some bagatelles on the misanthropy of art III: Tetsumi Kudo

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While intimately bound to the techniques and styles of the avant-garde in Europe and Japan, Tetsumi Kudō (1935-1990) distanced himself from them by giving his work a satirical edge. This was not simply to mock his fellow artists, but to draw the logic of their work in directions that they would have found unsettling. In Kudō’s work, satire functions as both an analytical method and a means of organizing artistic production. His work was consistently cultivated by his milieu and polluted by the trends of the avant-garde. Pollution and cultivation could then be exaggerated into forming objects, the symbolic implications of which placed his work in a heretical position vis a vis the aesthetic and political prejudices of his peers. “While many artists dream of the sky (utopia), this artist turns toward hell, even crossing its threshold,” Kudō claimed for himself.[1]iyj0umr
In spite of both the intellectual climate of post-war Japanese art and the way his art was often received in Europe, Kudō refused attempts to reduce his work to the context of post-war experience.[2] While rejecting such reduction, he would insist on the enlightening quality of the war’s traumatic events, explaining that “…at Hiroshima – at the flash of the atom bomb – ‘white shadows’ (former human beings) evaporated and fixed themselves on the walls in a split-second. In those shadows I sense a great meaning that transcends the tragedy of war.”[3] What transcends tragedy is art, the definition of which was the point where a human being and a shadow, or photograph, would become indistinguishable by-products of a technological evolution that was indifferent to them both.[4]

Throughout his career, Kudō remained an outsider, both in Japan and France. Though his work was outwardly marked by many of the signposts and strategies of the avant-garde in both countries, its internal logic divorced it from both the utopian and critical stances common to his contemporaries. The culture of Japan after the second world war was marked by the recrudescence of avant-garde practices that had begun to seep into the country during the 1920s and 30s.[5] In the post-war years, Ruporutaju Kaigu (reportage painting) developed, fusing Socialist Realism with Surrealism, and often dealt with the threat of nuclear holocaust and the social destruction wrought by the war.[6] Other artists, no less morbidly fixated on recent history, took to different tactics. According to critic Tono Yoshiaki, for post-Hiroshima ‘anti-artists’ (Han-geijutsu), “The ruins were their playground and the state of absolute void became necessarily the foundations for their art.”[7]

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Humans as spectres in an increasingly inhuman world were also the subject of Butoh, the dance of darkness, fusing Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty with Buddhist ritual. Less directly, this strain of avant-gardism also found itself played out by the Gutai. Founded in 1954 by Yoshihara Jirō, ‘Gutai’ meant concreteness or tool body. Many works by the group were intended to reveal the inner qualities of the material and tended to be performative, even festive.[8] Artists associated with the movement stressed the importance of interaction between the human body and matter to reveal spirit through gesture.[9] Kudō’s early career evolved in relation to these movements. His first performance works consisted of him physically attacking canvas and paper, sometimes while painting with his feet.[10]  They suggest the sort of pieces that the Gutai had become known for.[11] And yet, Kudō was already embedding his work within a philosophical position that was less concerned with experience and more considerate of the importance of the object. Freeing matter to display its qualities was not something to be done for the audience or artist. They were just matter to be displayed. Human destruction was one more thing to be cultivated in the hothouse that the world had become.[12]

Artist Tetsumi Kudo at Mimatsu Shobo Gallery_1958

Viewed from a humanistic perspective, the existential crisis that industrialized war and consumerism potentially suggested found a strong resonance among many European artists. As with Kudō, this was often ambivalent and manifest both in an embrace of the avant-garde and in a critical distance from it. As Luciano Fabro stated, “The avant-garde is an art of grocers… The avant-garde is the fear of art.”[13] This was a point of view shared by his contemporary, the poet, philosopher and film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who in the 1960s and 70s was even more hostile to the avant-garde, leaving him in the position of a ‘heretic’. However, going beyond the fear of art could result in something even more terrifying. Luca Caminati locates the overlap between Pasolini and Arte Povera in a desire for the ‘primitive’ and a “return to nature.”[14] But, as Pasolini inimitably explained, this nature is “already artifice, culture, spectacle; nothing elementary or primary exists any longer; everything refers back to a preexisting code […] Reality plays the role of art, or rather, is already art.”[15] The notion of the collapse of categories cast a shadow over much of Pasolini’s late work. When he published a recantation of his early optimism, he summarized the excesses of consumer society as a collapse that dragged all of history down with it: “The collapse of the present implies the collapse of the past. Life is a heap of insignificant and ironical ruins.”[16] After things collapse, dialectics become impossible.[17]

