Atsuko Tanaka was one of the most important avant-garde artist in Japan. A member of Gutai group which against the historical backdrop of WWII, anticipated in a very radical way the most significant concepts of Western Art in the 50s. Gutai art in general, and Tanaka in particular, expended and redefined the relation between the body, artistic material and objects as well as space by introducing a performative dimension. Of Tanakas prolific body of work, it is Electric Dress that is most frequently mentioned and that has most captured the public's attention including myself. I saw it first at Documenta 12 and only now learnt the story behind it. The idea came to Tanaka while she was waiting at the Osaka station, sitting on the bench on the platform surrounded by neon signs advertising medicines. It occurred to her to transfer and adapt this new industrial technology to clothing. And so she fused the traditional kimono with the latest technology interrelating the body with a whole system of wires and connections.
For Tanaka the most interesting part of this project was the process of switching the lights on and off. At the 2nd Gutai Art Exhibition held at the Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo in 1956 she entered the work as it was suspended from the ceiling by a rope. Electric Clothes were presented also the following year at the Gutai Art on Stage. During the performance there was a preceding part in which Tanaka changed clothes in front of the audience in quick succession so that as she undressed she stayed dressed. She would unfurled her consumes from hem of a dress or pair of gloves, changing from a green knee length one-piece dress to a light red evening dress and then to a gown that was half yellow and half pink. To some degree, though totally unaware of it, Atsuko Tanaka was a pioneer of the feminism turning herself into image and through that raising questions about how fashion, gender, and ideas about femininity transform and imprison women.
all photos come from the catalogue of Atsuko Tanaka. The Art of Connecting show running currently at MOT.