Liner note 2

The heterogeneous world: Kosai Hori, Reading-Affair

Tomotaro Kaneko

Torn-up words and the howling of sound equipment drift nowhere as they keep accumulating in space. This is what Kosai Hori presented at the Biennale de Paris in 1977, a performance piece titled MEMORY-PRACTICE (Reading-Affair), which would invite audiences to walk through a ruin filled with the debris of what once had meaning. “Create cultural ruins” was the slogan of Bijutsuka Kyoto Kaigi [Council of artists for a United Front] (also known as Bikyoto), a group that Hori founded together with art students in 1969.

Born in 1947 in Japan, Hori has participated in a variety of international exhibitions, including the Biennale de Paris in 1977 and the 41st Venice Biennale in 1984, and has stayed active in the fields of painting and performance art. While still enrolled at Tama Art University and leading Bikyoto in the late 1960s, Hori coined the famous words “Today, if we are called artists, then that is our battleground,” criticizing not only the systems that control modern art, but also the Japanese avant-garde movements that had tried to escape from those institutional straightjackets*1. Since those days, he is neither inside or outside that barricade, but has made it a matter of principle to stand atop the boundary line that is the barricade itself.

This collection is a selection of Hori’s works from the 1970s, a time in which he organized an art movement called Bikyoto REVOLUTION Committee together with artists like Naoyoshi Hikosaka, Nobuo Yamanaka and Yasunao Tone. In those days, Hori’s performance pieces employed various media such as tape recorders, typewriters and video cameras, while also creating plastic pieces that explored the theme of basic formal elements like colors and lines. After 1978, Hori devoted himself to painting, pioneering a uniquely layered painterly space in his work. Until he came back to performance in the late 1990s, chances to look back at Hori’s performance pieces from the 70’s have been scarce. This collection is made possible thanks to the sound materials that the artist himself has preserved. It has been only in recent years that the details concerning these recordings have come to surface.

In 1970s Japan, Hori and many of his contemporaries, artists from the generation called Dankai (or “baby boomers”)produced a number of works with the help of tape-recorders. Those works can be understood not only as a critical succession of preceding generations’ artistic legacies but also as a reflection of the Japanese media environment back in the 1970s. Among that of his peers, Hori’s production is outstanding in terms of the number and variation of outputs, which can by itself place it into a significant position in this context.

MEMORY-PRACTICE (Reading-Affair) July 23, 1977 at Galerie Farideh Cadot (Paris)

A man and a woman, clad in white with their faces painted in the same color, sit in front of a white table placed on top of a white fabric on the floor. Between them is a microphone, and its cable is connected to an open-reel recorder, laid on the floor in front of the table. The device’s tape flows into another open-reel recorder, placed next to it at a short distance. This so-called “tape-delay” system plays back the words spoken by the pair with a little time delay.

On the table is a newspaper of the day, which the pair alternatively read up letter by letter. Their voice is played by the two tape recorders with a little delay. The sound from the devices is picked up by the microphone and taken into the loop again with a delay. As this process repeats, the voices of the performers are, as it were, accumulated in the space. As time goes on, the howling from the sound equipment becomes increasingly louder.

In 1977, Hori was selected to be shown in the performance section of the Biennale de Paris, where he performed MEMORY-PRACTICE (Dancing-Affair) together with Erize Hori. In addition to this performance at the biennale, he staged the same piece at Galerie Farideh Cadot. The performance in this gallery was staged by a pair named Aizawa and Sabia, a Japanese man who was studying pantomime in Paris and a Tunisian would-be actress. In the beginning, as the equipment began loudly feeding back right after they started speaking, the performance proceeded with the pair constantly adjusting the positions of the microphone and the recorders. When later, the howling got so loud again as to swallow the performers’ voices entirely, they changed the volume settings of the tape recorders in addition to their positions. It started at 7pm, and lasted until the recording tape ran its course, which was about two hours. The audience sat down near the walls, spread around as they pleased. Later, Hori recalled that at this event, “the passage of time was felt as that of a mass taking place in a quiet monastery*2.”