The imagination of many of those associated with Arte Povera was haunted by the past, either real or fictional. The logic of Kudō’s work goes further, embracing aspects of traditional Japanese culture and pushing them to an extreme in a drive, not to social conservatism, but toward a radical reduction to structures capable of functioning autonomously from personal desire.[18] As Keiji Nakamura observed, his pieces “‘rendre l’espèce humaine impuissante,’ il fait découvrir le point zéro du sexe, autrement dit le point zéro de la culture.”[19] In this, Kudō would be even more of a heretic than Pasolini. Rejecting the attempts of artists to carve out an alterity to the situation they critiqued (industrialization, consumerism, loss of authentic experience or organic community), Kudō cultivated a contrarian attitude and practice that was both mocking and misanthropic. He was not protesting a world of ‘ironical ruins’. Instead “… you should try to think of [human values] as mere commodities – like stockings, ice cream or instant coffee,” he would contend.[20] Rather than sounding dolorous tones for the ruined critical dialectic, Kudō would parody it and espouse the model of the triangular circuit, where every point marked an erosion of identity and a metamorphosis.

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Half of Kudō’s career transpired in Europe. He was sometimes shown with the Nouveau Realistes, in the happenings organized by Allan Kaprow, and more frequently with the painters of Figuration Narrative. The latter embraced complex and contradictory imagery in a bid to ‘metamorphose’ the ‘Mythologies quotidiennes’.[21] What resulted was an aggressively humorous array of painting styles, both jaunting and jaundiced, that some critics termed “la peinture bavarde.”[22] Kudō’s works produced in Europe are also aggressively, if more cruelly, humourous works in garish saturated colours built out of the debris of pop culture and suffused with narrative suggestiveness. French critic and curator Alain Jouffroy took a strong interest in the Japanese artist’s work, associating him with Daniel Pommereulle and Daniel Spoerri under the banner of Les Objecteurs. I will return to this connection later.

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Within these contexts, Kudō’s work seemed audacious and, to many onlookers, suggestive of a dystopian future. However, Kudō consistently insisted that his work was about the present. While the science fiction angle has often been utilized by critics, it is more accurate to understand his work as being satirical.[23] In particular, it was the contemporary avant-garde, whether Japanese or European, that he was putting under the microscope as objects for his sardonic scrutiny. This was satire in the programmatic or formal sense of the term; dissecting and exaggerating his targets to the point that they become grotesque and alien. His performance works made this clear. Starting with his self-presentation, Kudō embodied the artist as alien, dressed in Buddhist robes and enacting seppuku for the audiences of Europe (Hara-kiri of Humanism (1963)) when not sporting green and yellow clothes, giant sunglasses and an umbrella, with only a bird whistle to communicate (Your Portrait (1966)).

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His persona as the detached eviscerator of human values was part of his satirical program. The satirical dimension is central to Ignacio Adriasola’s interpretation of Kudō. However, his understanding of the term is weak, forcing Kudō’s work into a form of social critique that it is not part of.[24] Kudō’s theatrical appropriation of the role of mystic or ‘medicine man’ takes on more significance in this respect.[25] As Robert C. Elliott has demonstrated, the satirical tradition originated in exorcism and shamanic rituals, particularly in phallic songs.[26] These occurred in conjunction with fertility rites and consisted of mockery and the hurling of epithets intended to expel evil, whether that was manifest as disease or rats. Specifically in Japan,[27] the satirical tradition in the modern era, often falling under the terms Kojien or fushi,[28] has been defined as the critical mockery of evil, often carried out indirectly, either through irony or the “humour of stupidity.”[29] One major component of it has been the “wielding of a knife” on evil.[30] But unlike many satirists, the evil spirit that Kudō sought to expel was not one threatening humanity but humanity itself. Further to this, while satire absorbs or appropriates the traits of its objects of scorn, it mockingly rejects any dialogue with them. While hyperbolically reproducing the surface, it sterilizes any dialectical engagement by refusing to recognize any ‘authentic being’ in its object of ridicule.

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It is precisely Kudō’s refusal to reform or redeem the human subject that has frequently drawn scorn and confusion from critics.[31] By 1977, Jouffroy remarked on Kudō’s capacity to cast himself as an enemy of the art world and the species. By relocating to Paris, the artist could commit himself to “la non-communication absolute.”[32] He was not, however, a romantic anarchist, but rather a ‘guerilla’ from a distant planet who had no discernible political ideology.[33] This left him in the position of the “l’individu révolutionnaire suscite une quasi-unanimité contre lui.”[34] Satire provided the perfect means for Kudō to simultaneously objectify the art world and render himself a foreign body. Reading this simply as mockery of his opponents, or even himself, would miss the point. There is no irony in this satire because irony requires a stable position occupied by a being capable of reflecting on the solidity of things and witnessing change. For  Kudō, the centre, like the emperor, was just a black hole. He always insisted that he was just another guinea pig in a process being played out. By eliminating the ironic vantage of the subject and transforming the artist and viewer into material to be decomposed and re-configured, Kudō placed both at the mercy of primary processes. Anything that would resist this would be resisting cultivation, therefore, art. Satire was only a method, one that stripped away pathos to clear the way for an anti-subjective conception of aesthetics.

