This exhibition being organized by the Kamakura Gallery is based on two previous exhibitions. One is “Ishiko Junzo and Friends: Focusing on the Gen-Shoku Group,” held at the Rainbow Museum of Modern Art (in what was then Shimizu City) in 2001, and the other was “Gen-Shoku 1968,” held in the gallery of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture in 2002. Some people may wonder why the venerable Kamakura Gallery is interested in a group of artists from Shizuoka. However, if we think about what may be described as the love-hate relationship between Gen-Shoku and the Mono-ha, this interest may be more understandable. Gen-Shoku was one of the sources of the Mono-ha whether it wanted to be or not.
Five artists are presented here. In alphabetical order, they are lida Shoji, Koike Kazushige, Maeda Morikazu, Suzuki Yoshinori, and Niwa Katsuji. There is no doubt that these five men were the core members although there was a certain amount of turn over in Gen-Shoku as in any artists’ group. All of them made artworks that incorporated visual tricks while they were active in Gen-Shoku, even if this is not true of their current work.
The word “trick” has always had a negative connotation. To describe their work in a different way, one might say that they performed conceptual manipulations in order to question the nature of vision. The great summation of this tendency in art was the legendary exhibition, “Tricks and Vision,” held at Tokyo Gallery and Muramatsu Gallery in 1968. I have written elsewhere on this exhibition (Research Bulletin of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture, vol.2, March 2002), so l would ask the reader to refer to that article for more detailed information.
The year 1968 was a year turmoil throughout the world as well as in Japan. Evidence for this can be found in the number of books and art exhibitions devoted exclusively to that year. Gen-Shoku flared up most brilliantly in 1968. Why did its visually “tricky” art emerge at this time? Not all the facts are known for certain, but l believe that one important influence was Takamatsu Jiro, a superstar at the time. Takamatsu had been working on his Shadow series since 1964, and he had contact with the members of Gen-Shoku through the critic lshiko Junzo. I have asked the Gen-Shoku artists about this Many times, but they do not seem to remember clearly. It is common for artists to have difficulty talking about how they were influenced by another artist.
The word Gen-Shoku is made up of the ideographs for “illusion” and “touch,” and as it implies, these artists attempted to touch illusions in their work, whether painting or object. Ironically, the tricks were more obvious than the intentions of the artists. In the opinion of one of the group members, viewers should look for the vision rather than the trick, but it is difficult to make such a deep reading. It was a time when many people were talking passionately about Heidegger’s theories of being, Sartre’s existentialism, and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, and artists were no exception. Investigations of “being” and “seeing” were carried out in art as well as philosophy. As everyone knows, impetus was given to this tendency by the ideas of the fine critic Miyakawa Atsushi and the artist Lee Ufan, father of the Mono-ha. The members of Gen-Shoku held frequent study sessions as well as exhibitions. They were infected by the same disease as many other artists at the time.
It is simple to talk about questioning the nature of being and seeing but not easy to show itin works of art. Members of Gen-Shoku used the classical method of trompe l’oeil in painting and tricks that reversed the effects of perspective in object. In recent years, the mechanism of seeing has been investigated in many fields as well as philosophy. According to the latest research on the physiology of the brain, “Seeing a thing is an act that distorts the thing, involving a kind of bias” (Iketani Yuji, Shinka shisugita no (The Too Highly Evolved Brain), Asahi Shuppansha, 2005). Seeing has never been pure, even when examined without the use of optical tricks. By the same token, even if we understand the Mono-ha theory of encountering the world as it is without letting it become an object under our gaze, it is not easy to actually achieve this sort of experience. For example, what are we to make of this? “What l refer to here as things as they are is actually a phenomenon of the world in direct intuition, and does not refer to simple objects given form by facts” (Lee Ufan, Deai wo motomete (In Search of Encounters), Tabata Shoten, 1982).
As we can see from one member’s statement, that he would like to be known for his work after Gen-Shoku, the position of Gen-Shoku is rather uncertain even for the people directly involved. Since Gen-Shoku, some of the members became close to the Mono-ha, working with natural materials. Some advanced to conceptual art and some became involved in political struggle. Even for the members (and for lshiko, who could be called the father of Gen-Shoku), it may have been necessary to overcome the tendency represented by Gen-Shoku rather quickly. Just the same, it is necessary to reexamine the achievement of Gen-Shoku, its questioning of the nature of artmaking through a revelation of the arbitrariness of seeing (the system of seeing). Questioning the nature of making eventually ended in the abandonment of making (as in the Mono-ha) and led to a type of art that is not made (art that is, strictly speaking, created through the method of “not making”). Finally, I would like to say a word about lshiko. In recent years, with a new wave of reappraisal of past and present subcultures, the theoHes of lshiko are once again attracting attention. Two books that document discussions about him are largely responsible for this, Ishiko Junzo to sono nakamatachi (Ishiko Junzo and Friends), published by the Rainbow Museum of Modern Art in 2002 and lshiko Junzo wa ima...(Ishiko Junzo Now...), published by the same museum in 2004. These two books contain many interesting testimonies from people involved in the movement at the time.
professor, Shizuoka University of Art and Culture (Translated by Stanley N. Anderson)