Description of Country
The Nation of Japan consists geographically as an island in East Asia, within the Pacific Ocean, and to the East of the Sea of Japan. The closest neighbors to the West include North and South Korea. The country is made of many islands, the largest being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. These 4 islands are where the majority of the population lives, and together the whole nation is comprised of 127,817,277 citizens – being the 10th biggest population in the world. More than 30 million of these people live in or in the surrounding area of Tokyo, located on the island of Honshu.
The period of Japanese history from 1868-1945 is generally known as a time of huge economic growth. At this time, the Empire of Japan was the Imperial Power at play, colonizing Korea and Japan. The rising tensions between Japan and the United States/League of Nations began in 1931 when they began the takeover of Manchuria and China. This in combination with the U.S.’s desire to control the oil supply in Japan led to WWII. After many successful attacks on the U.S. (as well as British and Dutch territories), the United States eventually won the war after nuclear attacks, air raids, and naval battles against Japan. In 1945 Japan surrendered and released their imperial hold on Korea, China, and Taiwan. Once Japan had surrendered, they were occupied by the United States with the goal being to transform it into a democratic state. These changes led to a dramatic economic boom and social changes. Today there are many political parties in Japan, the ruling being the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
Japan has a rich religious culture. The majority of people identify most with Buddhism or Shinto, and the minority religions being Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Taoism.
Description of Art
Koki Tanaka’s work at the Venice Biennale is in direct response to the post-earthquake state of Japan following the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The work is inspired by the extraordinary support the citizens gave one another during this time of need. The theme of human collaboration, is apparent within all the works. And in addition to this theme, Tanaka asks the question: “What has the event brought us?” The work is all mostly formatted as an abstract idea created by Tanaka, then he has participants perform these actions which demonstrate the idea. These actions are either photographed or documented through video. He focuses on seemingly casual events which can be read differently in post-earthquake society. In addition to studying “behavioral statements,” he also invents a collections of works which he calls “precarious tasks.” He describes these acts as, “People gathering temporarily deal with specific situations when unusual things happen. This occurs not only through art projects, but also in our day-to-day lives. In this series of projects, participants are invited to gather and experience specific and weird situations generated by my loose framework.” All available videos of events can be found either on my Youtube playlist or on the exhibitions website, linked above. In addition to the collaborative acts displayed at the pavilion, Tanaka also recycled and re-displayed the materials from the last exhibition in the pavilion from the 13th International Architecture Exhibition in 2012, titled Architecture. Possible Here? Home-for-all. By physically leaving things from this exhibit, Tanaka references the common issues which arise between art and architecture in relation to unprecedented disasters.
Analysis of Success
In 1956, Japan built the structure in the Giardini which is still used today as the Japanese pavilion. This was the beginning of the country’s participation in the Venice Biennale, and had actually been repeatedly requested to be built by the Italian government in order to secure Japan’s participation in the event. Today the Pavilion is funded and run by the Japan Foundation. The 2013 exhibition’s curator, Mika Kuraya, earned her MA at Chiba University, and is currently the Chief Curator of the Department of Fine Arts at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. The selection process by the Japan Foundation for the artist is actually decided through a curatorial competition. So Mika Kuraya was the one presenting Tanaka’s work to be considered, and eventually was the curator picked. It was expected that the artist chosen be able to successfully address the issues of the 2011 Earthquake, and even though both Tanaka and Kuraya were both outside of the country when the event occurred, they felt they would bring a unique perspective to the event, attempting to show how “even people who haven’t directly experienced the disaster can relate to it.” Tanaka’s work in the exhibition is an expectantly uplifting way to view the events that occurred surrounding the earthquake. By focusing on the element of human interaction and collaboration, he allows us to see the positive and abstract ways which a devastating disaster can affect a human population. According to an article titled Asian Pavilions at the Venice Biennale: Studies in Collaboration from Flash Art Magazine, the exhibition was “Intelligent and touching, sublime and simple, Tanaka has developed an unpretentious way to address a very complex and delicate social context.”
Koki Tanaka was born in Tochigi, Japan in 1975 and now lives and works in Los Angeles. He graduated with a BFA from Tokyo Zokei University in 2000, and then with an MFA from Tokyo University of the Arts in 2005. He works in a range of mediums- video, performance, found objects, and collective acts being some of them. Tanaka’s work (from the past and the present) seems to revolve around the concept of abstraction in relation to the everyday. From his artist’s website these are his own words on the topic of this intended abstraction: “In the very usual moment, we could see something new at the same time. There are a lot of abstract things and moments waiting for us to break through to a new perspective. If we face the reality of life, I think we can deepen our understanding of the world. I always try to look for that kind of moment in my life.” This attempt to obscure our perception of the everyday is demonstrated throughout many of his works, but a good example is the video “Everything is Everything” made in 2006 (link available on my Youtube channel). In this video Tanaka and performers use everyday materials in new and abstract ways, focusing on the action itself, in an attempt to reinvent its abstract existence.