Tactical Museum Tokyo began life in 2004 as my online research archive on alternative art practices in Japan, a place to collate information, networks and thoughts on the tactical aspects of art. Six years on, as I have hopefully indicated in various posts here, the conditions for contemporary art in Japan have changed in significant ways. One of the more pertinent has, I think, been the effects of broader privatization policies initiated by Prime Minister Koizumi which has altered the fabric and framework of public museums and funding. The past two years has seen the emergence of various art-connected initiatives and projects that move into the terrain of what in Europe and the US has variously been called art activism, intervention or socially/ politically engaged practice. Events like Creative Time Summit: Revolutions in Public Practice which happened in New York in October 2009 may indicate a summation or coming together to share experiences and futures. Whereas much of the discussion around alterity in relation to Japanese art has been conducted around a discourse of 'alternative art spaces' and non profits, I feel that there has been a shift recently, or perhaps more appropriately, a broadening out of the discussions to encompass many different approaches and kinds of practice. This is partly a question of generational shift, as pioneering 'alternative space' artists from the 1990s such as Masato Nakamura of Command N has moved into a more strategic role as Director and founder of the soon to open Chiyoda Arts Center, 3331. Non profit groups like my own AIT is in its tenth year, and thus qualifies, in Japanese terms, as an 'old' or veteran practice.
I use the term predicament in the title intentionally, because I do feel that this area remains isolated within the arts scene as well as within any broader social movement or emergence of organised radical politics. This may not be at all a negative thing. In contrast to the Euro-American emphasis on Mouffian antagonism or a Negrian sense for direct action, I do feel that very different methods may be more appropriate for the Japanese context. Those times when direct street protest or action are enacted here by art-related people, I cannot help but see something related to cosu-play, a formalised and ultimately self-circular mannerism. I do strongly feel that quite different creative avenues and means need to be enacted or excavated from the realities embedded here. Many of the practices rounded-up here may point to such avenues. I am also very interested in something which tends, by its very nature, to remain un-noticed or un-reported. This is a long tradition of quiet dissent, of largely rural withdrawal which emphasizes not so much a call to action and common movement, but something based in changing the individual life and mind, and thereby realizing different ways within this society. This is a tradition that probably encompasses the strategies of Gandhi, but also late nineteenth century English Socialist-Anarchists like Edward Carpenter and Taisho era radical thinkers like Sanshiro Ishikawa. If anything, I feel that it has been this avenue of near silent revolution which characterizes a Japanese radical potential, not simply in its 'purified' and at times highly fascistic forms as Zen Buddhism, but in the many small individual or community generated ways of doing things that don't follow dominant state or media lines of thinking. It does seem that many of the more recent practices lean on aspects of this quiet dissent, crafting voices and spaces via web, radio, zine or other means.
So here goes with a very partial and subjective round-up:
The ongoing privatization of Miyashita Park and the activities of 246 Hyougen-Sha Kaigi, with Yoshitaka Mouri of Geidai supporting - UK IndyMedia reporting, and artist Hikaru Fujii's Nike related works, and NikePolitics.
Critic Noi Sawaragi gives a good contextual overview of recent art activism in his ArtIt 2009 review.
Read the curators statement for the upcoming Roppongi Crossing 2010 at The Mori Art Museum. There is a 'street' art element within the exhibition and their framing of current practice within the shadow of Dumb Type should be interesting.
IllCommons Japanese blog of artist Masanori Oda, who I worked with for the first Yokohama Triennale in 2001. He seems to be one of the key artist figures involved in many protest actions. I saw him at a Miyashita Park concert and at CREAM, Yokohama.
Korosu-Na event held at former Yamamoto Gendai gallery space in 2003, organised by critic Noi Sawaragi. See the guest line up for other names.
remo, non profit video and media space in Osaka, who have run lectures and seminars covering radical thinkers including Hardt & Negri and Maurizio Lazzarato.
remo hosted one section at CREAM, video festival held last year in Yokohama, titled 'Activism 3.0 (as-yet-untitled) - New Activist-Artists Against Capitalism in the World After The Lehman-Shock' - Information.
CREAM Lab space hosted many socially-engaged art spaces and initiatives, and their twitter page is here, and they keep a blog here. There is another blog with video etc from the Lab called activism3cream.
Scroll down the page to see the related events and symposium held at the Beuys in Japan exhibition just ended at Art Tower Mito.
Yesterday AIT organised a discussion as part of the Tokyo Art Point Project between artist and blogger (in Japanese) Hiroshi Fuji and environmental and community activist Hiroshi Iijima of the Asaza Project.