The drive away from subjectivity was not unique to Kudō. Kenichi Yoshida has drawn attention to a strong current of anti-humanist thought in post-war Japanese visual and literary art. The influence of Surrealism was particularly significant in breaking down the distinction between the human and that which surrounded it.[35] Both ecological and nationalist ideas (notably in someone like Yukio Mishima) as well as Surrealism (with its devaluing of conscious experience and admiration of automatism) were often advanced as means to de-privilege the individual human subject and advocate for an understanding of the world that was frequently hostile to human agency. “Figures of the human becoming a matter and conversely a matter taking on life were quite predominant in art in postwar Japan…”[36] This was a significant part of the Gutai, but it was also what Kudō saw in the shadows left by the atom bomb that signalled not a singular event, but the general state of modern life, with humanity recast as the atomized shadows of technology. Glossing this in positive aesthetic terms, Kudō described the situation as a “state of ‘Being’ in which unlimited gravity is applied to the ‘particles’ of exception until they become transparent, almost to the point of disappearing: this is what I would like to call art.”[37]

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Kudō married the image of atomic destruction and mutation to his fascination with set theory. Set theory allowed him to create works which were radically non-hierarchical and resistant to signification, providing for the ready decomposition and recombination of elements. This was first done with painting and later using random artificial body parts and industrial garbage, assembled in ways that only made sense as part of broader series that sometimes spanned most of his career. His early performance/paintings tended to bare titles like Confluent Reaction 585B (1955-56) or Proliferating Chain Reaction (1959), intended to echo nuclear disaster and the role of his art in society.[38] This spectral image is reinforced by the work itself, formed ‘blindly’ by his feet or limbs to capture the shadow of his destructive movements as he assaulted the canvas or paper. This destruction is then tied to confluency, or the proliferation of cells, particular of the inhibitory variety, such as cancer cells. At the peek of these works, he spelled out his intentions in the text, “Stimulus -> Response -> Objectification.” (1961) He identified this triad as the nexus at play in post-industrial society. According to him, the energy of an atom is dispersed and has no concrete form. Atomic reactors aggregate them to produce energy. His works set out to do the same, acting as a means to objectify this process, thus sustaining the cycle of production and dispersion. The self (of the artist or viewer) is dispersed within a technological apparatus, embodied for Kudō by his performance or installation. The artist pressurizes and objectifies this experience to analyse it. The materials act as reaction catalysts for this process, not as materials with particular value.[39] The viewer, of course, is just another of these materials. As Kudō delighted in stating, “I observe you, myself, and all other human beings the same way a doctor observes guinea-pigs.”[40] What he is insisting on then is not that the work is simply symbolic or metaphoric, but that it is both demonstrative and realistic. Satire ceases to operate as a negative parody and becomes autonomous; the tool is transformed into the art object.

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This circuit found itself reconfigured in 1972 as “Pollution – Cultivation – New Ecology.” In this text, Kudō argues that humanity has persisted in violating nature without recognizing this violence. Pollution functions as a mirror of this violence, refracting the decomposition of nature back onto humanity. The dividing line between them is increasingly eroded thanks to technology. Human beings phenomenally experience this erosion as a horrific violence. Yet, aesthetically it is only the horrible that can realistically depict the reality of what human beings are in their ‘rotting state’ since they are in the “bog of transformation” that constitutes the technological world.[41] Rather than rail against this, Kudō took it upon himself to “dénonce les myths de la liberté” and strip away pathetic attachments.[42] The ‘primitive’ antagonism between humans and nature created a ‘net’ (colonialism, capitalism, war) that allowed people to retain privilege and dignity.[43] These traits he also associates with ‘fascism’ and sentimentality.[44] Recalling his early phallic imagery, the new techno-ecology would ‘castrate’ sentiment and the various oppressions that are continuous with it.[45] The escalation of pollution causes the antagonism, or differentiation, between humans, technology and nature to progressively collapse. The decomposition of humanity into technology and nature allows for great metamorphoses, transparency and confluency. His works are intended to be an objectification of this process. “It’s not a dream world, it’s your current situation. It’s your portrait decomposing amid polluted nature and the tide of technology.”[46] Since excessive information makes it impossible for a subject to phenomenally understand clearly what is happening around them, art becomes of greater importance. “Art must be one of the media that serve to provoke doubt and defiance in us: it is a provocative communication between you and me, who are living in the septic pit of technology.”[47] is5

