Hi Red Center Dropping Event performance at the rooftop of Ikenobo Flower School Headquarters in Tokyo, 1964
While in Poland I visit Raster Gallery which in collaboration with Taka Ishii Gallery form Tokyo presents Japanese performance art in a nutshell. The exhibition takes its cue from an intense period of artistic and political activity at the end of the 1950s, a breakthrough moment for the history of avant-garde art in Japan and the time when entirely new forms and art strategies appeared. In that period The Gutai group develops their world-first performances based on Pollock's action painting and French Informel shifting the painterly images from canvas into actions and thus liberating art from traditional formats. Spring of 1960 in Tokyo was marked with protests against the ratification of a treaty between Japan and the U.S., lasting several weeks and resulting in the death of one of the demonstrators. For artists, who took part in the them, those events were an impetus to develop increasingly radical activities in the public space going beyond Gutai's ideas of formal experiments in favour of real action - actions of a deliberate, provocative nature, based in socio-political contexts. Those actions took on the character of both intricately planned street interventions, as with the Hi Red Center group, and ritual performances in galleries and in the public space realised by such groups as Zero Dimension (Zerojigen).
Collective Kumo, A Happening on the Street, 1970
All those time and movements were trailed by Minoru Hirata, a photojournalist who not only documented the performances given by groups but also took part in them. In a highly suggestive way these photographs document one of the most unusual and original episodes in the history of avant-garde Japanese art, which retains its inspirational power to this day.
Nakanishi Natuyuki, Clothespins Assert Churning Action, street performance for Hi Red Center event, 6th Mixer Plan, Tokyo, May 28, 1963
Few decades later young generation of Japanese artists is taking up the idea of blending art and reality through performative actions and projects in the public space. In the works of Ei Arakawa, Yuki Okumura and Koki Tanaka there is a discernible echo of the avant-garde actions which are proof of the intensive efforts of young artists to rebuild this scattered artistic tradition. Presented side by side, the photographs of Minoru Hirata and the situations, films and documentation of Arakawa, Okmura and Tanaka serve as an intriguing and inspiring point of reference for a debate on the subject of the temporality and efficacy of performance strategies, various forms of activity with regard to the physical and political urban space, as well as with regard to the history of art.
Ei Arakawa, Peaceboat Revisiting MRTA, 2009, DVD, 3'26"
A reenactment of selected scenes from his earlier performances. Arakawa invited a group of friends and acquaintances he’d met on a 1996 sailing trip around the world to participate in actions in and around the gallery space. The group acted out a series of staged tableaus that were filmed and presented as “live stills” at the exhibition, along with photographs that were blown up to large format black-and-white Xeroxed reproductions. Arakawa’s playful approach to video documentation is indicative of his conviction of the singular, temporal nature of performance art and the relationship it generates between the artist, performers and the public. In this project he touches upon the issue of repetition, documentation and ephemeral acts of performance through a subversive perspective, establishing a distinctive form of retrospective - one that takes on a new, independent life of its own. The title of the film references his 1996 voyage across the ocean, as well as the MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) occupation of the Japanese Embassy in Lima, two events that took place at the same time.
Yuki Okamura, Synchronized Sneezing, street performance, 2012
How many sneezes occur in perfect synch everyday at different locations on Earth? is a site specific manifestation of Okamura's ongoing series Synchronized Sneezing. The present work was created in Warsaw and is a kind of absurd demonstrations that takes performance to the the next level - action which is realized in the imagination of the viewer.
Koki Tanaka, Simple Gesture and Temporary Sculpture, 2008/2012, HDV Video, 3’26”
The video is one of a series of works by Tanaka that serve as a record of filmed actions enacted by the artist. The action is set in the street and within interiors both public and private. Japan's representation at the 2013 Venice Biennale, explores the private and public space, arranging and documenting brief, straightforward situations. Basic gestures and objects set up by the artist in an inverted or somewhat absurd order that breaks up the logical scheme of things. "Reality is made up of abstract things and moments", sums up the artist in one of his texts, leading the public onto an alternative reading of the world around us.