ARAI lives and works in Tokyo. He studied his B.A. in Chinese modern literature at Tokyo Metropolitan University under Mr.llKURA Shohei. Later he majored in printmaking (Intaglio/Copper printing) from 1981 to 1987 under ex Mr.YOSHIDA Katsuro (Mono-ha group.) He also began experimenting in sound, voice and language performance actions since 1982. As a Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteer he taught at Nyumba ya Sanaa Art school in Zanzibar, Tanzania 1992-94 where he experienced various insights into the relationship between culture and politics in contemporary society. This led to his radical social-political performances today. In his raw and direct style, ARAI's body appears as a site of social tension presented with humor yet biting criticism. Often exposing the conservative and xenophobic cultural tendencies and contradictions in global and local situations. Besides performing regularly in Japan, ARAI has also presented his works internationally and especially in China such as Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Xian, Chengdu, Changchun, and Beijing. (by Lee Wen) --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1959 May 7 Born in Toyama city ,Japan
1978-83 Tokyo Metropolitan University, B.A. of Chinese modern literature under Mr. IIkura Shohei
1981-87 Bigakko Art School, majored in intaglio prints under ex Mr.YOSHIDA Katsuro
1990-91 Musashino Art University, M.F.A. give up School
1992-94 Teaching at Nyumba ya Sanaa Art school ,Zanzibar,Tanzania
1983 "Heavenly injection afternoon" Akagi Electric (+SAEGUSA Yukio+HOSHINO Masaharu+QUSUMI Takuya+AKAGI Noriko)
1984 "Flirting gristle 2" +TANAKA Toshi
1986 "for Basement of Keio Univ." Kroitzfeld Jacob (+KUWAHARA Masahiko +TANIKAWA Mari)
1987 "for Basement of A-Mike, NYC " The Force of job sites= FJ (+SAEGUSA),NYC
1988 "Sun flower, Hiroshima, Not for Deadly Emperor" +SONODA Satoshi
1989 "The shit for Emperor funeral" +SONODA
1990 "Infant minds" (+KUWAHARA, TANAKA,SAEGUSA, YANAKA Masanori)
1991 "for The wanderer with his shadow" FJ (+SAEGUSA+TANIKAWA)
1995 "50 years after losing the war", "A imagination from end of life" FJ (+SAEGUSA)
1996 "The labor of dream, The dream of labor" Happy-Lucky Stories (+SAEGUSA +TANIKAWA+SUZUKI Takeo)
1997-98 "Tribe conflict--Majority vs. Minority"
1998 "The 9th Korea-Japan Dance Festival in Seoul"
participated"Nippon/Japan International Performance Art Festival (NIPAF)"also 2000
"Row Your Boat"FJ i+SAEGUSA j Japan society NYC,USA (NPAF tour)
"Happy Japan! Happy family!",The 10th Korea-Japan Dance Festival in Tokyo
"Happy Japan!" Jakarta, Taipei, Tokyo(NIPAF tour)
"Happy Japan"The 1st Open Art Festival in Beijing,China,
"Happy Japan!", "Daily Life" EXIT festival in Helsinki,Finland
"Tourist #1- Revolt impossible""Tourist #2-Revolt unuseful","Please take care of my wounds" ,The 2nd Open Art Festival in Sichuwan,China,
"I am very moved" Tokyo "Happy Hong Kong!", "Happy Communist party of China!", "Happy Japan!", "Happy Japan! --I was very moved" Hong Kong "Tourist #3--Globalism"Guangzhou "Tourist #4--Globalism/Internationalism" "Happy Japan!"The 3rd Open Art Festival in Xi'an,China
"Tourist #5: For E. H. Norman" 7a*11d 4th International Festival of Performance Art in Toronto, Canada
