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A group of voices accompanies me in the exhibition. They are singing words I cannot comprehend, yet the warm tunes are familiar: folk songs, love songs, songs of longing. There are letters, too. They speak of the quotidian details of a soldier's life: the hardness of the war, sending money to the family, and longing for familiar landscapes, food,...

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There has been a flurry of triennial and biennial art activity in Japan this year. The Aichi Triennale opened in Nagoya this August, sparking a national debate about the shutting down of a display of formerly censored works—the result of public backlash against a burnt image of Emperor Hirohito and a statue commemorating the women forced into...

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Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum Ocula Insight | Video Mark Bradford’s Call for Unity at Shanghai’s Long Museum 16 August 2019

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Ocula Report

Ocula Report: Re: play 1972/2015 – Restaging “Expression in Film ‘72” at MOMAT, Tokyo

Stuart Munro Tokyo 6 January 2016
Image: Exhibition view: Re: play 1972/2015 - Restaging “Expression in Film ’72”, 2015, at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. Photo: Kioku Keizo

In 1972, 16 local artists all of whom were connected to the city in some way and all of whom were experimenting with film and video agreed to participate in an exhibition at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. Lasting for just two days (14 to 16 October) The 5th Exhibition of Plastic Art: Expression in Film, 1972—Thing, Place, Time and Space: their Equivalent values in cinema was an unrehearsed affair. The catalogue that accompanied it—a set of loose and interchangeable cards stripped of any format—reflected the exhibition’s form, one that was contrary to the established ways and means of presenting film and video. Forty-three years later, MOMAT re-staged this show with the intention to expose changing tastes and values by uncovering what survived it. It also afforded an opportunity to speculate on the whereabouts of work that was presented in it, but which, over time, has been lost. MOMAT’s exhibition, entitled Re: play 1972/2015 – Restaging “Expression in Film ’72”, treats the original premise as an idea that remains relevant today.

Image: “Expression in Film '72”, 1972, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. Photo: Matsumoto Shoji
The 1972 show represents the first exhibition in Japan to dedicate itself exclusively to film and video. The Kyoto Open Air Sculpture Exhibition of 1968 in Okazaki Park, and the subsequent Outdoor Plastic Art ‘69 featured early attempts to work with the social space of sculpture and filmic projection, as did the The Exhibition of Plastic Art in 1970, but the later relied heavily on sculpture, and the former two exhibitions were also not dedicated exclusively to film or video. A fourth event in 1971 did take things further by making the physical experience of both the cinema space and film-image centrally important, yet those involved had misgivings about the exhibition and the outcome appeared to quiver between being either about film or sculpture: it was neither about one thing or the other.

Within the group of 16 participating artists—Keigo YAMAMOTO, Etsutomu KASHIHARA, Norio IMAI, Nobuo YAMANAKA, Kaoru ISHIHARA, Noriaki MIYAGAWA, Satoru SHOJI, Shoji MATSUMOTO, Hidetoshi NAGASAWA, Tatsuo KAWAGUCHI, Naoyoshi HIKOSAKA, Saburo MURAOKA, Keiji UEMATSU, Shigehide YONEZU, Hitoshi NOMURA and Yoshio UEMURA—there were members who had already exhibited video work that year. Confirmation by its action No.1 (1972) by YAMAMOTO—the first work you see when you enter the MOMAT exhibition—was exhibited during 1972, with the group VIDEO HAROBA at Tokyo’s Sony Building. But it was the Exhibition of Plastic Art ’72 that became the real focus point for all involved: Provocative and headstrong, Expression in Film ‘72 was especially important for being far from Tokyo.

Image: “Expression in Film '72”, 1972, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. Photo: Matsumoto Shoji
The exhibition’s driving force, an absolute need to make contact with the world, was vividly expressed in Number 1 (1971) by NAGASAKI, which shows the artist running his fingers along a brick wall or a flagstone path.

YONEZU’s double-sided piece Untitled (1972), presents the concept of performance being necessarily something to be shared; the screen is an object the audience are encouraged to move around, treated as anything other than flat. Presented as it was originally made—though digital projectors now replace the inoperative film projectors that remain present—the simple piece is incredibly provocative.

Over time, some works have been either misplaced or have disappeared completely. The existence of In Fiction in Ghost in Fiction in Ghost in Fiction in Ghost (1971) by MATSUMOTO remains a complete mystery. While photographic records counter the idea that the work was never originally shown, it’s place in the MOMAT exhibition is outlined in-situ. For Film duet: upright sea (1971) by HIKOSAKA, a giant reel of 8mm film loops between two distant projectors and the film of accumulated marks and scratches is now digitally projected on opposite walls.

And while absent works are shown in outline, some works are completely ‘re-staged’ as giant props, with YAMANAKA stating that his life-size Pinhole camera (1972) “…wasn’t made for photographs, it was made for movies. I made a square box, drilled a hole in it, and when people went inside, they could watch the film that was projected there.”

As the original title suggests, this equivalence of ‘Thing’, ‘Place’, ‘Time’ and ‘Space’, considers the ‘Plastic Art Exhibition’ series shifted attention, treating the space of both the audience and film as equivalent and important. While interactive and nonlinear filmmaking were rid of the necessity that both audience and filmmaking demand of each other: to demonstrate a degree of common sense.

Image: “Expression in Film '72”, 1972, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. Photo: Matsumoto Shoji
While NAGASAWA's Number 1 (1971) is clear and direct, KASHIHARA’s Let's wash your feet (1972) intentionally goes out of it’s way to avoid narrative altogether, embracing humour whenever possible as anathema to convention. YAMAMOTO’s Confirmation by its action No.1 (1972) and KAWAGUCHI’s Two points of view and scene (1972) nearby, both rely on there being someone on both sides of the camera. Like other foreign artists at that time—Vito Acconci with Centers (1971) and Bruce Nauman with Lip Sync (1969)—what’s behind the camera often describes what’s happening on the screen.

While Expression in Film ‘72 echoed the postwar landscape and changing Japanese countryside, the works now at MOMAT have accrued new meaning. The ‘equivalence’ of ‘Thing’, ‘Place’, ‘Time’ and ‘Space’, now query the types of artwork and media that have happened since, amidst a landscape of changing technology. Yet, when all of this exhibition would easily exist online or sit within a pocket-sized device, neither development would get as close to expressing these ideas and expressions in film so immediately or so vividly. —[O]
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