Subversion of the Everyday: Ritual Performance Art in the 1960s Japan
A lecture by Kuroda Raiji

  • Subversion of the Everyday: Ritual Performance Art in the 1960s Japan
    Zero Jigen, Ritual forNippon ’69: Bizarre Sex Zones, directed by: Nakajima Sadao, Ginza, Tokio, 1968, photo by Kitade Yukio, courtesy of Kato Yoshihiro

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.

Kuroda Raiji (A.K.A. KuroDalaiJee) is an art historian and curator. The exhibitions he has researched and organized while working at Fukuoka Art Museum (1985-99) and Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (1999 to-present) include the first retrospectives of Kyushu ha (1988), Neo Dada (1993), and Collective Kumo (1997), and the solo exhibition of Rasheed Araeen (1993), Lee Bul (2001), Lionel Wendt (2003), Long Chinsan (2011). He also co-curated The 1st Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale 1999 (FT1), FT2 (2002), FT3 (2005), FT4 (2009) and FT5 (2014). In 1991 and 1995, he served as commissioner of the Japanese section for The 5th and 7th Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh. His independent research has focused on documenting the important yet forgotten performances by visual artists of the 1960s, including Zero Dimension.He published his  first book on such performances, Anarchy of the Body: Undercurrent of Performance Art in Japan 1960s (grambooks, Tokyo) in 2010. Awarded Art Encouragement Prizes by Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs,2010, and the Kim Bokjin Prize in Korea, 2013. His most recent book is a collection of short essays on Asian modern and contemporary art, Behind the Globalism: Sketches on Contemporary Asian Art 2009-2014 (grambooks, Tokyo) in 2014.

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