Video from Tokyo to Fukui and Kyoto

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The Museum of Modern Art, NY, NY (1979)


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Video from Tokyo to Fukui and Kyoto, organized and first shown at The Museum of Modern Art in April 1979, is part of "Japan Today," a series of cultural programs held during the spring of 1979 in five United States cities. "Video from Tokyo to Fukui and Kyoto" was made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, Matsushita Electric (Panasonic), and .The Japan Foundation, and by assistance from The International Council of The Museum of Modern Art. Following the showing at The Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition is presented on tour in the United States, Canada, and Japan.

I wish to thank Kira Perov for helping to organize the catalog materials, Susan Weiley for her editorial guidance, Michiko Miyamoto for assisting with translations, and the staff of Japan Society for their generous support. I also wish to express my gratitude to the people in this country and in Japan, not individually named here, who also generously provided information and assistance. B.J.L.

Schedule of the Exhibition:

The Museum of Modern Art, New York Apri1 19 - June 19, 1979
Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, California June 24 - August 5, 1979
Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver July 20- August 6, 1979
The Prefectural Museum of Art, Fukui Apri 1, 1980

All Japanese names appear with family name last

"Video from Tokyo to Fukui and Kyoto" consists of sixteen videotapes by sixteen Japanese artists whose work is representative of video art currently being produced in Japan. The exhibition is presented at The Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with "Japan Today, " a series of programs on contemporary Japanese culture presented simultaneously in five United States cities during the spring of 1979.

Over the last thirty years formal, international cultural exchanges have been characterized by art biennials. These enabled Eastern and Western artists who were engaged in experimental activity to become familiar with each other's performances, happenings, "matter" or earth works, kinetic, conceptual, and mail art. (1) During the same period informal exchange has occurred through the communications industry in the form of globally televised news and theatrical and sporting events. By making varieties of popular culture universally available, commercial television has raised the general level of sophistication around the world. It is the basic elements of television - video cameras, tape recording devices, and video projectors - that have contributed to the development of this new international art form, video art.

In the late 1960s, during a time of active experimentation in all of the arts and several years after the first portable video camera was put on the market, Japanese artists became involved with the video medium. These artists had diverse backgrounds, having worked in film, photography, performance, painting, sculpture, printmaking, music, and journalism. Most had participated in the anti-art activities of the 1960s, and in 1970 had exhibited their work in two important Japanese international art exhibitions that included video art. The first was "EXPO '70" in Osaka, an exhibition with strong business support that stressed the integration of art and technology and provided artists with the opportunity to freely experiment with new media and concepts. The second exhibition, the "Tenth Tokyo Biennial, " also called "Between Man and Matter," was organized by the art critic Yusuki Nakahara. This exhibition examined the theories behind contemporary experimental art activity and 2 included the work of many conceptual artists from the United States and Europe. (2) The exhibition was as much a final statement about 1960s avant-gardism as it was the ,3 foundation for later art activity in Japan. (3)

In the early 1970s three Western videomakers arrived in Japan, the Canadian Michael Goldberg and the Americans John Reilly and Rudi Stern. The three motivated a certain amount of video productivity among a thirteen-person artistic group, Video Hiroba (4). In 1972 its members collectively purchased a portable video camera, rented a Tokyo office for a center, and assisted each other with projects, which dealt largely with the technological and communication aspects of the medium. Video Hiroba was instrumental in setting up video viewing situations for its members to present their own and other artists' work. At the same time, video was being used by other Japanese artists as an objective tool suited to a more personal art, one that dealt with memory, repetition, and documentation. (5)

In Japan artists' videotapes and video environmental installations have been presented at certain galleries, museums, theaters, and centers since 1972. Among these are the Tokyo and Kyoto American Centers; in Tokyo, the Sony Building, the Underground Film Center, and the Maki, Tamura, and Shirbakaba galleries; in Kyoto, Gallery 16, Art Core Gallery, and the National Museum of Modem Art; and in Yokohama, the Citizens'Center. Recently a precedent was set when the new Prefectural Museum in Fukui purchased video equipment for a new video exhibition program, which is to be ongoing.

Video equipment as it is used by the international industry of commercial television is an expensive medium, beyond the budget of most independent, experimental videomakers. At the most fundamental level, the purchase of a small-format, portable video camera and recording deck requires an investment of several thousand dollars. Familiarity with small-format video technology is usually a prerequisite for the satisfactory use of the costlier, more sophisticated broadcast-quality equipment that is necessary for the production of more advanced or complicated videotapes (6). Today only those Japanese artists who are employed by television stations or are students in certain university programs are able to experiment with the versatile but costly video editing and synthesizer equipment (7). Artists look to a future when higher quality, less expensive video equipment will be made for the home market.

The artists represented by works in this exhibition utilized the medium for its portability, immediacy of image, and plasticity. Most worked with the small-format (one-half- or three-quarter-inch) portable video camera and recording deck, which are easily transported from location to location and are ideal for spontaneous documentation. Examples include effective political video statements, such as Fujiko Nakaya's work, as well as personal or family studies, in the case of Kou Nakajima and Kyoko Michishita's videotapes. Mako Idemitsu used the medium to create a fictional diary, whereas Nobuhiro Kawanaka captured the immediacy of a nonstop action.