This communication is not between people, but between materials to be provoked or activated against their enslavement under the avatar of human being. The performance Instant Sperm (1964-66) featured the artist handing out bags of his “dried penis” as well as his “sperm.” This act was both a gesture of sterilization (the symbolic sacrificing of sperm), cannibalism (he encouraged the audience to devour his penis and sperm), and orgy (the collective sharing of his body and its fluids, the purely symbolic act of reproduction that this entails). The audience served as the media interacting with his artificial genitalia, resulting in a demonstration of libido where its orgiastic communication is also its sterilization. The cultivation of sterile reaction for the creation of an autonomous object was even more explicitly at play in Sneeze of Guinea Pigs (1966), where he segregated the audience by gender and then proceeded to pepper spray them. The ejaculate (tears and sneezes) was instantly sterilized while the crowd convulsed in a chain reaction.

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Performance provided the chance to create ephemeral, self-destructive, and therefore sterile or abortive, objects where the audience functioned as a mixed media he could manipulate. The more permanent objects he created did not orient themselves to near instant oblivion. Two traits dominate much of Kudō’s work in the 1960s. The presentation of the world as a ruin, positively invested as a nexus of transformation, and the shrinking of this world into increasingly miniaturized forms. For example, early works appear life-sized and face the viewer as an equal (Your Portrait (1964)). By end of the decade, the world had increasingly shrunk (Cultivation by Radioactivity in the Electronic Circuit (1970)).  These two traits mirror the basic rhetoric at play in his philosophy. First, he deflates human beings, presenting them literally as residual fragments. Second, he inflates these fragments, presenting them as worlds or ecosystems. These formal tendencies also mirror those most basic to satire’s propensity for grotesque hyperbole and dramatic reductiveness, both undercutting any development of pathos.[48]

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It was Kudō’s rejection of pathos that came most evidently to the fore in his Your Portrait series. Spanning most of the 1960s, these works consisted of boxes and cages filled with fragmented body parts, detached penises, vegetation, snails and yarn among other objects. Anne Tronche cannot help but see in them a “vision Kafkaienne du contrôle de l’individu par la société,” but this seems to partake of the sentimentalism that he derides.[49] Existential angst was not part of Kudō’s vocabulary. Like fellow Objecteur Daniel Spoerri, Kudō was involved with the work of playwright Eugène Ionesco, creator of “le théâtre de l’insolite et du dérisoire.”[50] Unlike Spoerri, however, the Japanese artist’s experience with the work of the playwright deepened his antipathy toward what he derided as humanism.[51] Inspired by Ionesco, Spoerri’s work could display “the objects themselves [that] are but the traces of a lived existence which has long been left behind” and yet “make us long for the life that lies beyond the work.”[52] But there is no such pathos for Kudō; lived experience is what has been left behind by objects. To shore this up, he appropriated Ionesco’s face as one of the decay elements in Portrait of Ionesco and/or the End of Some Generation (1970).[53] Ionesco is presented in a cage like a domesticated animal. Decaying feet and receipts with the word merci written across them are suspended by his head while a crucifix hangs over him to indicate his residual piousness. The head sits on a pile of decay while a fly drinks his wine. ionescoThis way of conceiving of existential crisis was inspired by working as a designer on Ionesco’s film La Vase (The Slime/The Mire (1970)). It presented a solitary man with no memories who slowly deteriorates, finally dying in slime when he makes the attempt to enter the social world again. Entering death, the “hero” of the work states, “Je recommencerai.”[54] For Ionesco, the metaphysical farce of life comes from the struggle with death.[55] The value of struggle is affirmed, albeit ironically, as a kind of heroism. But for Kudō this kind of affirmation is simply too absurd, another mythologie quotidienne that one should do without. The distance between Kudō, Surrealism and existential farce can be seen here. For Ionesco, the self, however fragmentary or dubious, remains a repository of dreams.[56] Kudō had no interest in playing out his dreams in art. Whatever fragments of face may be included, the portrait is not a representation of a person but the presentation of a set of coagulating objects for which personhood is an exhaust. As Kudō summarized “…we need a portrait that can translate that condition with concrete and symbolic elements.”[57] In this, even the symbolic is closer to the concrete object than any affective experience of the world can be.

