Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, MoMA

As usual, my trip to New York included an afternoon at MoMA. I don’t always research the exhibitions in advance, I just show up and sometimes can be happily surprised. And upstairs from much publicized display of Eduard Munch’s The Scream, I found one such surprise. Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde catalogs the art movements that initially rose out of the ruins of post-war Japan, mixed and blended with international avant-garde trends of the 1960s, and ultimately moved more into alignment with Japanese culture at large.


[Nakamura Hiroshi. Upheaval (Nairanki). 1958. Oil and pencil on plywood. 36 1/4 x 72 7/16″ (92 x 184 cm). Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Nagoya. © Nakamura Hiroshi, courtesy Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Nagoya]

As one might expect, many of the 1950s pieces, only a decade after the end of World War II, are a bit bleak, and in some cases quite absurdist. This is consistent with the rise of butoh in the performing arts during the same period. But we also see examples that share characteristics with abstract expressionism that was happening in the United States at the same time.


[Yamaguchi Katsuhiro. Vitrine: Deep into the Night (Vitorīnu: Yoru no shinkō). 1954. Watercolor on paper, oil on wood, corrugated glass. 25 3/4 x 22 1/4 x 3 9/16″ (65.5 x 56.5 x 9 cm). Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. © Yamaguchi Katsuhiro, courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.]

At the same time, the architectural pieces associated with the Metabolism movement were quite optimistic. Although some were fantastical in their designs such as Tange Kenzo’s A Plan for Tokyo, 1960 , there were a few that were actually built, such as Kurokawa Kisho’s Nakagin Capsule Tower Building.

The span of the exhibition intersects with Fluxus, and a few of the artists featured in last year’s Fluxus 50th anniversary exhibition made appearances here as well. Many of the Japanese artists that would become associated directly or indirectly with movement crossed paths at the Sogetsu Art Center, including Yoko Ono and Ichiyanagi Toshi. Among the pieces documenting this fertile ground were Ono’s Cough Piece and the graphical score Toshi’s IBM for Merce Cunningham. I still find inspiration in pieces like Toshi’s score four decades later.


[Ichiyanagi Toshi. IBM for Merce Cunningham. 1960 (Fluxus Edition announced 1963). Score. Master for the Fluxus Edition, typed and drawn by George Maciunas, New York. Ink, typewriting, and graphite on transparentized paper. 8 1/4 x 11 9/16″ (21 x 29.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift. © 2012 Ichiyanagi Toshi. Photograph by Peter Butler]

I was not at all surprised to see Yoko Ono represented once again in this exhibition. But I was happy to discover Akasegawa Genpei in the exhibition, though his membership in the Hi Red Center.


[Hi Red Center. Hi Red Center poster (recto). Fluxus Edition, edited by Shigeko Kubota, designed and produced by George Maciunas, New York. Edition announced 1965. Offset printing on paper, double-sided. 22 1/16 x 17″ (56 x 43.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift. © The Estate of Takamatsu Jirō, courtesy Yumiko Chiba Associates, Tokyo.]

The Hi Red Center again intersected with the world of Fluxus, even appearing in a Fluxus edition and hosting many associated artists as guests. But beyond that, Akasegawa Genpei was involved in original and sometimes controversial conceptual pieces. In his “Anti Art” objects, I could see that start for his work in the 1980s on “hyperart” or “Thomassons”. (Thomassons have been discussed on this site in earlier articles and will undoubtedly come up again.)

The later section of the exhibition chronicled the transition from the gritty and often monochromatic style of early conceptual art to a brightly colored cartoonish style associated with Japanese Pop Art. It is easy to see the rise of manga and anime in Japanese popular culture in this trend, though the content in these pieces is often more serious and subtle.


[Tateishi Kōichi (Tiger Tateishi). Samurai, the Watcher (Kōya no Yōjinbō). 1965. Oil on canvas. 51 5/16 x 63 3/4″ (130.3 x 162 cm). The National Museum of Art, Osaka. © Estate of Tiger Tateishi, courtesy The National Museum of Art, Osaka.]

Although I quite liked Tateishi Kōichi’s painting shown above and others in this part of the exhibition, overall the pop art did not hold my attention in the way the preceding sections on conceptual art did. But overall, this was a great exhibition that I was happy to come across.

A bit of good news: Japan’s “Cat Island”

Last weekend we mentioned Tashirojima, Japan’s “Cat Island”. The island is populated by perhaps thousands of cats and 100 or so elderly human residents. The fear at first was that the island, right near the epicenter of the earthquake and tsunami, was lost. This week, we saw this article Discovery News reporting that the island survived!

