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

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Usually regarded as the most homogeneous and the most sharply outlined, a closer inspection of the Lee + Tamabi Connection MONO-HA reveals in fact just how multifarious the whole MONO-HA in a larger sense were. It is indeed largely for this reason that we have coined our definition of the movement as being a group of artists who ventured to bring out the artistic expression of things and their functions, bare and undisguised, giving those things a starring role.

One should not, however, overvalue such a group phenomenon. Should their members not have succeeded in establishing through direct contact with things, a new artistic language that is fundamentally new and unique, not merely as 'parole' but also s 'langue', then their adventure would have remained confined to the numerous and ephemeral gesticulations of resistance, if not sheer deviation or escape from the excruciating problems imposed by artistic creation. Such phenomena of resistance are often invented by youthful ardour to escape art's requirements, and should we find them within so called New Art (Shinko Geijutsu) or even within Avant-Garde Art (Zenei Geijutsu), two of modern Japan's forte, they shouldn't be allowed to be put forward as suitable representatives of Japan's modern and contemporary arts. In this country's republic of critics there is a tendency to rate excessively high, as evidence of their being avant-garde, or a warrantable expression of unwestern sensibility, those artistic irresponsibilities or, at best, those naivetes that disregard form, and which were a must for the "GUTAI" group around 1960 or the MONO-HA movement around 1970. Such a way of looking at things, however, is tantamount to measuring Japanese art against a Western yardstick by echoing, without being aware of the harm that's being done that Euro-American inclination to appraise only non-western elements Japanese art. None of these general symptoms, like, for instance, unconcern or indifference to the techniques or forms flaunted by the MONO-HAs, a passive attitude towards the processes unifying craft and imagination, an excessive reliance upon nature, a sort of conceptualism in formula, or a systematic banishment of colors and hues, were embracing in themselves any positive or valuable element.

If one looks at the MONO-Has with the synchronic eyes and sees in them only a transient group phenomenon, one may regard them as belonging to one of the quite numerous air pocket phenomena doomed to oblivion that came wedging not infrequently into the stream of Japanese modern art as it strove for maturity. Air pockets of that kind, rather similar to the violence of war, while ruining plenty of things history has built up, or was about to build up, modify completely the relationship between things by bringing about a revolution within people's awareness. Whether or not art that accompanies such turmoil necessarily gives birth to forms that are new is another question.

If that is the case, shouldn't the MONO-HA possess the slightest element allowing a positive assessment? Of course not! For those people who tried to ward off that air pocket phenomenon, be it MONO-HA should have enough momentum to change positively their orientation by, as the case may be, tapping new relationships or redeveloping old relationships. The molding of a new artistic language that truly can stand on it's own legs within a frame work that is genuinely MONO-HA, as I already pointed out before, has been carried on by Kishio Suga, and even now is still in progress. This, of course, doesn't mean that the undertakings aimed at the re-exploitation of traditional languages are in any way insignificant. Let's take Susumu Koshimizu, for example, who, thanks to an awakening to the thinking of historicity, broke a trail leading to a deeper understanding of the absolute necessity of the handwork, the manual labor, by fastening together in very close relationships the things as a theme of "existence" and "existing being", which always remained isolated during the MONO-HA period. It wasn't so much that he went back to the old forms of sculpture, but rather that he brought about to Japanese sculpture's history a new degree of awareness by letting his MONO-HA's personal experience acquire flesh through a critical approach. What's more, the fact that an authentic group of sculptors were able to criticize, some ten years later, at the beginning of the eighties, ignorance of manual technique, the quasi monistic inclination towards nature and the erasure of the vision, which were all MONO-HA mottoes, should be welcomed as a "Post-MONO-HA", in short, a kind of Post War maturity. And it is correct to regard those sharp critics as the authentic MONO-HA heirs, much more so than those practicians of 'installation art' who are their mere followers, blind and incontinent.

Besides this, if one goes to the trouble of looking with diachronic eyes (i.e. not from the viewpoint of evolutionary theory) at the course followed by each artist and the course of Japanese artistic circles as a whole, it is quite clear that the MONO-HA period was one pregnant with deep significance, but only for these people who tried to live while criticizing it internally. And this is a sign that while it meant an eruption of consciousness, it also meant its severance, while being inspiration, it also meant disaster, divisions that had to be broken through, spells and falsity and above everything, it meant that a fair amount of violence had to sweep through the domain of art. This should be reason enough why MONO-HA should not be mistakenly transformed into a myth as was GUTAI. Even now, this is a challenge for us, and we must deal successfully with it.
(August 15, 1986)
(translated by Jean Campignon)