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These interests were also basic to the positioning of sexuality within his work. As curator W.A.L. Beeren pointed out, “SEX” is the central word in Your Portrait (1963).[58] Sexuality from Kudō’s perspective is the artificial; it is that which fabricates new forms and bodies and renders the world in its most objective form. The eroticism that was a commonplace to the Japanese avant-garde of his time becomes substantially re-considered and dehumanized.[59] While sexuality retains a cosmic dimension, and in many respects makes it far more explicit, it does so while devaluing the significance of human life qua human life. Doryun Chong is not entirely correct when suggesting that his work is more ascetic than erotic.[60] It is more accurate to say that sexuality for Kudō can not be understood in strictly human terms. A distinction between the carnality of humans among their own species and the carnal relations of humans with their environment or machines becomes increasingly moot.[61] This is where the recurrence of the detached phallus becomes particularly important. His channeling of the long history of phallic worship in Shinto is of greater significance than any of his critics have accorded it.[62] For while his work explicitly attacks the reproduction of humanity (and in this respect is ascetic), it does so for the sake of an increased reproduction of the inhuman, displacing the fertility of agriculture festivals common to Shinto cults (and echoed by the festivals of the Gutai) onto technology. In this light, once again, Kudō brings together the modern and the pre-modern to imagine a post-historical world that collapses identities and categories.

The phallus filled Philosophy of Impotence, or Distribution Map of Impotence and the Appearance of Protective Domes at the Points of Saturation (1963) was performed in Europe at Jean-Jacques Lebel and Jouffroy’s happening “Pour conjurer l’ésprit de la catastrophe (To Conjure the Spirit of Catastrophe), [that] sought to deploy the happening as a response to the rise of the affluent society of the postwar period, and what the artist saw as its concomitant environmental, political, social and economic ‘CATASTROPHE’.”[63] For Adriasola, this directly mapped onto the fascination of the avant-garde with Reichian orgone release. Kudō’s boxes can be read as parodies of the orgone accumulators, first constructed by psychologist Wilhelm Reich in the 1940s as tools to maintain the health of libidinal energy within the negative fluxes of industrial society. [64] But while embracing the themes of cultivation and dispersion, Kudō had inverted the healing properties of the orgone accumulator, originally advanced by Reich as a means to bar pollution of the subject by an unhealthy environment, psychic or otherwise. Instead, nature was to be revealed for Kudō in the decomposition of organic beings and pollution itself became the source of liberation.[65] “…humanity viewed as susceptible to being transformed by polluted nature; technology transformed and multiplied by humanity’s complex; nature protected and cultivated by that technology.”[66] Like his detached phalli, human material simply becomes an organic conduit in the escalation of an increasingly liberated sexuality.

In his writing on Kudō, Jouffroy inverted the philosophy of impotence into the impotence of philosophy, suggesting that the artist was examining thought’s incapacity to come to terms with reality. This was understood as a failure of effective social transformation through critique or action. Adriasola  glosses, “[Jouffroy] recognized the difficulty that Kudō’s work represented for the traditional framework of avant-gardism. Kudō’s work is not entirely revolutionary, and hence it can – and must – be surpassed…”[67] Mockingly, Kudō himself went so far as to compare activism to a syphilitic infection.[68] Jouffroy objected to Kudō’s renunciation of collective action and his ‘fetishism’, comparing his work to Plato’s cave: a sealed and shadowy world that eliminated the reality of the subject. The artist’s philosophy was “the religion of the Personal Automaton… ‘of the reversed domain of souls’ where objects seem to be endowed with intelligence…'”[69] Of course, Kudō could counter that this criticism merely points to the residual spiritualism latent among the avant-garde, and it is this, along with their dreams of humane social transformation, that is keeping them both in the cave and enslaved. Furthermore, the impotence that Kudō espoused was one of paradoxical potency since it indicated simultaneously an erasure of entropic reiteration (sexual reproduction of the species) and the expansion of an increasingly hybridized and polymorphously perverse sexuality that eliminated the distinction between the organic and inorganic.

