MINEMURA Toshiaki "What was 'MONO-HA' ?"
(from 1986 catalogue of MONO-HA exhibition at Kamakura Gallery)


'Existence' however was, fundamentally speaking, a matter of exclusive right belonging to philosophy and sculpture. Though only natural it may be for Lee, who had the advantage of a specialised university course in philosophy, to hold the point of view that the object's overemphasis in modern Europe had to be criticized in favour of an aspiration that seemed more desirable, towards the transparency of the existence, one may wonder how did the MONO-HA of the Tamabi Connection manage to secure a foothold into the insight of a problem of that kind. Curiously enough, and the funniest thing being that it will turn out to be the most signficant peculiarity of the MONO-HA of the Tamabi Connection, it dates back to a very particular movement about pictorial thought that was challenging the most intellectual faction of Japanese artistic circles in the last half of the sixties. To introduce that peculiar pictorial thought, let's say that all things are connected somehow to a strange phenomenon lavishly showing predilection for intellectualistic manipulations of the vision, a concept that started from the first half of the sixties and was promoted through the medium of events like Jiro Takamatsu's Shadow Pictures, the separation-culture experiment of concept and reality organized by the 'Hi-Red-Center' group of three, including Takamatsu, aroused tremendous interest and concern around the image and substance interchangeability as it was advocated by Jasper Johns and Pop Art, and so forth, which then following a swirling motion gradually came into shape, in April 1968, when the press unanimously gave a more than favourable reception to a trompe-l' oeil exhibion of Geoffrey Hendricks, a minor painter. This gave the affair a tremendous jump in popularity, for close on the heels of this that peculiar pictorial thought was to reach its peak with the 'Tricks and Vision' Exhibition. That intellectualistic vision, which even turned out quite a number of times to be metaphysical speculation, consisting in detecting evidence of the absence -- I mean the suppresion of the genuine existence -- within shadows or, more generally, images and configurations (here it must be said that in his youth Takamatsuwas an ardent admirer of De Chirico) --spread broadly among the younger generation through the good offices of Takamatsu and the critics around him. This phenomenon was most conspicuous among students of Tama Art University, where Takamatsu once was a lecturer, where a current built up around the theme of "Absence/Existence", and also in the Shizuoka district where it gabe birth to a group called 'Genshoku'(i.e. Illusion Touch). To show just how popular artistic expression based on intellectualistic visual manipulation had become, it should be remembered that in the year 1968 one could find almost the full complement of the Lee + Tamabi Connection MONO-HA who were later on to take a position at the antipodes of intellectualism, busily engaged in the production of works of that kind, as if dealing with a 'Takamatsu Seminar' homework.

However puerile and frivolous these exercises in visual manipulation appear to be to our eye, for the MONO-HA of the 'Tamabi Connection' who were all students at that time, they were far from being a mere plague that could be done without. For we have the right to assume those exercises to have been a school for sharpening their scrutiny of 'existence' whichturned out to be the most distinctive mark for the MONO-HA of the Lee + Tamabi Connection. As I have already stated, Takamatsu's visual manipulations called into question the discrepancy between vision and real existence, between 'to see' and 'to be'. If, starting from that discrepancy, one directs one's steps towards a distrust in reality, a skepticism for the established balues and all their systems, it could amount to opening the way to an active and practical application of the treacheous visual sense to a mentally subversive deed. (The 'Genshoku' Group walked along that road for some time). On the other hand, if one turns oneself in the direction of looking squarely at that 'to see' and 'to be' discrepancy, after habing first swept away the dust covering the actuality such as habit-forming preconceptions like outward appearances, images, virtual images, epidermis, attributes, and so forth, this attitude evidently should open the way towards a new artistic action that directly encounters the way things are, by clearing, on the critical level, the current intellectualism that makes it a principle to manipulate the sight. Besides, that way ought to fit Takamtsu's primary aim to take a grasp at existence through the medium of absence, while at the method level, it could have been a significant jeap forward.

Infact, when Nobuo Sekine, who, owing to Takamatsu's influence and a fairly good knowledge of phase-geometry, produced, earlier than anybody else, tricky paintings and solids out ot virtual images in the shape of reliefs, released in October 1968, at the Open Air Sculpture Exhibition in Kobe's Sumarikyu Park, and in particular a work in the form of a huge earth cylinder standing beside a cylindrical hole dug in the ground with exactly the same shape and with the same earth volume (<Phase-Earth>), he succeeded in making that tradition of intellectualistic sight manipulation realize, by means of introducing things, a most brilliant conversion from the "ambiguity of seeing" towards the "discovery of to be".

That <Phase-Earth> of Sekine was to bring about a decisive, peremptory awakening to all the other MONO-HA of the Lee + Tamabi Connection, not to speak of Koshimizu and Yoshida who did assist the artist in the production of his work. It is thus reasonable to consider that from that point on they became MONO-HA within their consciousness. Howeber, I think that had they not gone, like Sekine did, through those periods of drilling themselves in the manipulations of intellectualist vision, that is to say, had they not experimented with the separation of 'to see' and 'to be', they would never, at the end of 1968 or after, have directed their actions toward 'existence' with such a lucidity of forms nor with such unison. Thus, one may affirm that, as the seedbed for the Lee + Tamabi Connection MONO-HA, the intellectualist tradition of vision since Takamatsu has shown itself instrumental.