Hong Kong

Documentation of “Dropping Event” by Hi Red Center at Ikenobo Hall, Tokyo, October 10, 1964. Photo: Minoru Hirata. From “Great Crescent.”

Documentation of “Dropping Event” by Hi Red Center at Ikenobo Hall, Tokyo, October 10, 1964. Photo: Minoru Hirata. From “Great Crescent.”

“Great Crescent”

Documentation of “Dropping Event” by Hi Red Center at Ikenobo Hall, Tokyo, October 10, 1964. Photo: Minoru Hirata. From “Great Crescent.”

Having been Japanese colonies until 1945, Taiwan and Korea, along with their former conqueror, were gradually absorbed into American Cold War policy in East Asia as part of an economic and political buffer zone dubbed the “Great Crescent.” This historical legacy formed the foundation for the transnational curatorial study “Great Crescent: Art and Agitation in the 1960s—Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan,” which collated archival documentation from anti-art performance scenes from the three nations.

The exhibition was described by its curators—Cosmin Costinas and Lesley Ma of Para Site and Doryun Chong of curatorial project A Future Museum for China—as a “small essay in comparative art history.” It began with Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece,filmed in New York in 1965 but originally performed at Kyoto’s Yamaichi Concert Hall in 1964. In that it was performed in both Japan and America, the work effectively consolidated the exhibition’s premise that artistic trends that were being formed within the contexts of Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea at the time were based in part on cross-cultural exchanges with Western capitalism. This exchange produced such moments as Release, Modern Music Dance Art Festival. Staged in Taipei in 1971, the piece featured six artists working in poetry, music, dance, and visual art who produced a “total performance,” uniting traditional elements of Asian theater with more Western-infused elements of modern dance and sound. Others went to greater extremes, using lewd acts of subversive and radical protest—from bondage to public nudity on busy streets—that responded to the conservatism of the times, among them the Japanese performance group Zero Dimension, as depicted in The White Rabbit of Inaba, 1970, a wonderful split-screen documentary produced by the group’s leader, Kato Yoshihiro. In 1968, at the Fourth Contemporary Art Seminar in Seoul, Jeong Gang-ja’s bare body was covered in balloons, which were subsequently popped by participating performers and audience members to the music of John Cage and Harry Partch.

Yet other actions alluded to the use of cultural appropriation as a mode of rejection. The wall text accompanying images for an exercise in Dada irreverence staged at Hai Tian Gallery in 1966 by artist Huang Huacheng—titled “Ecole de Great Taipei Autumn Exhibition” despite being a one-man show—explained that visitors entered the gallery by stepping on a doormat-cum-collage of reproduced Western paintings. In 1964, the Japanese collective Hi Red Center staged Let’s Participate in the HRC Campaign to Promote the Cleanup and Orderliness of Metropolitan Area! (also known as “the Cleaning Event”). Images from the action on display here showed artists wearing white lab coats and masks cleaning a tiny, sectioned-off area of Tokyo’s Ginza commercial district with household products and tools during the Summer Olympic Games—a send-up of the processes of globalization at the time as a sterilizing force.

Perhaps this is why the performance practices presented in this exhibition felt so aligned with the notion of theater as a site of social relation, a view that formed the ethos of the Taiwanese magazine Theatre (1965–68). Photographs of the only live performance Theatre staged in 1965—Huang Huacheng’s Prophet (a conversation between a self-proclaimed prophet and his wife) and the first staging of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in Mandarin—were presented with archival magazine issues and material from two “Theatre Film Screenings” from 1966 and ’67, including short films by Chuang Ling. Life Continued, 1966, chronicles a day in the life of Chuang’s wife, and My Newborn Baby, 1967, follows the artist’s child as she discovers the world around her: urban scenes coupled with traditional landscapes—a field or a temple, for instance. Like the other performative endeavors presented in this assemblage of practices, the work ultimately reveals an encounter between an individual and society framed by the contingent experience of history and progress: a reflection on social realties caught within modernizing—and globalizing—capitalist frames.

Stephanie Bailey