The Gutai Manifesto – Jiro Yoshihara

The art of the past now appears to us as a deception clothed with appearance that claims to have meaning. Let us put an end to these heaps of simulacra that clutter altars, palaces, salons, and antique shops. They are fraudulent ghosts that have taken on the appearance of other materials through the magic of paints, fabrics, clay, metals, and marble, to which humans assign a senseless role. Thus, obfuscated by spiritual creations, the materials have been completely massacred and no longer have the right to speak to us. Let us fling these corpses into their tombs. Gutai art does not transform material but brings it to life. Gutai art does not falsify the material. In Gutai art, the human spirit and the material take each other by the hand, even though they are diametrically opposed. The material is not subjugated by the spirit. The spirit does not force the material into submission. The material remains what it is, and when stimulated, it reveals its properties and tells us – even shouts out – something of itself. To fully infuse the material with life is a way to infuse life with the spirit, and to raise up the spirit means to elevate the material to the heights of creativity. Art is the domain of creativity, but never until now has the spirit been a means of creating the material. Throughout history, the human spirit has generated artistic output incapable of resisting change. The magnificent works of art of the Renaissance are nothing more than archaeological remains. Today, perhaps, the only work that can speak to us is primitive art or works created after Impressionism, as they succeed in maintaining a sensation of life without betraying the material too much; another might be the work of the Pointillists or the Fauvists, who did not dare to sacrifice materials despite using them to reproduce nature. Nevertheless, they belong to the past and are no longer able to inspire great emotion in us today. Now, we can only be interested in, and engaged by, contemporary beauty perceived through the changes wrought by the ravages of time, which inexorably continues to affect art works and monuments.
This may sound like the appreciation of decadent beauty, but it is, in fact, a way to celebrate the innate beauty of material that re-emerges from behind the mask of artificial embellishment. When we are delighted by ruins, we are seduced by their cracks and rubble, possibly the revenge of the material for what it has undergone. This is why we hold the works of Pollock and Mathieu in such high regard: their work represents the scream of matter itself, the cries of the paints they use. Their work becomes one with the materials according to a specific procedure dependent on their personal dispositions. They are at the service of matter; they are one with it.

We have recently become very interested, thanks to the information we have received from Hisao Dōmoto and Soīchi Tominaga, in the Art Informel of Mathieu and others. We are sympathetic to their basic opinions, although we are not familiar with the details. Their views surprisingly coincide with ours in terms of the discovery of totally new forms that owe nothing to the past. But we do not really understand whether the formal and conceptual components of abstract art, namely colours, lines, forms, etc. are thought to relate in any way to the characteristics of matter. We do not know very much about their rejection of abstraction.

As for us, we have most definitely lost any interest in abstract art. So much so that when we formed the group we chose the name ‘gutai’ [concreteness]. More than anything, we wish to open up to the outside, in contrast with the centripetal force of abstraction.

We thought at the time, and still do, that the greatest legacy of abstract art is the move away from limiting art to mere representation, opening up to new opportunities to create new autonomous, and more creative, spaces.

We decided to dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of the possibilities of pure artistic creativity. In order to give concreteness to this abstractionist space, we tried to create a sort of complicity between the personal disposition, the talent of the artist, and the specificity of material.

We were surprised to see that it was possible to create a hitherto unknown, unseen, and unexperienced space, a sort of melting pot of automatism where human and material gifts merge. Automatism inevitably transmits the artist’s own image. We hope to achieve personal modes of creation. Let us take as an example Toshiko Kinoshita – a member of our group and a teacher of chemistry at a girls’ school – who has created a most unusual space by mixing chemicals on filter paper. As chemical reactions do not occur immediately, it is necessary to wait until the next day to obtain a precise and well-defined result. It was she who realised what bizarre forms the mixture could take. Many thousands may have adopted Pollock’s methods, yet this in no way diminishes the importance of his artistic discoveries.

Kazuo Shiraga piles up paint on a huge sheet of paper and then spreads it violently with his feet. This new procedure has attracted the attention of journalists, calling it ‘body art’. The artist did not want his way of expressing himself to become some sort of show; he just wanted to achieve the synthesis we spoke of before between the specific material chosen for its nature and his state of mind. Unlike Shiraga’s organic method, Shozo Shimamoto’s interest is in more mechanistic forms of manipulation. Smashing paint-filled glass bottles, he obtains paintings resulting from the jets and the spray that they cause; he also uses a sort of miniature acetylene cannon loaded with paint. These colours create forms of a breath-taking freshness as they spread in a flash across the canvas.

Then there is Yasuo Sumi, who uses a vibrator for his creations, while Toshio Yoshida’s works consist of a single mass of colour. Naturally, these are artistic experiments undertaken in all seriousness.

