was formed in the late 1950s in the Kansai region by such distinguished
figures as YOSHIHARA Jiro, KANAYAMA Akira, MURAKAMI Saburo, SHIRAGA
Kazuo, and SHIMAMOTO Shozo. The group's activities anticipated the
great changes that Western art underwent in the early 60s, such
as happenings and action painting. Shimamoto may have been the first
composer of the period to work with concrete sounds. In this article,
the artist, who is still based in Kansai and has become ever more
active, introduces his sound work.
In 1957, our group, Gutai, gave the "Gutai Stage Exhibition,"
which for the first time in the world used a stage as an exhibition
space, and the following year, the second "Gutai Stage Exhibition"
was held. Despite the word "stage," our performances lacked
any of the literary qualities of normal drama, and were limited
purely to the presentation of art. Yet, they were presented on the
stage, and were based on time; in other words, they were art that
changed. For this event, I decided to make something called The
Film That Doesn't Exist Anywhere in the World.
is not to say I had any of the equipment necessary to film such
a project, and since this was back in the days when the only money
we had was in our pockets, there was no real way for me to buy it.
At the time, I was a junior high school teacher, and as it happened,
one of my former students was working part-time at a movie theater.
I asked him to bring me some 35mm film that wasn't needed anymore,
and washed away the images with vinegar. Then I drew some pictures
on the surface to make a kind of animation. There weren't any marking
pens back then, so I dissolved some dye in varnish and drew each
of the frames one by one.
these were very rough drawings. In one part of the film, I just
put dots on each of the frames. Because I had pressed down on the
film so crudely, the dots, unlike polished animation, looked as
if they were jumping around when the film was projected. There was
another part of the film that had lines. They seemed to be wavering
back and forth across the screen. I had set out to discover a new
form of visual expression with these crude movements. This wasn't
the only thing I did. By training two projectors with two different
films on a single screen, the picture became even more complicated.
Next, I decided that I needed some music.
here on, my story is about sound. At the time, tape recorders had
just gone on the market. They were still quite large and heavy,
but since a tape recorder would enable me to create sound, this
is what I wanted. So I started recording a variety of sounds. The
result was similar to musique concrete, which in translation would
be gutai music. As a member of Gutai, this seemed perfect, but for
some reason I felt some aversion to the term musique concrete. Although
the sounds used in musique concrete weren't made with pianos or
violins, they were structured and for some reason, this structure
seemed like classical music. It seemed to me that the sounds were
combined in a very traditional way.
Instead, I tried to make the sounds I chose unstructured by ignoring
changes in their strength or length, and recorded them in as natural
a way as I could. This meant, for example, trying to capture the
most ordinary sort of sounds that one might hear in daily life such
as water flowing out of the tap or a chair being pulled out.
the October 23, 1955 Kansai edition of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper,
my recordings were described this way:
"Shimamoto is regarded as a pioneer among the young people
in the Gutai group. He began working in modern art before abstract
paintings received any attention from the general public. He is
a graduate of Kansai University. While studying with the master
painter Yoshihara Jiro, Shimamoto was awarded the Asahi Prize in
the All-Kansai Art Exhibition, and the Association Prize at the
Modern Art Association Exhibition in 1953.
philosophical basis for Shimamoto's paintings is said to owe much
to the influence of his older brother Fumio, a scholar of realism
who died at the end of last month.
has performed an incredible number of strange experiments. In each
of these, he makes dozens of artworks, which he divides into three
major groups: the worthless, the good, the worrisome. The only works
he keeps are the worrisome; the rest he throws away. Shimamoto explains,
'The ones that strike me as being good are just an expression of
my self at the moment. This has nothing to do with being avant-garde,
but it seems to me that the future is hidden away somewhere inside
the worrisome ones'....He goes on to explain the difficult struggle
that is taking place in the avant-grade, 'The images I have in my
head are probably not really mine; they were influenced by seeing
a PICASSO, a MATISSE, or some other kind of exhibition. The only
thing I can do is put my hopes on the accidental things that arise
from my experiments, which I use as a way of discovering my true
self. It's easy to decide on a single direction and keeping walking
down that road like artists of the past have done, but unfortunately
for us there are no directions visible. Even if a certain direction
seems interesting to me now, I have absolutely no idea what I should
do with it tomorrow. We are haunted by the uncertainty of tomorrow.'
also has an interest in audio works, and commits to tape familiar
noises such as the sound of a chair being pulled out, the sound
of a kettle being hit, and the sound of water flowing for use in
his music. Shimamoto speaks with fervor about his recorded work,
'Musicians of today aren't doing anything creative with predictable
sounds like piano or violin. We've set out to create a new world
with Gutai music.'"
movie ran twenty minutes, so I recorded about twenty minutes of
sound. This tape was used for the first screening, but the film
was never shown again and has been sitting for over forty years
in a storehouse. With the passage of time, the film has stuck together
in places and broken apart in others. Some pieces of sound have
been recorded. Some of these tapes belong to the collection of the
Pompidou au Center in Paris, and some belong to the Ashiya City
Museum of Art and History, but no one can hear how the work was
as a whole.
