Experimentation and Tradition: The Avant-Garde Play Pierrot Lunaire by Jikken Kobo and Takechi Tetsuji

By Tezuka, Miwako | Art Journal, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview
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Experimentation and Tradition: The Avant-Garde Play Pierrot Lunaire by Jikken Kobo and Takechi Tetsuji


Tezuka, Miwako, Art Journal


During the 19505, after the devastating defeat in World War ?, Japan exerted itself to regain political and economic confidence. Arts and culture played a key role in the country's recovery: the image of a belligerent nation in the recent past needed to be replaced by a new impression of Japan as a peaceful nation of culture; the people were yearning for a return of their cultural life, or simply, entertainments; and, released from the straitjacket that suppressed free expression, artists quickly resumed their creative activities. This essay focuses on one example of the return of arts and culture in activities of the 19505; the crossdisciplinary, intermedia art collective Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop). For many, this group signaled the rebirth of avant-garde art in postwar Japan.

Jikken Kobo consisted of fourteen members: the painters Kitadai ShOzO (1923-200)), Fukushima Hideko (1927-1997), and Yamaguchi Katsuhiro (b. 1928); the printmaker KomaiTetsuro (1920-1976); the composers Fukushima Kazuo (b. 1930), Sato Keijirö (1927-2009), Suzuki Hiroyoshi ( 1931-2006), TakemitsuToru (1930-1996), andYuasa Joji (b. 1927); the poet and critic Akiyama Kuniharu ( 1929- 1996) ; the photographer Ötsuji Kiyoji ( 1923-2001 ) ; the lighting designer Imai Naoji (b. 1928); die pianist Sonoda Takahiro (1928-2004); and the engineer Yamazaki Hideo (19201979). From 1951 to late 1957 Jikken Kobo created a series of works in collaboration with people outside the group and from a. variety of creative fields. The members and their collaborators shared the avant-garde spirit, and above all, they were keenly aware of the urgent need for the rejuvenation and enrichment of cultural life in Japan. The list of the KObo's collaborators reads like a Who's Who of postwar Japanese arts and culture: for example, the acclaimed modern dancers Masuda Takashi and Tani Momoko, the avant-garde film director Matsumoto Toshio, and the actress Kishida Kyoko, recognized internationally for her seminal performance in the film Woman in the Dunes ( 1964). Jikken Kobo also created audiovisual work using a slide projector synchronized with a magnetic tape recorder, with the help of technicians who later named their company SONY.

Many exemplary works of Jikken KObO emerged against the backdrop of increasingly industrializing and modernizing conditions hi postwar Japan, and the group is considered one of the first postwar avant-garde groups to have pursued an amalgamation of art and technology. It has been included in a handful of exhibitions of the postwar Japanese art and has also been itself the subject of exhibitions.1 However, compared to the international fame enjoyed by the contemporary Gutai Bijutsu Kyökai (Gutai Art Association) , Jikken KObO remains elusive to many scholars outside Japan. One particular setback causing the delay of scholarship on this group is its strong affinity to progressive artistic movements of prewar European art, such as the Bauhaus. The similarities to die Western artistic trends, styles, and theories tend to overshadow the KöbÖ's uniqueness in the context of postwar Japan. Its interest and involvement in various traditional disciplines of Japanese arts have been largely neglected, despite the fact that an incentive for such an engagement was present for the Kobo members insofar as they were the product of the specific cultural milieu of 19505 Japan. This article, therefore, concentrates on the discussion of one of the KObo's works, the 19^5 contemporary operatic play entitled Pierrot Limuire (tsuki ni tsukorew pierò) . which attempted to transgress the boundary between the experimentalism of Western modern arts and traditional Japanese arts that were resistant to foreign influences. The play combined the music of Arnold Schoenberg and the aesthetic of Noh theater. True to the group's consistent exercise in collaboration, it was created through a collaboration between Jikken Köbö and the playwright and critic TalcechiTetsuji.

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