MINEMURA Toshiaki "What was 'MONO-HA' ?"
(from 1986 catalogue of MONO-HA exhibition at Kamakura Gallery)
The word MONO-HA, whose literal meaning is 'school of things', designates a group of artists in Japan who were active both before and after the year 1970, and who attempted to bring out some artistic language from "things" as they stood, bare and undisguised, by letting them appear on the stage of artistic expression, no longer as mere materials, but allowing them a leading part.
Although it was in the first half of the seventies that these artists ferst found acceptance, their popularity spreading like wildfire, it can be said that the original form of the school dates back to the autumn 1968 to May 1969 (or to the beginning of 1970 at latest) period, when the forerunners of the movement first became active. As far as the movement is concerned, the main artistic group instrumental in the evolution of its development were the following: (1) A group that one may call the 'Lee + Tamabi Connection', comprising the artists who were to graduate from Tama Art University, Tokyo, by March 1969 (SEKINE Nobuo, YOSHIDA Katsuro, HONDA Shingo, NARITA Katsuhiko, KOSHIMIZU Susumu, SUGA Kishio) and LEE U-Fan, Sekine's intimate friend. (2) The Geidai Connection, agroup of artists around ENOKURA Koji and TAKAYAMA Noboru who, both graduates of Tokyo University of Art, appeared towards the end of 1969, including also FUJI Hiroshiand HABU Makoto who were to frequently participate later. (3) The Nichidai Connection, students from Nihon University Fine Arts Department, whose central figure was HARAGUCHI Noriyuki. This group is also known as the 'Yokosuka Group' With the exception of SEE U-fan, a Korean who had moved to Japan in 1956 and had studied philosophy at Nihon University and was in his thirties then, all the other protagonists of the movement were youngsters around the age of twenty who were to graduate or finish their postgraduate studies around the time of the student riots towards the end of the sixties. To say that these artists were to get a trauma by the events of the student unrest of those days would be untrue. Rather, it would be more correct to say that they belonged to a generation that could fine in them any positive sign for the historical change.
The name MONO-HA didn't come into existence at the start of the movement at the free will of those artists. Rather, it was at the beginning of the seventies that the word with some connotations of contemptuous indifference came to be used among people-- this author confesses to being one-- who took to examining the MONO-HA phenomenon, especially that of the Lee+Tamabi Group with critical eye. It was for this reason that until quite recently the name sounded quite unpleasant to the ears of the majority of that group, not to mention those of Enokura, Takayama, Haraguchi and others blonging to the Geidai and Nichidai groups who maintain to this day that the term is rather questionable as it was coined to refer to the artworks of the Lee+Tamabi Connection rather than their own.
It might be remembered, too, that the name 'Impressionists' outlived its original invidious connotations, and, what's more, that it was by no means restricted to the original band of artists who joined that now historical group that exhibited at the Nadar Gallery. In the same way, the term MONO-HA has come to encompass a larger group of artists than the Lee+Tamabi Connection for whom it was originally coined. In fact, the term gas come to refer to a more comprehensive and yet more intrinsic tendency that is now historical fact, and which began by a 'spilling over' from the Lee and Tamabi framework.
As I explained before, the MONO-HA appellation designates 'a group of artists, who, before and aafter the year 1970, in Japan, bentured upon bringing out some artistic language directly from 'things' (hence, the words MONO and HA that stand respectively for 'things' and 'school' in Japanese), as they syand, bare and undisguised, by letting them appear on the stage of artistic expression, no more as mere materials but allowing them the leading part'. Hence it is better to hold the view that the term MONO-HA includes all the artists, with out exception, who subscribe to this mode of artistic expression.
The points of similarity between MONO-HA, taken in its broader sense, and 'Arte Pvera', a movement that emerged a little earlier in Italy, are not without coincidental elements, though most of these have to do with background. To explain, there were at the time an ambivalent feeling of both fascination and repulsion towards the products of our industrialized society, a presentiment of the annihilation of pictorial art concomitant with an impending sense of the collapse of the modern society, a heritage of anti-art and anti-formalism from the early sixties, some influences of American Minimal Art, especially its yearning for the state of 'objecthoodness' of art work, and a general conviction that the recovery of art could be achieved through that of nature. Such were the elements that went to form a common background ripe for the emergence of the MONO-HA school in Japan, and enabled it to become a common phenomenon spreading over several groups.
That's why we may reasonably infer that the movement itself began as a reaction, quite coincidentally and yet contemporaneously to a common social and artistic background that was to engender similar movements in the art of 'Arte Povera' in Italy, around the St. Martin's School of Art in London, within the Joseph Beuys circle in Germany, and as Process Art in the United tates. In a similar vein, it was not that the Geidai Group set out to be MONO-HA under the influence of the Lee+Tamabi Connection, nor that the latter embarked on their venture because they knew about the Arte Pvera, but rather that the close relationships of the several groups derive from a common and contemporary background.