Lecture 6 – Adam Jasper Hyper Art: Thomasson

The Lecture by Adam Jasper discussed Japanese art and artists during the 1960s. Several artistic movements started in Japan in the 1950s -60s such as the Misshitsu no Kaiga (Secret Room painting ) 1950s. Artists in Japan and around the world post world war II were looking for new ways of presenting art. In the 1960s, as a part of the response to social contradiction and conflict, anti-arts movements started to emerge. Artist started to challenge social institutions and the boundary between high arts and non-institutionalised arts. They looked to do this by seeking new ways of presenting arts through the integration of art forms and technology. It presented a series of experimental exhibitions and performances combining contemporary music and visual arts. The movement was connected to the Situationist and Fluxus movements in the west. (1) This defines the era of Neo-Dadaism a movement denies traditional concepts of aesthetics through the use of audio and technology in particular.

Jasper took the lecture next to the subject of forensic urbanism looking at Japanese conceptual artist and writer Akasegawa Genpei. Early details of Genpei’s life were interesting and define his art direction. The artist involved himself with the law in January 1963 when he was arrested for counterfeiting the 1000 yen note. Genpei’s intentions were innocent, as he merely created a monochromatic colour copy, which was clearly different to the original note as an invitation for a solo exhibition at a gallery in Tokyo. The police came across the copied notes and arrested Genpei under the 1894 Law Controlling the Imitation of Currency and Securities act. In August 1966, he went on trial for what was known as the “Thousand-Yen Bill Incident”. In June 1967, he was found guilty, but appealed twice. Genpei was released in 1968 but the experience changed him. Japanese jails are notorious for their torturous environment. When in a Japanese jail prisoners are kept in complete isolation no human contact, no concept of time or place. They are tutored by their own existence. Jasper highlighted this point as he wanted to stress the idea that Genpei would have been release with all his sanity, the experience would have changed him as a person.

After being released Genpei came into the realm of Neo-dadaism art. Another artist, which had been working on such a design focus during this time, was Yoko Ono as she started to produce avant-garde artworks using mediums such as music and film. Ono for example in 1971 used a fly as her alter ego from which she created a series of images and films. What is important is artists during this time were focusing on a complete engagement with the city.

Akasegawa Genpei formed a group called Hi-Red Center with fellow artist friends such as Ushio Shinohara, Shusaku Arakawa, Yoshimura Masanobu, Jiro Takamatsu and Natsuyuki Nakanishi. One day when the group was walking through the streets coming back from lunch Genpei noticed a staircase that they had walked past everyday was odd as the staircase in fact led to nothing. Genpei returned later on to have a closer look.

The Staircase that inspired the research into Thomasson Hyper-art

He began to learn the staircase – playing with it walking over it as an obstacle. He came back to the staircase many times and photographed it. He noted that the staircase had no entrance at the top but merely ked to a window. Ahead of the current work situation capitalism didn’t allow for this kind of architecture, everything in capital society has to have a purpose, which left the classification of the staircase undefined – as Jasper describes in an architectural hangover and Genpei redefined it as art. He devised that a door had probably previously existed but due to some justifying circumstances a renovation converted the door into a window and the staircase although intended to be removed had remained as it was economically unjustifiable – this made the staircase appear completely useless. However this alone was not what intrigued Genpei, the staircase railing on one side when looked at closely had actually been repaired, meaning somebody found value in maintaining this useless staircase. From this case study Genpei started an investigation with her art students into the Hyer-Art of the world. The team developed a name for their research as they found Hyper-Art gave the impression of a finding of all types of Hyper-Art where as they were in fact focusing on a subdivision of this. Hypa Art – spontaneously made by the city its self – creation of urbanism and he called these objects Thomassons. The name was derived from the baseball player Gary Thomasson. It was around 1982 the year that Gary Thomasson was playing for Yomiuri Giants in Japanese Nippon Pro Baseball. During his two years on the team Thomasson developed the nickname the electric fan as he would whip around to hit the ball but would miss every time. Beside this the team put him on every night and continued to pay him although he was useless to the game. Genepi saw this as a beautiful circumstance illustrating Thomasson of a living hyper art. Like Gary was useless on the field so were the object – beautiful uselessness. Jasper explains that this interpretation of the usefulness of Gary Thomasson in the game is something which is apart of Japanese culture and aesthetics. Japanese are drawn the transience of things – a term they use to describe this is Wabi-Sabi meaning imperfect, impermanent and incomplete – where fragility is more precious and beautiful then the robust. A large contrast to western culture who would not tolerate the useless performance of Gary Thomasson on the field.

An example of a ‘thomossan’ is the ‘Chongqing nailhouse’ which is positioned on a high uneven terrain hill surrounded by a excavated junkyard. It is purposeless and has no function due to it’s site and where it is positioned.

Chongqing nailhouse

The criteria of an object to be Thomasson as defined by Genpei is as follows. The found object must be:
1. A ruin – that once had critical function but is evident no longer
2. Singled off and accessible – meaning to evokes a sense of frustration as the object its seductive in a beautiful/ glamorous form but you cant have it, requires a barrier of distance.
3. Maintained purpose.

Still to today there is a Thomasson Report sheet which one can download if they believe they have found a Thomasson. This website welcomes online submissions of found Thomasson objects/ structures. This continuous research has brought up strange findings which Jasper revealed such as the amount of Thomasson in a country can be linked to suicidal rates in that country.

Jasper also looks at the idea of the Thomasson from a human point of view, where we are ourselves can be considered Thomassons when viewed in a larger sense – we are useless entity with no ultimate function, in the purest sense we are figures dwelling aimlessly continuously being moulded and shaped in accordance to the development of the City.

Reference List –
(1) http://www.culturalprofiles.net/japan/Directories/Japan_Cultural_Profile/-10860.html
(2) http://thomasson.kaya.com/about.php

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