"Tourist #6:YOU ARE NO GOOD" The 4th ASIATOPIA 2002 in Bangkok & Chiangmai, Thailand
"Tourist #6:YOU ARE NO GOOD" Beijing-Tokyo art project Beijing, China
"Tourist #7:VIVA Globalism" PIPAF Manila, Philippine "Tourist #7:VIVA Globalism!--at ex-capital city of Manchukuo--"The 4th Open Art Festival in Changchun, China
"I like Japan!" The International Performance Art Festival in Bandung, Indonesia "Tourist #7:VIVA! Globalisation--Azinomoto""Tourist #8:Jun-ichiro"Wed Action #4 in Jogjakarta, SOLO ACTiON! in Solo, Indonesia
"Tourist #7:VIVA! Globalisation--Azinomoto""Tourist #8:Jun-ichiro--Our prime miniter" 2nd DaDao Live Art festival in Beijing, China
"Tourist #9: International""Tourist #10: Thank you ,Joseph Beuys"The 5th Open Art Festival in Beijing, China
"VIVA globalisation!--Washing audience feet" Performance Site :Myanmar 05 "Borders : withIn withOut" in Yangon, Myanmar
"Tourists #11 We Have Good Constitutions" 3rd DaDao Live Art Festival in Beijing, China
"Tourist #9 International", "VIVA! Globalisation--Azinomoto" June Art Action Live Art + Music in Hong Kong, China
"Happy Japan! --Memory for Tainan private middle school of Presbyterian Church in days of occupation by Japan" Reach Outlying_2005 TIPALive in Taipei, Taiwan
"Happy Japan! for Shu Yang" The 6th Open International Performance Art Festival in Chengdu, China
"Happy Japan! " The new world maps in Tokyo, Japan
"VIVA globalisation! "Artists in Action-the Power of the PowerLess!-in Hong Kong, China
"YOU ARE NO GOOD -tourist #6-" FOI3: Future of Imagination 3 in Singapore "Tourist #8 International" Great East Asia Co-prosperity Restaurant in Tokyo
"We love Kiko - Mother of 3G Emperor" The 7th Open International Performance Art Festival in Beijing
"Viva! United States -for Herbert Norman" Viva! Art Action in Montreal, Canada
"Happy Japan! for Shu Yang" Birds Migration in Jakarta, Indonesia
"Arigatou Joseph Beuys - Thank you Joseph Beuys" THE CAT SHOW Cardiff Art in Time International PRRR-formance Art in Cardiff, UK
"Arigatou Joseph Beuys - Thank you Joseph Beuys","Happy Japan!","Viva! Globalisation"Art of Encountering Issue II in Cologne,Essen,Dsseldorf,Hildesheim,Kassel and Hannover, Germany
"Viva! Globalisation for Ding Ling" June-Alliance in Beijing, China
"Viva! Globalisation for Ding Ling" The 8th Open International Performance Art Festival in Beijing,China
"Black Flag for Lobin" Memorial for Foo Lobin in Hong Kong, China
"Happy Japan!","Viva! Globalisation" TutoK2talk in Manila, Philippine.
"Viva! Globalisation for TANAKA Mitsu (activist of 70's Women's Lib in Japan) ""Happy Japan! for Shu Yang" Small East Asia Co-prosperity Restaurant 08 in Tokyo
"Happy Japan!","Viva! Globalisation" Bipaf festival in Buchon and Gimuchon, Korea
"Happy Japan!" VIVA! Asialization festival in Seoul , Korea
"Arigatou Joseph Beuys - Thank you Joseph Beuys" The 9th Open International Performance Art Festival in Beijing,China
"Viva! Invasion" Up-On festival in Chengdu, China
"Happy Japan! for Shu Yang" Vital08 festival in Chongqin, China
"Viva! Invasion" 10th Asiatopia festival in Bangkok, Thailand
2006 Great East Asia Co-prosperity Restaurant in Tokyo
2008 Small East Asia Co-prosperity Restaurant 08 in Tokyo --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Conception of "Happy Japan!"
