KuroDalaiJee | Anarchy of the Body

13th February, 2023 in Author’s corner


Performance art in Japan is not only by Gutai.

In Anarchy of the Body, art historian KuroDalaiJee sheds light on vital pieces of postwar Japanese avant-garde history by contextualizing the social, cultural, and political trajectories of artists across Japan in the 1960s.

Briefly and concisely explain in plain language what the book is about.

Anarchy of the Body is the very first study of performance art in Japan. In the book, I focused on the practice of performances in the vein of Anti-Art throughout the 1960s, dealing with mostly yet unknown or totally obscured performances by artists across Japan, rather than the regular subjects in existing art history, such as Gutai or Hi-Red Center. I challenged both the discourses dependent on remaining art objects and the Tokyo-centered view of national history. I also tried to contextualize practices of postwar Japanese avant-garde in the social, political, and cultural history, such as anti-Anpo movements and counterculture particular to the city and era of 1960s Japan. Thus, I tried to reveal how the practice of performance by individual artists and art groups during this period formed a legacy of resistance against institutionalization, both within the art world and more broadly in Japanese society.

What or who inspired you to choose this topic?

After the editor of the publisher (Grambooks) proposed the plan of the book to me in 2004, I read Hanguk wi shilhom misul (Experimental Art in Korea), 2003, by Kim Mikyung, which is the first Korean book I managed to read through. It dealt with trajectories of experimental art, such as performance, film, assemblages, and installation, including those in public spaces. The author intended to outline the untold history of such experimental art, between Informel in the early 1960s and the well-known and now commercially successful Monochrome Painting (Dansaek-hwa) since the mid-1970s , situating such experiments in relation to the political climates under Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship. My reading ability of Korean was insufficient, but the book impressed me so much that I sent an email to the editor, saying “I want to write such a book.”

The book is published in Korean only, and Kim Mikyung’s essay on an English website is not available anymore. It is so sad that she passed away at a very young age after she participated in a symposium with me at Mori Art Museum in 2015.

Do you have any reading suggestions to share (books, blogs, journals, …) for anyone who wants to know more about the subject?

There are too many books and exhibition catalogues in Japanese, so I’ll list some English ones only.

  • Reiko Tomii, Radicalism in the Wilderness: International Contemporaneity and 1960s Art in Japan, MIT Press; Reprint editon 2018
  • William Marotti, Money, Trains, and Guillotines: Art and Revolution in 1960s Japan, Duke University Press; 2013
  • Collectivism in Twentieth-Century Japanese Art (Positions Art Critique), ed. Reiko Tomii and Midori Yoshimoto, Duke University Press; vol. 21, no. 2 (spring 2013)

How did the writing process for this book go? Did you experience anything surprising, amusing or strange?

The most unexpected was: I had not anticipated I had to write such a huge volume, even though I ignored almost of regular incidents of art in the 1960s. A reviewer wrote “it would be ‘thicker’ [meaning, more comprehensive or deeper] if the book had included interviews of artists,” but if I had done so, very few people would have bought such a 1,000-page book! (note: the Japanese edition is already 768 pages)

I am not good at theoretical discourse, such as the Anti-Art debate and performance theory, but I enjoyed writing some chapters – especially those on Asai Masuo and Itoi Kanji, and the conclusion. My book isn’t an academic one, as I am not trained as such; some parts are actually poetical, dramatic, or sometimes provocative, which is my own personal style. I felt very close to the main actors, so I tried to ensure that the English translation was in keeping with my sympathy for the artists. Again, it is not an academic manner of writing.

What would you like readers to remember about your book?

  • Performance art in Japan is not only represented by Gutai. As I wrote in the book and elsewhere, I do not think Gutai was a performance group even in its early period.
  • Art from an alien culture and period can be more exciting if understood in/with/for the society as a whole, including the politics and the most commonplace cultural life.
  • The modernity in art lies not only in technique and styles, but in the spirit of resistance, as seen in non-Western art in general.
  • Corporeality as well as humor can be tools of enjoyable interventions.

Do you have any plans yet for another publication? What will it be about?

I plan to publish a revised edition of the Japanese edition later this year. I have a set of essays on 1960s artists that I wrote before and after the time the Anarchy of the Body, including unpublished ones, but I cannot add these essays to Anarchy of the Body as the book is already structured, and a book consisting of already published essays may not be so interesting without a consistent narrative or message. I need some time to find what I can do next with my experience in Japanese and other Asian art.

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