Using video it is possible to screen imagery on a television set during recording and to replay material directly from the just-recorded videotape. This was important for Keigo Yamamoto, who studied the interval between perception and response, and for Hitoshi Nomura and Hakudo Kobayashi, who also dealt with two-dimensional visual subtleties. The possibility of a simultaneous image has allowed for successful applications of video to other contemporary art activity. The Video Information Center, a four-member group, uses video to document experimental Japanese theater and dance. The group's small, one-room center, located on the outskirts of Tokyo, contains portable video equipment and an archive of over six hundred videotapes.

Video color is a composite of red, green, and blue beams of light, which are projected separately on the television screen. Potentially limitless color combinations and painterly effects can be made with black-and-white or color imagery by using computers, special-effects generators, and synthesizers. Examples of this include the work of Akira Kurosaki and Katsuhiro Yamaguchi. Toshio Matsumoto used similar equipment to produce collage like effects, while Tsuneo Nakai constructed a special audio-video system with a synthesizer to produce pulsating imagery.

The sixteen videotapes presented in "Video from Tokyo to Fukui and Kyoto" clearly are by Japanese artists whose approach to the medium and subject matter comes indirectly from Shintoism, the Japanese religion that ascribes numinous qualities to both natural and man-made materials. The videotapes are also Eastern in sensibility: they have a particular kind of concentration, a flowing sense of time, and lyrical use of color. Western, and especially American, video tends to have an underlying, unbridled energy and reflects an attitude that anything can be done, even if it requires inventing a new piece of equipment. In video both the medium and its messages are international.

Over the last thirty years the public has become conditioned to assimilating information from television. Accustomed to viewing broadcast programming; television and museum audiences are not particularly conscious of the difference between video art and regular programs. In Japan as in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Latin America, the continuous presentation of video artists' work in museums, galleries, public underground theaters, art centers,
and on educational television stations allows the public to appreciate this new area of contemporary art because it is already such a familiar and universally understood form.

I. During the 1960s and 1970s, there were two influential Japanese artists' groups whose works were included in these international exhibitions. Gutai - which was organized in 1955 by the artist Jiro Yoshihara in western Japan, in the vicinity of Osaka - arose in strong opposition to the formal, traditional art of Tokyo. The group's "anti-art" activities were followed by artists and critics in Tokyo, and by those in the West through the printed materials mailed out regularly by the Gutai artists to document and announce their activities. In their philosophy and performances, Gutai artists were concerned with temporality and matter. Their work was seen every year at the annual "Independent Exhibition" sponsored by the Yomiuri newspaper, until the exhibition was stopped in 1963. In 1968 a new generation of artists who had studied at Tama Art University with Yoshisige Saito started to express their dissatisfaction with conventional art. Centered on the artist U-Fan Lee, this new group used natural materials such as stone, sand, and wood to emphasize matter and "one-time-ness" in their work. The group was named Mona-ha after the word "mono, " which means material or thing.
2. This included Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Klaus Rinke, Richard Serra, and Keith Sonnier.
3. This information was obtained through discussions with Toshio Minemura and Shigeo Anzai.
4. The name Video Hiroba was designated by Katsuhiro Yamaguchi. The word "hiroba" means public square, and was chosen to imply public communication or thoroughfare. The thirteen original members included: Sakumi Hagiwara, Nobuhiro Kawanaka, Hakudo Kobayashi, Masao Komura, Toshio Matsumoto, Shoko Matsushita, Rikuro Miyai, Michitaka Nakahara, Fujiko Nakaya, Yoshiaki Tono, Katsuhiro Yamaguchi, and Keigo Yamamoto.
5. In 1963 several of these artists organized an exhibition, "Affair and Practice by Twelve. " The artists were: Naoyoshi Hikosaka, Kasai Hari, Etsutomu Kashihara, Yoshihisa Kitatsuji, Hitoshi Nomura, Masako Shibata, and Nobuo Yamanaka. This information was obtained through discussions with Toshio Minemura.
6. Videotape is composed of long polyester strips, coated on one or both sides with charged iron-oxide or chromium-dioxide particles. Image quality improves as the tape width increases. Small-format videotape is generally either one-half or three-quarters-inch wide, is used with portable cameras, and is edited on relatively simple systems. Larger-format videotape is one or two inches wide, and is considerably more costly. It is used by broadcast television and is edited on more sophisticated machinery.
7. Among Japanese video courses are those taught by Assistant Professor Dr. Shinsei Manabe in the Film Department of Nihon University, Tokyo; the video program directed by Dr. Shotaro Uchiyama at Tama Art University, Tokyo; and Professor Akira Kurosaki's courses at the Kyoto University of Industrial Arts, Kyoto.
8. Many writers have theorized about learning and television. One viewpoint is proposed by Tony Schwartz, author of the book Responsive Chord (Garden City, New York, Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974).