In 1999, Japanese diet decided what are Japanese flag and Japanese anthem in the law. Before there was no law for Japanese flag and the national anthem. Now in some school ceremonies like graduation, People should show Japanese flag and sing the national anthem. And sometimes teachers and students who do not like to respect the flag and sing the national anthem in the ceremony are punished by the director because of the law now. Before there was some agreement among people with Japanese flag was symbol of militarism and the anthem celebrate the Emperor in spite of them not agreeing. From '92 to '94 as a member of Japan Overseas Cooperate Volunteers something like the KOICA, I lived Zanzibar, Tanzania and I taught wood block printing to Zanzibar young artists at the art school of Nyumba ya Sanaa, Zanzibar. Before I went to Tanzania , all members of volunteers had to meet the Emperor who is the hornoly president of the organization. I wanted not to meet him. But if I did not meet him I could not go to Tanzania. So I did meet him. In Tanzania we got 200USD per month for meals, books and patrols for motor bike from the organization. Those days (also now days) Tanzanian people got 30USD per month from their jobs as usual. In Tanzanian bars, I had a lot of girl friend who loved my money. In 1997, The Manga (comic book) "War Theory" by KOBAYASHI Yoshinori was published. In his Manga, KOBAYASHI says that Japan must have more military power. We Japanese must have a patriot spirit. There was no Nanjing genocide by the Japanese Emperor army. There were no Korean or E.A. women sex slaves in the Japanese Emperor army. They were only commercial prostitutes. More than a million people bought copies of this Manga and almost all of them are under 30.
Conception of "Viva! Globalisation"
I was born in 1959 in Toyama city 600km from Tokyo. My house is facing
a big road to Tokyo. In those days, my house was almost completely
surrounded by rice fields and some petrol stations only. Basically, my
home town was very country side.
In our primary school days in Japan, we had school lunch with bread,
powdered milk and some Japanese dishes. And I had eaten neither bread
nor milk at my home. We ate rice and miso soup at home.
The bread was made from expired flour and powdered milk also, both of
which are used as livestock food in the United States. The United
States gov't sold them to the Japan gov't.
So we were familiar with bread and milk. Sometimes I asked my mother
to buy bread and milk. But she said that they were too expensive to
buy for us.
I also liked Coca-Cola very much but I only could get it once or twice
a year. When our relatives visited us at New Years or some other
festival, they gave me small money. And I ran to buy Coca-Cola. My
parents asked me why I liked Coca-cola, which tasted like medicine and
was very expensive!
In those days TV spots always sung the "DEL MONTE tomato ketchup"
song. We happily sung "DEL MONTE tomato ketchup" song without knowing
what the ketchup was. After I knew what ketchup was, I liked it very
much and ate it with everything. But my parents never used it.
In my house there was Ajinomoto, monosodium glutamate, on the kitchen
table. Glutamate was invented by Japanese company Ajinomoto in 1930's.
Usually my family used it in almost all the dishes. Ajiomoto was said
to make people clever, especially children.
40 years ago, my home town was very country side. But nowadays there
are no rice fields, only McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, 24 hr
open small super market and US style road side restaurants.
Also in our Japanese kitchen there is no Ajinomoto now. But all the
food we buy from the store contains it already.
My father, who died in 2002, liked Kentucky Fried Chicken very much in
his last years. He also liked Japanese sake very much and drank sake
and ate Kentucky Fried Chicken. He drank sake with Kentucky Fried
Now my mother lives alone in my home town. She told me that sometimes
she does not like to make her meal so she buy bread and milk at 24 hr
open small super market , for her lonely dinner.
About "Happy Japan!"
