Body, Camera, Action: Understanding The Metamorphosis Of Performance Art In Japan

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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East Asian Languages & Civilizations
public art
Asian Studies
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
Theatre and Performance Studies
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This dissertation is a study of the specific medium “performance art” (pafōmansu āto) in Japan, situated in the transnational and comparative context of the 1960s and the 2010s. Extensively drawing on the art criticism of Akiyama Kuniharu, Ishiko Junzō, Sawaragi Noi, Tōno Yoshiaki, Tone Yasunao, and Yoshida Yoshie, this research investigates the discursive space of performance that constructs a multiplicity of historical terms such as happenings, events, festivals, spectacle. In the 1960s, the fashion of happenings (initially coined by American artist Allan Kaprow) spread outside of artistic institutions such as museums and theaters to the space of the city, raising the issue of space and environment. Unlike Kaprow’s reluctance toward documentation, many happenings were produced for the camera; in Japan, happenings coincided with the journalistic turn in avant-garde film, reinforcing the so-called concept of actuality (akuchuariti) and image (eizō). Inspired by Marcel Duchamp, the art group Hi Red Center captured the ambiguity of both reality and fiction in their performances Yamanote Line Festival (1963) and Shelter Plan (1964). In the 21st century, the art group ChimPom and the New-York based Japanese butō artist Eiko continue the legacy of Hi Red Center in their use of body and camera in performances that intersect not only urban but also digital and public space. In the digital era, the sense of place and community as well as the issue of connectivity and isolation stronger than ever occupy the artists after the Fukushima disaster of March 2011. From this perspective, the theory of place (basho) of Japanese philosopher Nakamura Yūjirō helps us address the conundrum of body, site, community and public. While in Making the Sky of Hiroshima “PIKA” (2008) and in Level 7 feat. Myth of Tomorrow (2011) ChimPom probe the limitations of public art and democracy vis-à-vis community, in A Body in Fukushima and A Body in a Station, Eiko uses her body and camera as a conduit to connect the abandoned sites of Fukushima and Philadelphia.

Ayako Kano
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