Tashirojima, otherwise known as Japan’s “Cat Island” due to its numerous feline inhabitants, is intact after the recent devastating 9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami, according to Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support. However, like so many others devastated by the disaster, both the human and feline residents of the island need help.

They quote the group Japan Earthquake Animal Relief, which reported the news on their Facebook page:

They quote the group Japan Earthquake Animal Relief, which reported the news on their Facebook page:

Just to give everyone an update on Tashirojima, the cat island. The people and cats are safe but short of food. A volunteer looked into transporting food by boat, but there is too much debris in the water. A helicopter is the only way. The army will probably get a helicopter ready soon so we are looking into the possibility of asking them to take cat food too.

Additional information via this blog post, along with some beautiful photos.

It is a rare bit of good news in a disaster that seems to be getting worse every day, especially now with the nuclear disaster. It could be another round of danger for this island and extraordinary number of people in coming days.

You can support the efforts of Japan Earthquake Animal Relief and see more information on Facebook. They are a coalition of at least two animal-relief organizations working together. World Vets also has a fund for disaster relief in Japan.


I didn’t think it would be possible to make this a “Cat and Synthesizer” post, but I did read via matrixsynth, that is matching donations to SXSW’s Japan relief fund with subscriptions. (Puremagnetik is a subscription service for sound/instrument packs for use with Ableton Live! and other software environments.)

Weekend Cat Blogging 301: A Sad Day

March 11 was a sad day.

It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to our friend Mickey.

As mentioned earlier this week, he fell very ill and passed away on Friday. He (through his mom) first visited us in late 2007, and they have been regulars on our site ever since, as likely to comment on experimental music shows and photography as Luna’s feline antics. And in turn, we enjoyed getting to know them better through their site. Our thoughts go out to Mom Nancy and the rest of the family today.


We have been closely following the tragic events in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami. Images such as these are heartbreaking, and our thoughts are with the people of Japan right now. While every year brings multiple huge disasters, when it happens somewhere you have visited or affects people you know, it hits harder.

Our friends at Cats of Wildcat Woods have compiled a list of relief organizations. The Red Cross is always a good place to start, and now you can donate via text messages.

There is no information currently on Tashirojima, or “Cat Island”, which is off the eastern coast of Japan in Miyagi Prefecture, near epicenter of the earthquake and tsunami, but the fear is that the island was lost.


Weekend Cat Blogging #301 is hosted by Pam at Sidewalk Shoes.

The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at Two Little Cavaliers.

And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Cats of Tokyo

“He wrote me that in the suburbs of Tokyo there is a temple consecrated to cats. I wish I could convey to you the simplicity—the lack of affectation—of this couple who had come to place an inscribed wooden slat in the cat cemetery so their cat Tora would be protected. No she wasn’t dead, only run away. But on the day of her death no one would know how to pray for her, how to intercede with death so that he would call her by her right name. So they had to come there, both of them, under the rain, to perform the rite that would repair the web of time where it had been broken.”

I remembered this scene from Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil of the temple in the suburbs of Tokyo that was dedicated to cats, and when I knew that I was in fact going to be in Tokyo for a couple of days, I decided I would find this temple. It is in fact the Gotoku-ji Temple in the Setagaya ward in the western suburbs of Tokyo.

It really was tucked away in a relatively quiet residential neighborhood, easily missed if one did not know where to find the gate. The temple grounds were very quiet, with very few visitors other than myself.


[click to enlarge]

There is a small building near the large tower in the photo above. I believe it is a side temple of sorts. Behind it is a set of shelves containing hundreds of maneki nekos, or beckoning cats, left as offerings. Indeed, Gotoku-ji claims to be the birthplace of the popular cat figurines.


[click to enlarge]

This was definitely the temple from Sans Soleil, I had succeeded in finding it. And having come this far, I spent a little time to linger in this small, quiet place.

Gotoku-ji is not the only site that claims to be the birthplace of the maneki neko. In Akasuka, not far from the famed Senso-ji temple, is the Imado Shrine.

