Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York

By Midori Yoshimoto | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

This study is the first in-depth and comparative examination of the Japanese women artists Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, Takako Saito, Mieko Shiomi, and Shigeko Kubota. These artists made significant contributions to the development of international performance and intermedia art in the 1960s by bridging avant-garde art movements in Japan, the United States, and, to some extent, Europe. Unusually courageous and selfdetermined, they were among the first Japanese women to leave their country to explore their artistic possibilities in New York. While some other Japanese women artists left Japan around the same time, this thesis focuses on these five artists because they departed from traditional art making toward unconventional art forms such as performance art.

While the term performance art did not disseminate until the late 1970s, I am using the term retroactively to refer to an art form that emerged in the early twentieth century and was revived in the 1960s, in which artists employ their own bodies as means of artistic expression.1 I also occasionally use the term performative, an adjectival form of performance, which was originally coined by the philosopher J. L. Austin and was later applied by art historian Kristine Stiles to describe the ontological nature of the Fluxus movement. Stiles used performative in the sense that “the ‘meaning’ of many Fluxus events resides precisely in the act of their performance.”2 Building upon these former usages, I characterize the art of these five women artists as performative because the utmost value is found in its performativity. Their works often involve actions, whether they are part of their creative process or viewers’ interactions.

In addition to performance art, this study also examines other intermedia works by these five Japanese artists. The term intermedia was revived in 1965 by Fluxus artist Dick Higgins, who discovered it in the writings of the poet Samuel Coleridge. With this term, Higgins referred to the “field between the general area of art media and those of life media”—in other words, otherwise indefinable media that fall between preexisting categories.3 The term was overpopularized internationally in the late 1960s and became conflated

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