The Biennale de Paris in 1977 provided a historical moment for “performance” to be established as a genre*3. And yet, after the biennale, Hori stopped producing the performance pieces he had developed throughout the 1970s, turning to painting instead. In 1987, ten years after the biennale, Hori reenacted MEMORY-PRACTICE (Reading-Affair) only once at Toyama International Contemporary Art Exhibition. And then in 1998, after yet another decade had passed, Hori formed performance group “Unit 00” with Erize Hori and Minoru Hatanaka and resumed his performance practice.

ACT No.3 December 1-3, 1972 at Atelier Shinon (Tokyo)

(From a note for this work: )
(1) winter (2) old and slim building (3) long stairway (4) a room on the 5th floor (5) windows left open (6) highway on the window side (7) street (noise) invades [the room] (8) “things” left in the room (9) “things” painted in white, the floor is white fabric (10) a man in white (11) natural light through the window, intense white light towards the window (12) the man keeps reading a book (13) the book has its sentences torn up by the word “REVOLUTION” that appears among clauses (14) the word “REVOLUTION” plays on a tape recorder

A man reads aloud from a book clause by clause, with the recordedword “REVOLUTION” in Hori’s voice inserted after each clause. The performer in this stage was an actor called Yoshihira Akugenta, who belonged to Engekidan, a theater led by Show Ryuzanji. Hori was familiar with the theatre group since the heyday of student activism and worked as a commissioned playwrite for them from the early 1970s until 1977. Heard in the sound recording of this performance are Akugenta’s voice, Hori’s voice, the operating sound of the cassette tape recorders, and loud traffic noise from outside. Through an open window on the venue, the circular expressway of Tokyo could be seen.

The white fabric laid on the floor was the same piece used in Hori’s previous work ACT No.2 (1972). In this work, Hori positioned wooden beams along the walls of the venue and put the fabric on them while changing its position over and over again through six days – trying to find its final destination while almost knowing there would be no such end. This method emphasized the ACT in itself in the absence of the final outcome, something that can be seen as an attempt to stand on the peripheral borders of art systems and push the boundaries. It was also a criticism to Mono-ha and other Japanese conceptual art that had attracted attention around that time.

In ACT No.3, the white fabric that traveled across the wooden beams in ACT No.2 eventually lost its destination and got laid on the floor as though there were no other place it could rest in. This white fabric appears in Hori’s later performance pieces over and over again. Furthermore, as if its color had seeped out, the faces of the performers were clad in white, and the desks and surrounding objects were also painted white. The method of breaking paragraphs with the word “REVOLUTION” had already been tried out in his installation REVOLUTION (1971) in the form of words on the walls. 

REPORT Vol.3 October 14, 1973 at Tokiwa Gallery (Tokyo)

The work has the subtitle: “1500km Drive.” On a motorbike, Hori headed from Tokyo towards the north, driving around Tohoku areas all day long while recording the sound of the ride until he came back to Tokyo again. Then he exhibited the motorbike over a white fabric laid in the exhibition venue, while an actor with his face painted in white rode it performing a pantomime of driving. In addition, Hori placed a tape recorder in an adjoining room to play the recording of his ride. The audience gathered in that room to listen to the sound.

The title “REPORT” [“Chousho” in Japanese] is taken after the novel of the same name by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio [which in English is translated as “Interrogation”]. However, the word also refers to the written records that the police make when investigating suspects, which Hori described as the “most alienated empty mark of a person*4.” “AFFAIR & PRACTICE BY 12,” a group show led by Bikyoto REVOLUTION Committee, included Hori’s REPORT Vol.1 (1973), in which Hori recorded his own voice reading aloud a section of a book and exhibited its documents with the help of an endless-tape and a Japanese typewriter.