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More radically than simply de-centring the function of human beings in the circuit of nature-technology, Kudō’s work undermined the claims of phenomenological thought to ascertain reality in any substantial way. If philosophy is impotent it is because it, like the organic human body, is equally incapable of grasping the fact that it is not an adequate model for reality but only an element in a set. Embodied, personal experience is essentially idiotic for Kudō and can only be accurately apprehended satirically. To be radically alien is the key. “There is no emancipatory narrative marked by bourgeois humanism here, for these works follow the logic of the outmoded, the garbage, whose life does not go from meaningless toward meaningfulness through the (negative) mediation of art, but only to continue its suspended life in its playful meaninglessness,” argues Yoshida but the statement needs some amendment.[70] Certainly, there is an emancipation at play in Kudō’s work, but it is the positive emancipation of matter, or nature, from human ends or significance. An advocacy for liberation from being a “slave to preservation of the species.”[71] This kind of heresy is matched by the what Kudō’s art suggests about art itself. With the rise of Anti-art (Han-geijutsu), the conundrum of what art is when it no longer appeals to its traditional values was usually answered by the avant-garde with an appeal to the rather nebulous concept of life. But this vitalistic prejudice also resulted “to borrow Miki Tomio’s expression, [in] a rather ‘crazy’ question: ‘How can Art still exist, if it no longer exists?'”[72] The living-dead art of the avant-garde was less a matter of existential angst than humour for Kudō, that is, not a matter of plumbing authentic depths but of intersecting artificial surfaces. He would sooner ask: how can art exist if human life and experience is no more than industrial garbage? For him the answer would be that it is no longer an art that pretends to be existential or human and that, while insisting on its power to represent reality, does so while simultaneously rejecting the capacity of subjective experience to apprehend it. The truth about the world and art is to be found in this paradoxical instance of objectification. As Kudō stated “…I think it’s high time God was sold in automats, neatly wrapped in small plastic bags.”[73]

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[1] Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 160.

[2] Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 33 and Anne Tronche, Tetsumi Kudo: la montagne que nous cherchons est dans la serre. (Lyon: Fage Editions, 2007), 48.

[3] Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 104.

[4] This would be explicitly addressed in Fossil in Hiroshima (1976) [Fig. 13], a series of four surprisingly delicate embossed drawings featuring fishing lures and phallic symbols sprayed in garish fluorescent colours. The breakdown of distinctions between the organic and inorganic is here concentrated on a surface that insists on its tactile quality and its shallowness, something also suggested in his ‘houthouses’ featuring dense but very thin moss growth and body parts reduced to puddles. All of this is echoed by the artist’s statement that, “Je regarde mes peaux comme je regarde des fossiles…” quoted in Anne Tronche, Tetsumi Kudo: la montagne que nous cherchons est dans la serre. (Lyon: Fage Editions, 2007), 57.

[5] This occurred with the return of ex-patriot artists such as Murayama Tomoyoshi and members of the MAVO group and other Surrealism influenced artists.

[6] This is explicitly displayed in the work of Yamashita Kikuji, for example in the paintings The Tale of New Japan (1954)

The Tale of Akebono Village (1953).

[7] Alexandra Munroe, Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against The Sky. (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1994), 189.

[8] A key example would be the “Experimental Outdoor Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Summer Sun” (1955) which made explicit the importance of performance, the relationship to traditional festival culture, and the turn to materials that could survive outdoors, such as tin and vinyl, as well as the use of rain and sunshine. At the end of the festival, the works created were burned in bonfires.

[9] In the “Gutai Art Manifesto” (1956), Jirō wrote that “In Gutai Art, the human spirit and matter shake hands with each other while keeping their distance. Matter never compromises itself with the spirit; the spirit never dominates matter. When matter remains intact and exposes its characteristics, it starts telling a story and even cries out. To make the fullest use of matter is to make use of the spirit. By enhancing the spirit, matter is brought to the height of the spirit.” in From Postwar to Postmodern: Art in Japan 1945-1989: Primary Documents. (New York, N.Y: Museum of Modern Art, 2012), 89-90. Such a fragile dialectic was required, he would maintain, to allow for the creation of an art that was concrete without falling into the cliches of abstraction. Since for Kudō there was no spirit involved, the dialectic collapsed.

[10] This would include various untitled “Anti-Art” happenings that occurred in galleries in Tokyo and Okayama in 1958.

[11] Particularly works like Muakami Saburo’s One Moment Opening Six Holes (1955), Shimamoto Shozo’s thrown bottle performances (1956), Shiraga Kazuo’s Challenging Mud (1955) and his untitled paintings with his feet (1956), as well as the boxing paintings of Ushio Shinohara.

[12]This sort of fanciful description is clearly played in works such as Cultivation by Radioactivity in the Electronic Circuit (1969) [Fig. 14] which was a fluorescent green hothouse filled with detached organs and computer wires sprouting from a mossy substance.

[13] Carolyn, Christov-Bakargiev,  Arte Povera. (London: Phaidon, 1999), 246.

[14] Luca Caminati, Cinema as Happening Pasolini’s Primitivism and the Sixties Italian Art Scene. (Milan: Postmediabooks, 2010), 38.

[15] Ibid., 38.

[16] Pier Paolo Pasolini; translated by Stuart Hood, Lutheran Letters. (Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1983), 51.

