Japan

Japan

The exhibition “From ‘Space’ to ‘Environment’” held at Matsuya Department Store in Tokyo was one of the most controversial shows in Japan in many a season. The exhibition was organized by the “Kankyo Group” (“Group for Environmental Art”), composed of Kuniharu Akiyama and Toshi Ichiyanagi (composers), Katsuhiro Yamaguchi (sculptor), Arata Isozaki (urban designer), Masakazu Nagai, Kiyoshi Awazu, Mitsuo Katsui, and Shigeo Fukuda (graphic designers), Shuzo Takiguchi, Yusuke Nakahara, and Yoshiaki Tono (critics). Thirty five artists participated.

Some of the works needed the actual physical participation of the audience. On the floor of the entrance were seven red pieces of rocking sculptures in graded size, Meniscus, by Takemi Enomoto, interior designer. When touched, they rocked like tumbler toys on their convex bottoms, their movements reflected on the polished steel plates under them. In Finger Boxes by Ay-O, a happener in New York, one is invited to insert a finger into a hole in each small wooden box to feel something tactile like fur, sand or marble. Beautifully designed Jack-in-the-Boxes by Tsunehisa Kimura, graphic designer, were piled up like building-blocks. Several graphic designers displayed their posters on panels hung from steel rails. The onlookers shifted them from one side to another to select the favorite ones. Long spiral mobiles of paper by Hiroshi Tamura, industrial designer, hung from the ceiling, swinging and swaying like Chinese lanterns.

Other works were somewhat kinetic. Shintaro Tanaka, painter, constructed a huge multi colored mobile, the upper curve of which was heart shaped. It stood on the top of a transparent pole of plastic and shifted slowly like a gull in flight. Miss Minami Tada, a sculptor, showed four pieces of concave, somewhat distorted hemispheres of polished aluminum. Each of them turned round electronically at a different speed and reflected the viewer—reminiscent of the mirror rooms at Tivoli. Distorting Screen by Norio Imai, a member of the Gutai Group, was a white rubber sheet, which waved electrically and deformed the images of several films projected continuously onto it.

A few works were static, but menaced the onlooker nevertheless. Tomio Miki made an enormous geometrical standing relief in wood, painted with pure blue acrylic paint. Its form derives from the inner part of the ear, but the frontal massiveness of this work is overwhelming. Next, a series of large hanging metal blades, made of twisted pieces of steel, the work of Michio Ihara, a sculptor, gleamed brilliantly.

Some of the artists employed fluorescent or neon light. The forty five neon tubes arranged cylindrically by Masanobu Yoshimura, another sculptor, blended into a burning bundle of light. Two J-shaped rectangular plastic columns by Katsuhiro Yamaguchi (one is blue, the other transparent), were illuminated from inside in red and blue light. Here the light created its own volume which displaced the actual presence of the work and de-substantialized it. The big maquette of a new bank by Arata Isozaki, known in Japan as an urban designer for a “Future Invisible City,” demonstrated his audacious concept of “architecture in color.” His idea is not merely to paint the architecture, but to imbue the whole space with colored light, as in his inventive design for the municipal library in Ohita City, where the inside space is fused with the outside-space, generating a spiritual atmosphere through de-substantializing colored light. Another architect, Hiroshi Hara, exhibited a series of his fabulous “Highly-Perforated Architecture” design over a full wall. In this case also, the interpenetration of spaces, this time through perforation, is the main subject.

Two composers experimented with sound environments. A hexagonal column by Toshi Ichiyanagi made sounds which changed as one approached it. Kuniharu Akiyama’s Environmental Mechanical Orchestra No. I was constructed in collaboration with Junosuke Okuyama, an electronical engineer. This work is a sound-absorbing “machine” which electronically regenerates all noises in the hall into specific rhythms and textures.

Kiyoshi Awazu, graphic designer, showed a large basin in which a lot of print type was scattered under water tinted with blue ink. The breeze from an electric fan spread the ink, and the letters momentarily appeared and disappeared on the surface of water. The artist called the work Crawling Design to be looked down upon. Fuji Tanaka, one of the members of Jikan-ha (Time Art School), also used a water surface to produce accidental reflections of light on plastic panels. Jiro Takamatsu, well-known silhouette painter, fabricated a desk and four chairs which, deformed, greatly exaggerate the “perspective illusion.”

In this kind of exhibition, works tend to have an impersonal and anonymous character. They are required to generate, together, an environmental space by influencing and inter-acting on one another. Arata Isozaki, who installed the show, succeeded fairly well in realizing this viewpoint. He didn’t indicate each artist’s name for his work. The walls were painted in red, green, black and white so as to surround the works with colored space. For some works he constructed a sort of labyrinth-corridor which the visitors had to walk into and through. His main aim was to let various works impinge on and conflict with one another so as to produce a fused chaotic environment. This was also partially realized.

I watched the visitors: either sheep or gangsters. Before they realized that they were permitted to touch and move such and such a work, they watched it very seriously as though they were in front of a Rodin sculpture. Once they knew it was permitted, they rushed to the works and shook them violently, even destructively. It seemed that they dissipated their frustration with eternally immobile art, but they did not try to find personal ways to participate. Participation, or involvement, if it is to mean something, should be a solitary act. Discovering one’s unique way of moving, for example. And this lonely participation should, by all means, lead to the questioning of one’s own conventionally closed ego. The accumulation and conflict of a multitude of singular participating acts might produce a real Environment which dissolves the stereotyped concept of art. If it only implies an anarchistic mass meeting, it becomes nothing but another kind of conventional safety-zone, a mere Disneyland, where people enjoy the pleasant touch, the agreeable movements, the shrieking noises without experiencing any inner collapse, without noticing their own crisis. The Environment should be a severe frozen place for the self-criticism of the audience.

The Kankyo Group, who will continue to develop the concept of experimentation with Environment, will try to realize a manifestation for the World’s fair in Osaka in 1970. The group also experiments with Happenings. A Happening by Toru Takemitsu, Blue Aurora, was performed by the members of the group and Jasper Johns in Tokyo and caused a tremendous controversy.

Yoshiaki Tono