REPORT Vol.4 November 3-14, 1973 at Yokohama Civic Art Gallery (Kanagawa)

This piece is seen as a variation of REPORT Vol.2 (1973). This work, subtitled Memory of Street, consists of two parts. In the first part, six performers (Kousai Hori, Tetsuya Watanabe, Naoichi Yano, Masako+Naoyoshi, Ken-ichiro Ina and Fumio Takamizawa) departed from each of their homes towards the exhibition venue while recording their voices as they read up the letters each found on the way. Then the performers exhibited the routes they took and played the recordings in the venue. In the second part, Hori listened to all these recordings to transcribe words and note them down on cards, which were then filed in a folder.

In REPORT Vol.4 shown at “Artists to-day ‘73,” Hori again recorded his own voice, speaking up what he saw on the way from his home to the venue. Once he arrived at the venue, he put a cassette tape recorder on a podium to play the recorded sound at a low volume and left the place.

MEMORY-PRACTICE (Reading-Affair) May 1, 1999 at Queens Museum of Art (New York)

Hori restarted his practice in the field of performance in 1998 at “AIR: Art in the Ruins,” where the members of Bikyoto (Miyako Ishiuchi, Naoyoshi Hikosaka, Kosai Hori, Ryuji Miyamoto) reunited. From Reading-Affair ‘98 which he presented at this show, all the way to 2011, Hori did his performance pieces as “Unit 00.” This performance used a tape-delay system similar to the one used in his 1977 piece, as well as the same fabric, but this time Hori himself appeared as one of the two performers with his face painted in white. Also, instead of newspapers and books, this reenactment used the testimonies of the perpetrators of the Asama-Sanso incident of 1972, the Sakamoto family murder by Aum Shinrikyo in 1989 and the Kobe child murders of 1997, which the pair read aloud alternatively clause by clause.

At the reception of “Global Conceptualism” exhibition in the museum, Hori appeared in “Afternoon of Japanese Performances” together with Yutaka Matsuzawa and Naoyoshi Hikosaka. Hori’s performance at this occasion was staged with young artist Kim Connerton, who paired up with Hori to read up the same text used in the 1998 version, this time alternatively in English and Japanese*5.

Since 2011, Hori has worked in a unit with Erize Hori as “Kousai Hori + Erize Hori,” and the duo staged a new version of MEMORY-PRACTICE (Reading-Affair) under the title Who am I?: Reading-Affair 2018. It reads up the first-names of the tsunami victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 one after another. The video projection on the wall behind the performers showed the post-quake ocean with the sound of waves, which was shot near Yuriage town in Miyagi prefecture, an area hit heavily in the disaster.

In all of Hori’s performances from the 1970s, there is a somewhat shared methodology in their disassembling of aspects of reality like meaning, scenes and memory into components that are then reconstructed using repetition as an axis. However, since there are practical limits to the dismantling of reality, the process of its reconstruction is not entirely systematic, and particular aspects of reality cannot be completely reduced into neither elements nor systems. In that sense, Hori’s method takes distance from modernist reductionism and rationalism. In consequence, what is ultimately uncovered in these works is the very existence of the acts within the boundaries in themselves.

Concretely, there is the irreductible wavering of the voice, and the instability of the feedback. There is the irregularity of the bike’s roar as it ran, and beyond the accumulation of unrelated nouns lies also dim distant landscapes and the characters that inhabit them. In addition, there’s the unavoidable environmental sound of the vicinity leaking in, which leads us to stories and landscapes that hardly narrate their presence. When Hori resumed performing, he emphasized the importance of the “heterogeneous world” that he understands as smeared in noises*6. Behind Hori’s choice not to leave art institutions, staying within their boundaries, lies an affirmation of the heterogeneity of this world.

1|Hori, Kosai., The Garden of the Fall and Rebirth. Gendaikikakushitsu, 2014, pp. 107-108.
2|Ibid, pp. 493.
3|Hori, Kosai., Naked Place exhibition catalogue. Tama Art University, 2014, pp.79-80.
4|Ibid, pp.75.
5|English translation by Reiko Tomii.
6|Hori, op. cit., pp. 494.