[17] Kudō would embrace this refusal of dialogue throughout his practice. His writings are dogmatic and filled with insults and his performances follow suit. For instance, Quiet Event, Your Portrait, performed in Venice in 1966, featured the artist walking through the piazza San Marco with one of his cages filled with decomposing faces that he would “feed.” This kind of activity eventually attracted the attention of a large crowd who he pointedly refused to speak to. He then refused to answer any questions while his assistant distributed his writings.

[18]This is particularly evident in his late career essay, “On the Structure of the Japanese System.” (1984) See Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis. Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 184. In this essay, Japan is conceived of as a system where the black hole (the emperor) continually disperses and swallows particles (the people).

[19] Quoted in Anne Tronche, Tetsumi Kudo: la montagne que nous cherchons est dans la serre. (Lyon: Fage Editions, 2007), 44.

[20]  Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis. Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 104.

[21]  Figuration Narrative: Paris, 1960-1972: Galeries Nationales Du Grand Palais, Paris, 16 Avril – 13 Juillet 2008; Institut Valencià D’art Modern, Valence, 19 Septembre 2008-11 Janvier 2009. (Paris: Réunion des Musées nationaux, 2008), 21-22.

[22] Ibid., 22.

[23] This is particularly the case in American criticism of Kudō. See Mike Kelly’s “Cultivation by Radioactivity” in Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis. Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008)50-57 and R. Holmberg’s “Dystopia Man.” (Art In America 97, (3), 2009), 96-103.

[24] Situating Kudō in the wake of the failed Leftist protests against ANPO (Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan), Adriasola argues that “[a]fter moving to France in 1962, Kudō Tetsumi began working on objects that directed a relentless attack on the signifiers of postwar society’s bourgeois aspirations. Using as basic material the refuse of middle-class life, Kudō devised an elaborate imaginary that lampooned the banality of everyday rituals and criticized the aspirations of postwar society.” Ignacio Adriasola, “Melancholy Sites: The Affective Politics of Marginality in Post-Anpo Japan (1960-1970).” (Ph.D. diss. Duke University, 2011), 67. Adriasola’s argument rests on privileging the kind of humanism that Kudō mocks. He does this by blatantly ignoring virtually all of Kudō’s written statements and interviews and abstracting his work into a purely Left wing theoretical dimension.

[25]Marente Bloemheuvel, Toos van Kooten, Jan van Adrichem, Andrew May, and Kröller-Müller Museum. Windflower: Perceptions of Nature. (Rotterdam; Otterlo; New York: NAi Publishers, 2011), 114.

[26] Robert C. Elliott, The Power of Satire: Magic, Ritual, Art. (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1960), 58-59.

[27] Japanese tradition has posed unique problems to satire. For historical speculation of the subject, see Wells, Marguerite A. “Satire and Constraint in Japanese Culture.” in Understanding Humor in Japan. Edited by Jessica Milner Davis. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2006), 206-213. To what degree Kudō’s work belongs to that tradition is debatable.

[28] Ibid., 195-196.

[29] Ibid., 199.

[30] Ibid., 195. The no doubt unconscious fusion of phallic songs and wielding knives seems disturbingly apropos for an artist so invested in severed penises.

[31] A more recent example is Holmberg’s “Dystopia Man.” (Art In America 97, (3): 2009), 96-103.

[32] Anne Tronche, Tetsumi Kudo: la montagne que nous cherchons est dans la serre. (Lyon: Fage Editions, 2007), 96.

[33] Ibid., 96.

[34] Ibid., 100. Jouffroy’s casting of Kudō as the paradoxically avant-garde ‘enemy’ of the avant-garde places him in a position akin to that of Wyndham Lewis, an artist-polemicist equally driven by the satirical impulse.

[35]One need only think of Roger Caillois’ “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia” in this respect.

[36] Kenichi Yoshida, “Between Matter and Ecology: Art in Postwar Japan and the Question of Totality (1954-1975).” (PhD diss., University of California, Irvine, 2011), 14.

[37] Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 182.

[38]These works, often made ‘blindly’ by his limbs, traced the dispersion of his action. They would later be echoed by pieces such as Souvenir of Molt – Homo Sapiens 1965 Paris (1965) which took the gestural mark making of the Gutai and suspended it in time, freezing it as the remainder of an extinct species. [Fig. 15]

[39] Ibid., 84.

[40] Ibid., 104.

[41] Ibid., 155.

[42] Anne Tronche, Tetsumi Kudo: la montagne que nous cherchons est dans la serre. (Lyon: Fage Editions, 2007), 99.

[43] Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 130.