*This text was written for Chinese monthly art magazine "NEXT WAVE" (December 2001 the last issue) which was banned by Chinese Comunist party.
edited by Shu Yang in NEXT WAVE (art critic/performance artist)
translated in English by HOSHINO Roka
I (a 42-year old unmarried man/*all things in 2001) get up at 8:30 a.m. and leave home (60,000 Yen/month: 6m x 8m, telephone bill: 5,000 Yen/month, heat, light and water expenses: 10,000 Yen/month, note: 1 USD = 120 Yen, 100 Yen = 0.83 USD ) at 8:50 a.m.. After a 10-minute ride, I park my bicycle at a parking place (2,500 Yen/month) in front of the station. Buying a ticket (400 Yen), I take the Chuo rapid train to Nakano, Tokyo. Even during off-peak times, the train is so crowded that one is unable to hold open a newspaper. After a 20-minute ride, I reach Nakano and switch to the Tozai subway line. As it starts at Nakano, I can get a seat. And another 20 minutes, I arrive at my workplace for the day, a publishing company. At work I read the proofs of computer magazine (20,000 Yen/day). At lunchtime, I eat a plate of sliced raw fish (800 Yen), buy a pack of cigarette (250 Yen) and a can of tea (120 Yen). I get off work at 6 p.m., call the head office of the employment firm by mobile phone (5,000 Yen/month) and learn that I have no job the next day. I step into a book store and buy the book, "Conceptual Art" (4,400 Yen), which I have been wanting to get though somewhat expensive for me. I go to Budo-ya, which is my favorite bar, and order a bottle of wine (2,400 Yen). Complaining to my barmates about my job, other's art performances and so on, I am getting dead drunk. At 0:30am, I pay the tab (5,000 Yen) and take the last train home (450 Yen) which takes an hour. The last train is crowded with many other drunken people like me, and as a matter of course, I cannot get a seat. Though I declare that I am an artist, basically I set off for work on a crowded train to earn money, like the average salaried worker. The only difference between them and me is that the total number of days I work varies between 5 and 20 days a month, which I have no control over. The uniform I wear in my performance, "Happy Japan!", is the uniform of Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers . This body, sponsored by the Japanese government, dispatches Japanese men and women under the age of 40 to developing countries for 2 years to teach the local people various things, such as the Japanese language, how to repair cars, agriculture techniques, computer systems, and so on. For example, many young people have been dispatched to various region of China as teachers of Japanese or agriculture. From 1992 to 1994, I taught art, mainly printing art, at a newly established art school in Tanzania, East Africa. To get into the Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers, I had to take an examination and participate in a training camp for about 3 months. I told my office, parents and friends that I would go to Tanzania for 2 years, decided to have a friend live in my leased house during my absence and got the householder's approval. That is to say, I participated in the camp with the understanding that I would leave Japan. There was also another reason that I had only 10 days by the departure after finishing the camp. On the last day of the training, we had "an audience" with the Emperor, who is the president of Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers. Despite my convictions (I oppose the Emperor system), I decided to attend the audience along with many others. I reasoned that if I were to refuse and this disqualified me from participating in the Tanzania volunteer work, I could take a legal action against the Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers. But I did not refuse it because I had been frightened by our instructors in the training camp who said that if I did such a thing, I would be prevented from getting into Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers on false ground, such as health problems or a bad attitude during training. Thus I gave preference to avoiding the problems which might occur if I were expelled, such as possibly being unable to get my old job back, causing my friends trouble or my parents ashamed, litigation and so on. The "Senso-ron ("War Theory")", which I crowd into my mouth in my performance "Happy Japan!", is a controversial cartoon by KOBAYASHI Yoshinori --one of the main members of the "Body to Write and Publish a New History Textbook in Japan"-- and has already seen sales of around 1 million copies mainly among young people in the 2 years since it was first published. During World War II, the Japanese Imperial Army compelled many women in North and South Korea and Southeast Asia to come to the military camp to provide sexual services (they were called "comfort women" by the military). Though they were sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers, KOBAYASHI has insisted in his cartoon that they were just prostitutes because they were paid for their deeds. This insistence that the Japanese troops did not do wrong to them, in my mind, shows KOBAYASHI's lack of sympathy and selfishness. On the other hand, I did not I want to be part of the Japan Overseas Cooperative Volunteers --a so-called "peaceful army"-- that imposes Japanese culture upon other developing countries