February, works by 150 artists, who had created new art or actions
over the last 100 years or so, were chosen from around the world
to coincide with the end of the 20th century and be exhibited at
the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). The exhibition
ran for nearly three months, went on to Vienna for another three
months, and will travel to Barcelona for another three months. Finally,
it will be presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo for
three months beginning in February of next year, making this a massive
project. I was among the artists invited to show their work. Before
the exhibition opened in Los Angeles, I visited MOCA for a preview
of the show.
I stepped into the first room, I was astounded. On one wall, there
was something by Jackson POLLOCK, the representative of American
contemporary art. Next to this, was something by Lucio FONTANA,
one of the most representative artists of Europe, and next to that,
were two of my "hole" works. On the opposite side of the
room, there was a musical score by the American contemporary composer
John CAGE. These were supposed to be the four great artists who
represent the 20th century. In the catalog for the show, it was
also written that the art of the century could be traced back to
these four individuals. I was shocked.
things surprised me. One was that John Cage, a musician, was singled
out as a representative of the century in an art exhibition. But
it didn't take me long to appreciate the wisdom of MOCA in making
this choice. Magnificent. The second thing was that my work was
included among the works of the four major artists. This isn't to
say that I didn't think my work belonged at the forefront of world
art. I had enough confidence that the concepts I expressed in my
work have had some appeal to the world without constantly asserting
as much. But my teacher, the late YOSHIHARA Jiro, always used to
tell me, "Our country was defeated in the war, and what's more
we are Japanese, a colored race. Unless and until we move to a foreign
country and become naturalized citizens there, our art is never
going to be considered as part of the best art."
works with holes ripped in the canvas happen to have been made before
Fontana's, an Italian, works with holes in them. For a long time,
I had been trying to bring this to the attention of the Japanese
art world, but no one cared This made me think that Yoshihara had
been right. But in 1994, when the "Japanese Art After 1945:
Scream Against the Sky" exhibition was held at the Guggenheim
Museum in New York, the curator Alexandra MONROE had found the date
of 1950 as the age of the newspaper in my work because my "hole"
works were made out of pieces of newspaper that had been stuck together.
Since then, the American art world suddenly changed its attitude
toward me, and I began getting all kinds of questions from everywhere.
In the 1200-page book Art History, used as a textbook in university
art courses, three things were chosen to represent Japanese painting:
Sesshu, Ukiyo-e, and Shimamoto Shozo. Not only that, these examples
are all printed in color.
seems to me that the reason the originality of Japanese artists
never reached the world at large had nothing to do with discrimination
against Japan as an axis power or the Japanese as a colored people.
Rather, it was the closed-minded predisposition of people in the
Japanese art world, who on the basis of their own inferiority complexes
and blind worship of foreign people firmly believed that "there
is no way a Japanese could make any kind of original art."
In light of this fact, I can't help but regret that I never again
used the avant-garde music I made in 1958.
a situation that mirrors the way I was treated in reference to Fontana's
work, Yoshihara Jiro told me that it would be impossible for me,
as I was not a musician per se, to be recognized after John Cage
achieved such popularity and received so much attention for his
avant-garde music. This made me very depressed. All at once, my
avant-garde music withered and died without most people ever having
had a chance to hear it.
Shimamoto Shozo Profile
Helps form Gutai.
Projects two different films on a single screen at the same time.
Recorded sound is also used to accompany the images.
The artist's name is listed in a French encyclopedia.
Along with Sesshu and Ukiyo-e, the artist appears on p. 1167 of
the American university art textbook, Art History (Strokstad, Marilyn;
Harry Abrams, N.Y., 1995) as a representative of Japanese painting.
At the multi-purpose hall at Osaka Prefectural Culture and Information
Center, a performance by the artist along with a performance of
Mahler's music is sponsored by the Osaka Prefectural Culture Promotion
The artist is invited to Los Angeles for the "Out of Action
Between Performance and Objects:1949-1979"
exhibition held at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA),
where he was selected along with Jackson Pollock, Lucio Fontana,
and John Cage as one of four major artists.