In this search for renewal, some works have taken the form of objects. This process of diversification undoubtedly owes its inspiration to the environmental conditions of the outdoor exhibitions that we hold every year in Ashiya. There are works formed from the combination of different materials, but they must not be confused with surrealist objects because, unlike them, they do not stress the importance of the title and the meaning of the work. The Gutai works include Atsuko Tanaka’s coloured metal sheets and Tsuruko Yamazaki’s red vinyl structure resembling a mosquito net.

However, these are experiments with material, chromatic, and formal characteristics. We are an association, but this does not mean that there is some form of control. We are open to all sorts of experience: body art, tactile art, even musical art (Shozo Shimamoto has been creating experimental works worthy of interest in this field for years). We can cite the work by Shozo Shimamoto giving the impression of walking on a collapsed bridge, another by Saburo Murakami that evokes the vision of a celestial space seen from the body of the visitor who has become a telescope, the organic elasticity of Akira Kanayama’s large vinyl bags, the ‘dress’ made from Atsuko Tanaka’s flashing light bulbs, or Sadamasa Motonaga’s shapes in water or smoke.

Gutai art is extremely appreciative of all steps boldly taken towards the unknown. At first glance, we might be confused with the Dada, whose merits we recognise, even though we believe we are very different. Our faith is all about seeking new possibilities. Gutai art shows are always animated by a great spirit of intellectual vivacity, and it is our hope that new discoveries regarding the life of matter will continue to make themselves heard loud and clear. (In Geijutsu shincho, December 1956)

Jiro Yoshihara

The 3rd Gutai Art Exhibition

The 3rd Gutai Art Exhibition has opened in Kyoto.

It offers many interesting ideas.

Akira Kanayama presented a series of unusual works, crossed by a tangle of infinite filaments. Kanayama sought to use automatic movement to express a certain range of internal tensions and passions. His creations give off an impression of extreme coldness. And this must have been what he aimed to achieve, considering that he had all the painting done by machines. Do you know those toy cars that suddenly change direction by turning round and round? Kanayama saw them in a department store, bought a few, and tried attaching a bottle of quick-drying ink to them. The automatic changes of direction cause unexpected variations. Among his many experiments, Kanayama also built larger mechanisms and had them move, leaving trails of paint.

Some of the resulting works are enormous.
This is probably how it is in nature. The artist starts the process like a great creator god and when it seems that the work has reached the right stage, he nods and stops the mechanism. Jackson Pollock did not resort to chance. And yet I believe we can recognise in him a certain respect for it. His automatism has no precedent in the history of the fine arts. His paintings look as though anyone could do them. It is simply that he patented a method open to everyone. Over and above a method that is within everyone’s reach shines the eye of the one who created it: the artist, the individual whom no one can imitate. Kanayama moved a step further along the avenue opened by Pollock. It is remarkable that the mechanisms he invented have produced such pictures.
The works of Shozo Shimamoto can be divided into two groups. The first is his so-called ‘burst’ works, the second is the works consisting of holes in tin. His burst works are obtained by firing lacquer inserted into the end of an iron tube by means of acetylene explosion. He produces a lot of works in a very short time using this method that calls upon remarkable force. At some point he daubs some indescribable substance, such as residue from fermentation, onto the canvas and, after ripping it a little, he lets the colours run freely without interference.

This, too, is a supreme search for randomness. The author’s hands do not paint any part of the work. As with Kanayama, these are creations painted by mechanical will. How does the substance of the creativity of the two artists diverge? In the existence of the artists themselves! The works consisting of holes in the surface of the tin have something in common with Italian artist Lucio Fontana. Yet they are extremely different: while Fontana’s work sometimes has a certain air of refinement, that of Shimamoto is unutterably crude. Yasuo Sumi’s work has developed in a similar direction, almost tending towards the ugly. It is a little worrying that the obscenity he seeks is so similar to Shimamoto’s, but, with time and the necessary attention, the two should be able to diverge. Sumi is an artist whose growth bodes well.

This year, Saburo Murakami has moved away from works on torn paper towards making pictures with cracked paint. He deliberately, and with great skill, caused the cracks himself. A painting of enormous size featuring cracked paint constitutes an impressive object. There is no other art of this kind. We must guard it well. Kazuo Shiraga has presented five oils that he painted using his feet. He produced these works by painting over a first layer to add a sense of thickness. This stratification expresses an idea of inner fullness. Tsuruko Yamazaki tenaciously experiments with bronzed iron surfaces. This year, she added coloured lighting (and filmed it) when their graining became more complex. Atsuko Tanaka’s so-called ‘flashing-light’ stage clothes create a mysterious atmosphere, they were displayed in a separate room along with Yamazaki’s light-flooded works. The extremely simple shapes of Sadamasa Motonaga’s oil paints, together with the automatic black and white sprays of Toshio Yoshida, convey a wholly Japanese flavour.

(‘Gutai’ Magazine, Osaka, July 15th 1957)