Group Genshoku (Genshoku=“illusion”) is currently positioned as a harbinger to the Mono-ha post-war Japan avant-garde art movement. This reading is the result of the curatorial framework of the Mono-ha Reconsidered exhibition (the National Museum of Art, Osaka, 2005), which unearthed the effectively forgotten Genshoku only to rebury it as something which never achieved the heights of the later Mono-ha. I would argue that the truth may not be this reductive. The Genshoku movement enjoyed too multi-faceted a development to be explained away so simply. Given that the two major exhibitions which announced their presence, Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes (Muramatsu Gallery / Tokyo Gallery, 1968) and the 10th Tokyo Biennale Between man and matter (Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1970,) contained such extreme contrasts, even bundling them both to one movement is challenging. As regards their relationship to Mono-ha, Koike Kazushige’s installation of a piled volume of natural stones, presented at the latter exhibition, sits squarely within the Mono-ha canon.
How then shall we reappraise the fact that Genshoku’s activities weren’t just pre-Mono-ha, but from certain point represented an early realization of the Mono-ha aesthetic, mindful that we don’t want to contaminate the uniqueness of Genshoku with the later Mono-ha movement. Or better yet, how should we best untether Genshoku’s practice from this framework of established anteroposterior relations, and the modern institutionality which Ishiko Junzo, art critic and Genshoku leader, found so detestable.
This summer I had the honor of being invited to co-curate a section of the Busan Biennale 2016 presenting avant-garde art of Japan, South Korea, and China. It was a momentous opportunity and one which I will describe in detail elsewhere, but suffice it to say that in this critical venue one of the works I felt essential to include was by Suzuki Yoshinori from Genshoku. Even though the work had already been promised for this Kamakura Gallery re-Genshoku exhibition, I was kindly granted permission to show it in Busan instead. Why then did I feel it so important to include this work by Suzuki in this important international exhibition?
Suzuki’s work is critical to understanding the distance Genshoku traveled from Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes to Between man and matter. If one hopes to understand its “pre-Mono-ha” essence, the proposed extent of Genshoku, then Suzuki’s work is most clearly distinctive. The nature of the exercise is completely different depending on whether you affix phenomenon of insubstantial perception to “trick” or “vision”. If the former, we are speaking of the level of intended artifice. If the latter, then we must discuss the difficulty of quantifying the subject. In this regard, Suzuki’s core “trick,” of appropriating imagery and institutionality of Western art makes him the Genshoku artist furthest from Mono-ha’s ”trick” of
It’s a mistake to see Suzuki’s practice as simply creating amusing ’troupe l’oeil’ incorporating famous Western paintings. On the contrary, his treatment of art history as a sort of database, separated from the subjective act of production, outputting (instead of creating) it by mechanical operations, enlarging and reducing, reversing its symmetry, clearly shows that he was anticipating the kind of plasticity paintings would undergo due to the advent of information processing technology. Therein dealing with art as database, it also separates him substantially from spatial operations or perception by topology, which were the popular subject of that day.
Such deviations from dominant readings can also be found in Koike Kazushige, who seems the furthest from “tricks” per se. I learned this when I was allowed to investigate the garden in his home after he passed away to prepare for an exhibition (*) that I discovered, within the ecosystem, the lack of distinction between rocks which had been part of his artistic practice and those which hadn’t, and saw that most of them actually seemed to belong somewhere between. It reminded me of visiting the Koshu region in 2007, the year before he passed, (West of Tokyo, North of Mr. Fuji) guided by Koike himself, walking the path of ancient maruishigami (round stone “gods”,) and Koike regaling me with his readings of “biologies” and “systems” as we followed the round stone tracks, some of them left as they had been since ancient times, some of them gone without a trace, and some moved to other locations.
After the 60s Koike presumably had satisfied his curiosities about the playfulness of perception, and while inspired by newly emerging non-representative art movements, still understood arts potential not in one-time-only non-repeatability, such as one might gain from “encounters” with “mono (objects)” but rather within its system, which continue like life, through generating connections and repetitions. This, of course, is again of a completely different conception than Mono-ha, supported as it was by the anti-production and static equilibrium of things. His was, rather, prolific and in the long term even dynamic. Indeed in his final years Koike was making bio-systems which seem like miniature gardens, and which also lead to Suzuki’s curiosity about apprehending Western art history not as a completed thing, but rather as a temporary “copy/paste” from a total fluid system.
My approach, therefore, is that we assess this productivity, which I’m tempted to call inorganic biomorphic, for other Genshoku artists as well, each based on individual motive. Their passion to approach invisible gen (vision/illusion) isn’t directly linked to assessing modernism through things. After all, a vision is never an object.
*“Junzo Ishiko and maruishigami” exhibition, CCCA Art Plaza, Yotsuya, Tokyo, 2010
Translated by David d’Heilly