in the name of the Emperor, its titular head, and was repulsed by an image of myself as a latter day imperialist taking advantage of the strength of the Yen and holding the hands of so many desperate girls in Tanzanian bars. I think it is all the more dangerous that nowadays many young people with only a dim awareness of history are able to absorb themselves in the truth-twisting work of KOBAYASHI Yoshinori. But I had the same experience 25 years ago. It was a time when I had had been having my doubts about the Japanese history taught in the high school and was bothered by the contradiction I found in society. I knew of HANI Goro, who was a historian specializing in Marxism, and was affected by his work. It was 1975, a time when Japanese left-wing student activism was at its peak, and HANI had inspired many us with his Marxism historical view. In those days, he had written more essays of social criticisms expanding on his historical view than books, and energetically delivered lectures at universities, etc.. He had repeatedly asserted "All of the various problems in Japan result from the capitalism system. To get rid of them, Japan should change to a socialist or communist system." or "It is said that many innocent people had been purged by Stalin, but even so, Russia is a more livable land than the current Japan." He also said that "The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China was an experiment about the direct participation in politics by the common people. How wonderful event it is. In every respect, socialism is superior to the capitalism." That was my first contact with socialism, and I was overwhelmed by its power. Compared with the reality of Japan at that time, I thought the socialist countries he told of were like a dream. For that reason I thought for a long time that the reporting about socialist countries, e.g. China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Former Soviet Union, the Eastern Europe countries, North Korea, etc., or about international affairs involving such countries were fabricated by press agencies in the capitalist countries (Western powers). For example, I had a vague sense that the holocaust by the Por Pot faction of Cambodia was exaggerated by the Western powers. (That is to say, I thought that in a socialist country such a dreadful thing could not be done and that such information would be fabricated by the Western powers to make us believe the socialist countries were wrong and bad. In fact, there were false reporting about the Vietnam War or Cuba.) And I did not so much as think about the things being done in the socialist countries from various angles, nor did I conceive what the ordinary people living there were feeling. In the end of 1980s, only after the revolution began in the East European countries, I gave up my fixed ideas of socialism vs. capitalism (or left vs. right, East vs. West) and could see things from ordinary people's perspective, in other words, from their viewpoint, as if I were there among them. I know well no matter how I try to tell young people who support KOBAYASHI Yoshinori, "You are being taken in by the conservatives, such ideas are dangerous as they persuade people to try to eliminate aliens in Japan, push the ideas of Japan on other nations and prevents people from thinking of their common concerns", my advice would not be easily received. I had also clang to the hardened idea that even newspapers reports were fabricated by the rightists. Well, how can I come face to face with such young people? How can I open my mouth to them? Is it a good to debate them in web forums? Should I send my opinion to newspapers or magazines? Or should I participate in citizen's movements against their actions? ***********************************
That was in the morning on December 20, 2000. "In conclusion, it was decided not to issue visas for the two Chinese men this time. We cannot give you the reason as it was an official decision. The principals will be notified later.", an officer of the Foreign Ministry in Japan said. I was struck dumb with shock as I heard his words through the telephone receiver. The eve of the next day was the deadline for them to be able to get visas to come to Japan, and now we were issued the ultimatum. We had already got the air tickets for them and were waiting for the visas to be issued. But as the visas were still not issued after so long, I had called the Foreign Ministry almost every day for the past week. However, all I got was the fuzzy answers. SHU Yang and CHEN Jin, who organize Open Art performance festival , were applying for visas to participate in the event on December 23 and 24, 2000, "Perspective Emotion 3" (the 1st and 2nd events of the series had already been held in 1998 and 1999 under the directorship of MUKAI Chie), for which I worked as one of executive members. To get a visa for the artists, it was necessary to have the Japanese government recognize that the "Perspective Emotion" was a sound event, but we couldn't seem to do it for lack of time. So this time, we applied for their visas differently: invited them as a private citizen to visit from China. As the guarantor, I prepared the following documents:
1. Papers describing the purpose of their coming to Japan, the detailed schedule and the consent form to be their guarantor during their stay in Japan