[44] Ibid., 131.

[45] Ibid., 131.

[46] Ibid., 154.

[47] Ibid., 156.

[48]Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) would be the most famous instance of the satirical function of grotesque inflation and deflation.

[49] Anne Tronche, Tetsumi Kudo: la montagne que nous cherchons est dans la serre. (Lyon: Fage Editions, 2007), 45, who continues a reading inflected with existentialist considerations on 49-53.

[50]Aurelia Roman. “How to Tame Death: Ionesco’s La Vase. Dissolution and/or Transcendence.” (The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms, 2:1 (1997)), 175.

[51]. See Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 37, 244-249 and Anne Tronche, Tetsumi Kudo: la montagne que nous cherchons est dans la serre. (Lyon: Fage Editions, 2007), 64-72.

[52] John G. Hatch Jr, “On the Various Trappings of Daniel Spoerri.” Art Margins (2003). http://www.artmargins.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=259:on-the-various-trappings-of-daniel-spoerri

[53]Ionesco’s face reappeared in a more decayed state, his hands clutching an aquarium filled with (presumably) his brain and a floating phallus, in Your Portrait (1970-1974).

[54] Aurelia Roman, “How to Tame Death: Ionesco’s La Vase. Dissolution and/or Transcendence.” (The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms, 2:1 (1997)), 182.

[55] “All of Ionesco’s writings, from his first poems and journals to the last play, raise the same cry of anguish against the destiny of humanity, and to such a degree, that the critic Rosette Lamont forged a special dramatic category, that of “metaphysical farce,” in order to describe the theatrical works of the dramatist.” Ibid., 178.

[56] Mary Ann Witt, “Eugène Ionesco and The Dialectic of Space.” (Modern Language Quarterly 33.3 (1972)), 312 and  Aurelia Roman, “How to Tame Death: Ionesco’s La Vase. Dissolution and/or Transcendence.” (The European Legacy: Toward New Paradigms, 2:1 (1997)), 176.

[57]  Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 104.

[58]  Ibid., 102.

[59] For a broad account of eroticism in post-war Japanese popular and avant-garde culture, see Ian Buruma’s Behind the Mask: On Sexual Demons, Sacred Mothers, Transvestites, Gangsters, Drifters and Other Japanese Cultural Heroes. (Pantheon Books, 1984).

[60]Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 29.

[61] This was also a major theme in Numa Shozo’s lengthy avant-garde literary satire, Yapoo: The Human Cattle (1970–1999). For more on its commonality in Japanese post-war culture, see Tatsumi, Takayuki. Full Metal Apache: Transactions Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-pop America. Duke University Press, 2006.

[62] For a succinct summary of the cult of the phallus in Shinto, see Ellen Quejada’s “Phallic Worship in Japan, Celebrating the Phallus.” MA diss., (The University of Toronto, 1998).

[63]  Ignacio Adriasola. “Melancholy Sites: The Affective Politics of Marginality in Post-Anpo Japan (1960-1970).” (Ph.D. diss. Duke University, 2011), 27.

[64] “For Reich orgasmic energy was at play between inorganic and organic states, sparking and tingling inside and outside the organism, and, most important, it was distributed throughout the earth’s atmosphere. The orgone box was designed to receive and concentrate this energy and to pass it on to the individual seated inside…” Douglas Kahn, Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1999), 309.

[65]For examples in Kudō’s work see Untitled (1964) and Your Portrait (1963) among many others.

[66]  Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 154.

[67]  Ignacio Adriasola, “Melancholy Sites: The Affective Politics of Marginality in Post-Anpo Japan (1960-1970).” (Ph.D. diss. Duke University, 2011), 72.

[68] Ibid., 76.

[69] Ibid., 71. This was not a position unique to Kudō during the period. One can find elements of it in Marshall McLuhan, particularly in his adoption of certain ideas from Samuel Butler, something also shared by Deleuze and Guattari. See McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1994), 116 and Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983) 284-285. Suffice it to say that McLuhan humanized the human-technological nexus to a far greater degree than Deleuze and Guattari or Kudō.

[70]  Kenichi Yoshida, “Between Matter and Ecology: Art in Postwar Japan and the Question of Totality (1954-1975).” (PhD diss., University of California, Irvine, 2011), 63.

[71]  Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 197.

[72]  Ignacio Adriasola, “Melancholy Sites: The Affective Politics of Marginality in Post-Anpo Japan (1960-1970).” (Ph.D. diss. Duke University, 2011), 65.

[73]  Tetsumi Kudō, Tetsumi Kudo: Garden of Metamorphosis Edited by Doryun Chong. (Walker Art Center, 2008), 104.

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