I am so obsessed with the Gutai Collective. They were such originals and complete badasses who really put the Japanese avant guard on the map. So, I am pretty freaking excited that my last ever college assignment was a research paper for my Arts of Japan class, titled “Breaking the Rules and Bridging the Gap: Violence and Play in the Gutai Art of Postwar Japan.”
In particular I am really excited about the work of Tanaka Atsukoand had fun analyzing her Electric Dress from 1956 for my paper:
“It is by far Tanaka’s most recognized work and shows both an interest in new technology and a reference to the past fashions of Japanese women. The Electric Dress is a costume made entirely from light bulbs, electric cables, and enamel paint. Tanaka painted oblong bulbs in bright enamel colors to create a Technicolor spectacle. The artist wore her dress around the gallery and interacted with the piece in a playful and physical way. . Visually this piece is incredibly playful and embodies the Gutai principles of originality and innovation. It is frivolous and absurdist and would never have been permitted during the severity of World War II and occupied Japan.
This celebration of technology and of electricity looks eagerly to the future. However, there is a violence and danger to her work as well. As one can imagine, being incased in a cocoon of bright florescent blubs would have been extremely hot and rather dangerous. ‘It was at once a flashy costume that seduced the eye and the imagination, and an unsafe instrument that threatened to electrocute the wearer, tear down the boundaries of painting, and make uncanny reference to the effects of nuclear war.’ The political climate of Japan postwar Japan was ever present in the work of Gutai artists as they constantly grappled with the shock of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in July of 1945. This bright and cheerful outfit was also a source of fear and anxiety for the artist. The vast and inspiring potential of new technology could only exist with the looming fear of nuclear power and destruction. Tanaka’s Electric Dress exists in a space between joy and terror and draws on both the future and the past. Like other works of the Gutai collective, it looks to the global art conversation while remaining intimately tied to Japan’s historic and cultural past.”
What a badass!