[ISEA2011] Paper: Machiko Kusahara – Origins of Japanese Media Art: Artists Embracing Technology from 1950s to Early 1970s


This paper excavates and analyzes works of Japanese artists from 1950s to early 1970s that anticipated media art to come, with original ideas and innovative use of technology.

It is never clear when and where “media art” started. However, it is important to trace back its history and examine what may be called “pre media art” in order to better understand media art today. By exploring postwar Japanese art history retrospectively from today’s media art point of view, elements that have been neglected or put aside can be rediscovered with different meanings.

For example, musique concrete composed by Toru Takemitsu and his collaborators using tape recorders was a part of multidimensional performance that integrated latest electronic audiovisual technology of the time, rather than purely musical experiment. The Gutai artist Akira Kanayama’s drawings using remote-controlled cars with paint tanks were by then introduced as alike of Jackson Pollock’s “all-over” style in the art world outside Japan, neglecting the interesting questions that arose about originality and the role of technology in art. It is important to explore how Japanese artists of the time regarded technology and its relationship to art in the fast-changing postwar society.

The author has been writing, curating and teaching in the field of media art and media studies since early 1980s, meeting many of the pioneers in experimental art. She has presented a paper titled A Turning Point in Japanese Avant-garde Art, 1964-1970 at re:place conference in 2007, which was later included in the book Place Studies in Art, Media, Science and Technology published by VDG-Weimar in 2008, edited by Andreas Broeckmann and Gunalan Nadarajan. This paper is partly the further development of the previous paper, yet written from a different angle and with new research.

  • Machiko Kusahara, Japan, is a scholar in media art, digital media culture and media history. She is a professor at Waseda University, Tokyo, and holds a Ph. D. in Engineering from University of Tokyo for her theoretical study on interplay between media culture, technology, art and society. She came into the field of digital media in early 1980s as a curator, critic and theorist in computer graphics and digital art. Since then she curated, organized, gave lectures and wrote internationally in media art and digital culture, serving as a jury for SIGGRAPH, Ars Electronica, ISEA, Japan Media Arts Festival, International Animation Festival Hiroshima, among many others. She was also involved in launching Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and NTT InterCommunication Center in Tokyo. Currently Prof. Kusahara’s major activities are on two related fields: Device Art and Japanese history of visual entertainment from the 19th century. Device Art is a project that focuses on developing and theorizing a new form of media art that connects art, technology, design and products, with five-year grant from JST (Japan Science and Technology Agency). In the field of media history her research topics include magic lantern (utsushi-e) and panorama among others. The interplay between art, technology, culture and society has been the theme of her research. Her major publications in English include: “Telerobotics and Art -Presence, Absence, and Knowledge in Telerobotics Art” (The Robot in the Garden, MIT Press 2000), “From Ukiyo-e to Mobile Phone Screens – A Japanese Perspective” (Migrating Images, House of World Cultures, 2004), ” They Are Born to Play: Japanese Visual Entertainment from Nintento to Mobile Phones” (Art Inquiry, 2004), “Panorama Craze in Meiji Japan” (Panorama Phenomenon, Mesdag Panorama, 2006), “Device Art: A New Approach in Understanding Japanese Contemporary Media Art” (MediaArtHistories, MIT Press, 2007), “Device Art: Media Art Meets Mass Production”  (Digital by Design, Thames and Hudson, 2008), “A Turning Point in Japanese Avant-garde Art: 1964 – 1970” (Place Studies in Art, Media, Science and Technology, VDG Weimer), ““We Will Open the Panorama-kan”: The Beginning of the ‘Panorama Craze’ in Meiji Japan” (The Panorama in the Old World and the New, International Panorama Council, 2010), “The “Baby Talkie,” Domestic Media, and the Japanese Modern” (Media Archaeology, UC Press, 2011), “Assembling Art, Design, Technology and Media Culture: The Challenge of Japanese Device Art” (Coded Cultures, Springer, 2011).

Full text (PDF) p. 1442-1445