Origins of Japanese Media Art: Artists Embracing Technology from 1950s to Early 1970s


Session Title:

  • Media Histories: Japan

Presentation Title:

  • 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.

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