Abstract- Machiko Kusahara

A Turning Point in Japanese Avant-garde Art: 1964 - 1970

This paper tries to analyze a critical change in media art in particular place and time. The interplay between art and society as well as relationship between artists and institutions are discussed, bringing a new aspect in Japanese media art history.
Although media art has a rather short history, its development is a complex process. Besides the development of technology, interplay among art, society, culture and even political situation changes the way media art develops. Therefore it is important to analyze interaction between art, artists and their environment. The author has discussed "Device Art" in earlier papers examining cultural elements in Japanese media art. This paper focuses at certain period of Japanese media art history that marks a turning point in its relationship to society. Often mentioned features in Japanese media art such as playfulness, positive attitude toward technology, and friendly relationship to the industry, may find their first appearances during the period.
Japanese avant-garde art became active soon after the World War II, taking advantage of collapsed academism. GUTAI artist Atsuko Tanaka's interactive installation "Bell" (1955) is an example. "Happening" was performed before Allan Kaprow named it. Radical "anti-art" movement reached its height in early 60s with un-juried exhibition that continued from 1945 to 1963.
However, the chaotic postwar energy came to an end, symbolized by the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games with a call for "Clean Tokyo". Then, following the 1963 decision to realize Osaka EXPO '70, experimental artists and architects were invited to design major pavilions to showcase latest media technologies. However, EXPO was criticized as a "festival" to draw public attention away from US-Japan Security Treaty to be renewed in 1970. Avant-garde artists had to make a decision. Some leading artists left Japan and joined FLUXUS in New York. Some joined anti-EXPO movement. Others (GUTAI, Katsuhiro Yamaguchi, Arata Isozaki and others) stayed and supported the huge success of EXPO. They remained the main stream in Japanese media art. The collaboration system between artists and the industry for EXPO became a tradition since then.
The period from 1964 and 1970 is chosen as a critical period of time when avant-garde art movement changed from radicalism to pragmatism. A new form of relationship between media artists and institution were established during the process which still exists widely in Japanese media art today.