and interviews.  Also, she has involved in various art projects, art festivals such as CREAM: International Festival for Arts and Media YOKOHAMA 2009 and has curated video art exhibitions in Japan. In 2010, as a member of Malaysia – Japan Video Art Exchange II, she carried out a research on Malaysian video art, communicated and interviewed with artist in Malaysia, volunteered organizing the event and workshop.  She is a winner of EUIJ WASEDA (The European Union Institute in Japan WASEDA) 2010 Research Scholarship and has done an thorough investigation of media arts in Europe last year.

Miyuki Endo

Miyuki Endo is enrolled in master's course of the graduate school of Letters, Arts and Science, in Waseda University, Japan. Her research area is moving and still image in contemporary art, and also the relationship between arts and society.

Machiko Kusahara

Machiko Kusahara is Professor at the School of Culture, Media and Society, Waseda University, and Visiting Scholar at the Art | Sci Center, UCLA. Her research focuses on the interplay between media culture, technology, and society. Since mid 1980s she curated and wrote internationally in the field of digital art, and served as a jury for Ars Electronica, SIGGRAPH, ISEA, among many others. She has written about both early visual media and contemporary media art. Her writings have been published internationally. Prof. Kusahara holds Ph.D from University of Tokyo.