Like Gotoku-ji, the shrine was tucked away in an alley in a quiet residential neighborhood. It was quite small, but had enough space for gardens, trees and statues leading up to the main building:


[click to enlarge]

Inside on the altar is a pair of large cats:

The one on the left has spots and is the male cat, while the one on the right is the female cat, and together the lucky cats of Imado are supposed bring good fortune to couples or those seeking love. Images of the pair of cats can be found throughout the shrine:


[click to enlarge]

The wooden plaques tied below the image of the cats contain wishes left by visitors. This is a common practice at temples and shrines, but it was specifically here that I chose to leave such a wish myself. Another common practice is selecting a fortune from a box near the shrine – at the Imado temple, each fortune comes with a tiny cat figure. I did get one of these, and of course a few ceramic cats from both Imado and Gotoku-ji.

One cannot help but think a little bit about spiritual things after visiting spiritual places, and a coincidence that occurred soon after leaving Imado contributed. Heading back south towards the Senso-ji temple, I saw a small narrow park, really a stone path lined with trees, and decided to walk in that direction. About halfway, a saw a woman with an open cat carrier, and inside was a black cat with green eyes!


[click to enlarge]
Although we had almost no words in common except basic greetings and “neko”, I was able to express my appreciation of her cat, and showed photos of Luna. “Lady?”, she asked in English. I nodded. She pointed to her own cat and smiled “Boy!”

The symbol of the cat is ubiquitous in Tokyo, spiritually as well as commercially:


[click to enlarge]

In the image above, we see a shop carrying not only an impressive array of maneki neko, but some examples of Japan’s other famous feline symbol, Hello Kitty. I have approximately zero interest in Hello Kitty, but during my trip I did build up a small collection of maneki neko, of which a subset are shown below:

Included are one of the simple ceramics from Gotoku-ji, the tiny cat that came with the fortune at Imado, and a couple of black cats that I found.

Beyond the black cat in the park, I did not see very many live cats during my short visit. Apparently, this is an issue from Japanese ailurophiles as well. There are now several cat cafes around Tokyo, where for a fee one can spend an hour or so interacting with the cafe’s very friendly (and very clean) cats. I did see a cat cafe in Akiabara (an area which will be the focus of one of our next articles), but I did not have time to check it out. However, Akiabara, the center of electronics and anime in Tokyo, will itself be the topic of an upcoming article here at CatSynth.

Wordless Wednesday: Maneki Neko

Test Tone vol. 46, Super-Deluxe, Tokyo

Tokyo has a large electronic music and experimental music scene, and during my brief stay there I wanted to check out at least one show.  I did find the club Super-Deluxe with a calendar full of interesting shows.  On the night of June 9, it Test Tone vol. 46.

This particular program featured international guests artists.  The first act did feature a collaboration between Illinois-based Nick Hoffman and Japanese improvising artistTakahiro Kawaguchi. Unfortunately, I missed a large portion of their set while I attempted to locate the club. It seems that most streets in Tokyo are unmarked, so it’s easy to get turned around, or miss a small side street, so getting to Super Deluxe was a bit of adventure. I wish I had gotten to see more.

The second set featured New York based Object Collection. Object Collection consists of Kara Feely and Travis Just, and their multimedia pieces feature electronic music as well as video and theatre. On this night, they were performing a piece entitled “Gun Sale”. Scenes that could have been from a gun sale somewhere in the urban United States were projected on video, along with fast moving urban landscape. On top of that were Feely’s vocals and Just’s music. Musically, this was precisely the sort of experimental electronic/noise I was looking for on that night (whether or not the artists classify their own music that way is a separate issue), and I remarked in my notes “it’s the real deal”.

The third set was by Swiss computer and electronic music Andrea Valvini, performing a new piece Soleil Rouge. His music incorporates noisy and inharmonic synthesized sounds, of a digital variety (I don’t recall much of the standard filtering) and musical sound effects in complex rhythms. There a basic set of beats in the background, and then odd-meter phrases and loops layered on top of that, some appearing only for a short moment, and some disappearing. The complexity of some of the sounds hides the rhythmic structure for some of the shorter hits. I did have a chance to talk with Valvini after the performance and hear a little bit about his adventures performing in Asia, and share my own experience performing in mainland China.

CatSynth in China Part 3, plus Japan!

Well, my third trip to China in less than half a year begins and the end this week. So for the next couple of weeks, expect fewer cats and synths, and more photos and thoughts from China. Even if it is the latest in a string of work-related trips, there are still plenty of things to explore in such a vast and complex country. And as a bonus, I will also be spending a couple of days in Tokyo! I expect Japan to be a different experience altogether. Expect high technology, modernism, crazy highways and urban landscapes, and of course cats.

During this trip, Luna will be boarding at the same place she stayed during our CatSynth HQ construction adventure. It’s always a bit sad to leave, but good to know that she will be well cared for.