The mission of the Keio University Art Center (KUAC) is to appreciate and understand art and its role in society through engagement with theoretical research and practice. Since its founding in 1993, the KUAC has focused on building research archives dedicated to contemporary art and culture, aiming to create new places where knowledge and physical sensibility can meet through the collection, accumulation, and digitization of research findings.
The Art of Butoh
Butoh is an innovative form of Japanese dance pioneered by Akita-born dancer Tatsumi Hijikata (1928-1986). Its intense and radical physical expressions remain as vivid today as they were in the 1960s and 70s, when Butoh was evolving across a variety of media that included music and the fine arts. Many parts of the world—including Europe, the Americas, and other parts of Asia—have adopted Butoh as their own, and it continues to be a major influence on other styles of dance.
Tatsumi Hijikata, performing Tatsumi Hijikata and the Japanese: Revolt of the Flesh in 1968 (Photo by Tadao Nakatani)
Revolt of the Flesh Poster by Tadanori Yokoo
Tatsumi Hijikata Dances in a Red Dress (Photo by Roku Hasegawa)
Though Butoh may have originated in Japan, its research and practice is actually more prolific abroad. Numerous international researchers publish papers and just as many dancers perform Butoh outside of Japan every year, but the KUAC welcomes these same many researchers and artists interested in Butoh to the Tatsumi Hijikata archive, a central hub for Butoh in Japan. The Tatsumi Hijikata archive is a comprehensive collection of documents related to Hijikata and Butoh and includes a one-of-a-kind collection of original photos, videos, and Butoh illustrations hand-drawn by Hijikata himself. While the KUAC plays host to international Butoh research, its researchers are also frequently invited to attend exhibitions, symposiums, and art festivals abroad as experts in the field.
Butoh Exhibition at Toulouse (September 2011)
The KUAC’s Tatsumi Hijikata archive functions as a true international base for Butoh research. In recent years, Butoh research and performance featured heavily in PSi 2015 TOHOKU Beyond Contamination: Corporeality, Spirituality and Pilgrimage in Northern Japan, an international conference co-hosted by the KUAC and the Aomori Museum of Art.
PSi 2015 TOHOKU
PSi 2015 TOHOKU, held at the Aomori Museum of Art, included a cultural visit to Osore-zan (Mt. Osore) and welcomed over 700 people from 19 countries. The conference was a way to explore models for events where academia, culture, and region collide and collaborate.
The existence of art archives is what makes international conferences and events like this possible. For more than 20 years, the KUAC has been engaged in both the theoretical framework and practice regarding art archives and is known as a pioneer of contemporary art archives in Japan.
On Contemporary Art in Japan
Beyond Butoh, the KUAC’s other research materials also attract attention from around the world. The 1970 Tokyo Biennale, Between Man and Matter, held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in 1970, is a legendary exhibition full of the early works of artists who would later find worldwide fame. The KUAC recreated the exhibition based on materials from its archives in Introduction to Archives XIII: Tokyo Biennale ’70, Revisited.
Not only was this recreation was well received by researchers, artists, and museum curators in Japan, but its exhibition catalog also received a warm international reception abroad. The KUAC was flooded with inquiries, the value and dynamism of its art archives fully realized. It was as if the KUAC had opened the door to research that the whole world had been waiting for.
Introduction to Archives XIII: Tokyo Biennale ’70, Revisited (February 22 – March 25, 2016)
2016-11-21 Contact Points Yohko Watanabe
Prof. Yohko Watanabe of the KUAC planned a symposium regarding the 1970 Tokyo Biennale while working as a visiting researcher at the Tate Research Centre: Asia in London. Art critic Toshiaki Minemura and sculptor Susumu Koshimizu were invited from Japan to join Prof. Watanabe on stage, where they gave candid opinions on Japanese contemporary art.
In a time when photos and videos are constantly shared through email and chat, the art world has undergone a dramatic transformation. But these convenient times have only strengthened the themes of body and flesh in art.The high interest in Butoh, which places a strong emphasis on the body, could be considered a mirror that reflects these themes.
Interaction between researchers is much the same. It is extremely important for researchers to exchange ideas and information and debate directly with one another. The art archive acts as just that—a platform for such interaction to take place. Precisely because the archives contain many materials of significance, as the above example of Tatsumi Hijikata illustrates, researchers and visitors gather here from around the world, transforming the archives into a place of dynamic interaction.
The KUAC is dedicated to both theory and practice through symposiums and workshops related to its art archives, with a particular focus on contemporary art.
Researchers and dancers visit the KUAC archives with a KUAC researcher.
The KUAC invited the deputy director and the head of digital operations of the Archives of American Art (AAA) to discuss the preservation and creation of culture with experts from both higher education and art museums at Connecting Through Art Archives, an international meeting and workshop held in 2016.
In 2017, the KUAC invited Jonathan Watkins, Director of Ikon Gallery, and Dr. Jo Melvin, Director of the Estate of Barry Flanagan, to talk about the joys and challenges of working with living artists at the event A Conversation on Contemporary Art: Creative Collaboration with Artists.
Not only are these discussions valuable as possibilities for academic exploration, they are also occasions that identify the art archive as a dynamic platform that encourages and facilitates a dialogue and reinforces the importance of exhibition. The dynamism generated by this platform is bound to become increasingly critical for the further generation and dissemination of knowledge.
*All affiliations and titles are those at the time of publishing.