Fig. 1 Expo Destruction Kyūshū Grand Meeting: Evenings of Underground Films and Happenings, Expo ’70 Destruction Joint-Struggle Group, 1969

I’m meeting with Kuroda Raiji who borrows my pen to write the word Kyōdō in my notebook. He follows this with three combinations of kanji—Chinese script adopted by Japan—followed by a curled bracket to the left. These are 共同 (Kyōdō), 共働 (Kyōdō), and 協働 (Kyōdō). He says these variations of kanji are used to write about ‘collaboration’. The first translates as ‘together simultaneously’, while the latter two are closer to ‘synergistic working’. After this, he writes a second term Renkei followed by one set of kanji, 連携. This, he says, also means collaboration, but is more commonly used by larger companies to discuss partnerships, networking and liaisons.

I’m in Japan to meet with performance artists, collectives, curators and researchers to get a firmer grip on the nuances of collaboration and its relationship to performance in a non-western context. It is my second trip here supported by the British Council and Creative Scotland, and the first time I have had the agency to organise my itinerary independently. The meeting with Raiji-san, the curator of Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, is my first stop in Fukuoka, a city on the south-west island of Kyūshū. He is working towards the show Blaze Carved in Darkness, a historical survey of woodcut movements that have used the mediumto disseminate information, protest, and communicate ideas. I’m really grateful he is able to take time out of his schedule to meet me, as he has written extensively on the nature of collective performance art practice from the 1960s onwards. I’m specifically interested in the artist group Zero Jigen (Zero Dimension), an amorphous number of performers led by Kato Yoshihiro, who have seen somewhat of a renaissance in the Japanese art historical canon in recent years. Their practice worked with anti-globalisation movements following the Anpo-Agreement [1], and against major international events that masked the deep economic and social depression facing the country following World War II, and the rapid modernisation that was being used to mask it.

At a time when Japan was once again trying to perform itself on an international level, individuals from the collectives Zero Jigen, Kokuin, Shinjuku Boys, Vitamin Art, and 8 Generation (and The Play and Shudan Kumo, on a regional basis) came together for a period of ten months to collectivise as Expo ’70 Destruction Joint-Struggle Group (EDG). Their aim was to protest Osaka Expo 1970, an international exhibition which aimed to showcase the innovative and prosperous picture of itself Japan was trying to cultivate, and host other countries (and brands like Pepsi) to do the same. The EDG group toured around the country putting on performances in universities, halls and in public squares. I’m told that each performance would be subsequently followed by a discussion, where the group—comprised of local individuals and members of the artist collectives—would share information about the Expo and national developments with the protest movement. Because these occasions were such a wealthy resource for information regarding the movements, they were also frequently attended by undercover police. In addition to the elusive police presence, Yoshihiro-san would invite tabloid journalists to take photographs of the event which would then be disseminated across the tabloid media, and reach further audiences. Unfortunately, one of the images from a later performance was used in conjunction with police accounts to incriminate two performers in the group and sentence them to prison in late 1969. The group disbanded soon after.

I watch documentation from an earlier performance by the group in Fukuoka (Fig.1), and I’m struck with the brutal scenarios that were played out to depict the Japanese state’s exclusion of non-progressive performance. Very rarely did all the participants agree on the intention between the performance and the social movement, and would frequently debate with one another in the discussions. What does seem intentional however is the production of images to counteract the national and cultural picture being produced around the Expo. For example, traditional music of Kabuki theatre was appropriated by performer Akiyama Yutoku-Taishi who would frequently hit his helmet with a wooden block. The helmet—protective clothing for the student movements—was also customised by EDG to present two white wings, suggesting the confluence between political right and left wings in resisting modernisation. Other images that I see being set up include the group donning blond, caucasian masks on commuter transport; parading nude in gas masks around empty shopping precincts; and crouching down in public baths with lit candles stuck up their bums.

It’s funny watching the films this way. I’m familiar with the photographs, but the set-up time on either side of that instant moment appears like a rehearsal when caught on video. It’s interesting to think through the nature of collaboration and how it produces such ‘instants’; what performances go into collaboration before and after the event?

In some ways, watching this distinguishes between the two kinds of collaboration mentioned by Raiji-san quite simplistically: Kyōdō, as the virtuous dialogue between members of EDG; and Renkei, as the instrumentalisation of actors towards a national picture.

[1] Following the Allied Occupation at the end of World War II, Japan and the US signed an agreement that would see the two countries aim to work in each other’s interests to maintain peace in East Asia. The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between the United States and Japan, or the ‘Anpo-Agreement’ as it’s more commonly referred to, was signed in 1954, and then revised in 1960 to the sound of great national protests. Article 6 of the Treaty states that the US can use resources and facilities in Japan, including Japanese citizens and land, towards combat purposes other than the defence of Japan. This has been a contentious issue all over Japan with many military bases being sited across the country, but particularly in the small island prefecture of Okinawa, where military bases occupy one fifth of the island.

Fig.1 follows an encounter in Fukuoka Asian Art Museum with Kuroda Raiji AKA KuroDalaiJee (Fukuoka, 18th October 2018) and in Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art Archives with Takashi Ishizaki (Nagoya, 24th October 2018).


Gordon Douglas works in close conversation with organisations and groups towards deconstructing the acts of collaboration and performance. He is a performance artist and curator currently based in Glasgow.