Subversion of the Everyday: Ritual Performance Art in the 1960s Japan
The performative art making by the early Gutai group in the late 1950s is already part of world art history.
However, there is little knowledge and awareness that other Japanese artists created more than 400 performances throughout the 1960s. Some started doing performances as a demonstration of avant-garde art for the mass media or as improvisations of object based sound. But more importantly, others used performance as a way to critique the invisible control of everyday life after the collapse of the anti-Anpo (the Japan-US Security Treaty signed in 1952) resistance struggle in 1960 - a societal control that was overshadowed by the successful economic development of Japan at the time. They dared to perform in streets or other public spaces instead of in galleries, on stages, or in private spaces; they dared to disturb the routine of ‘cleansed’ urban spaces, and thus reveal the absurdity of the fantasy of the ‘Progress and Harmony’ slogan advocated in the Osaka Expo ’70. Among these artists, ‘Ritual’ performances by Zero Jigen (Zero Dimension) most daringly challenged both ‘contemporary art’ as a part of international (=Western) art, and the modern technological control of the mind, finally leading to the formation of the Expo Destruction Joint-Struggle Group in 1969.
This research by Zero Jigen and its allies of anti-art tendencies will re-map art practices in the 1960s in Japan as a counter-attack to urbanization and Westernization which must be understood in the context of the exploration of indigenous modernity in Asian and other non-Western art in general.