2. The prehistory of how we came to know each other
3. Something to testify to our friendship, e.g. picture, letter, etc.
4. If I had been to China, the copy of my passport from that time
5. My tax certificate
6. My resident card
I had to submit these documents to the Japanese Embassy in China through SHU Yang and CHEN Jin. Of course they made and submit their own required documents by themselves. Concerning 5, my income was 1.4 million Yen in the tax certificate. As my friend who had invited her Chinese friend from China to Japan before said to me that the required income to invite people from China was around 5 million Yen, I made certain of it with the Foreign Ministry and got a reply that the amount was not so impossible. Therefore I asked my salaried-worker friend to be another guarantor for them and added his tax certificate because among the members of "Perspective Emotion" I was already one of the highest earners and none of them would have been able to help out much. Why wasn't the visa issued even after preparing such adequate documents? I only discovered the answer after a week-long dialogue by telephone with government officials that the Foreign Ministry did not want to issue the visa to Chinese people. It holds not only for China but also all other countries which require a guarantor on the Japanese side before they can apply for a visa. On the other hand, when Western people come to Japan on a tourist visa, a guarantor is not necessary. The officer in the Foreign Ministry explained in a business-like tone, "This time, it looks like it is going to be difficult to issue their visa.". Still I was insistent, until he said, "Imagine if Chinese people could easily come to Japan. You would feel uneasy, wouldn't you? That is why we have to carry out such strict examinations.". Is it possible for them to come to Japan "easily" under such strict conditions? Or, can't a poor Japanese person invite a friend to visit from China? Do they think that poor Japanese plan to help Chinese people enter and stay in Japan illegally?
Three months later (February,2001), I met with CHEN Jin at the "EXIT" Performance art festival (under the directorship of Roi Vaara) in Helsinki, Finland. I asking him if it was difficult to get a visa for Finland, He said with a smile, "No Problem!". After that, in the spring in 2001, the issue of embezzlement of secret funds began to surface. Taking advantage of the fact that the secret funds do not have to be reviewed by the Audit Board, an official of the Foreign Ministry had been skimming off no less than several hundred million Yen for years. However, though this issue was dealt with as his personal crime, it is said that it might actually be a conspiracy by Foreign Ministry officials along with politicians. Assuming that people in poorer countries than Japan might come here and commit a crime, the Foreign Ministry does not give such people visas, does not give any clear reason for denying them, and -when confronted-- finally says it is for the national interest. However, even if the visa is granted to persons who somehow prepare perfect documents and excellent guarantors, they will not commit a crime graver than what those officials of the Foreign Ministry did, something which did indeed the national interest. By contrast, the non-issuance of visa will damage and confuse personal relationships and increase the level of anti-Japanese feeling (most of such people are in neighbor countries). I think this actually hurts the national interest more. After all, I go on my performing. Always there is just a small audience. Here in Japan, which is said to be rich, to be mature democracy, to have freedom of expression, all I can do is just cry "Happy Japan! Happy Japan!"
Social Tensions: ARAI Shin-ichi
CREATIVITY AND ABJECT NATIONALISM
by Berenice Angremy
("Art AsiaPacific" Spring 2004, No.40)
ARAI Shin-ichi is an established Japanese performance artist who has been working around the world since the 1980s, especially in Asia and Western Europe. His performances are direct, clear and obvious -- perhaps too obvious at first glance.
Strongly influenced by an earlier generation of politically minded postwar Japanese artists associated with the Gutai movement in Osaka and Neo-DADA-organizers in Tokyo in the 1950s and 60s, Arai's actions and performances denounce nationalism and identity obsession.
Recently, at the 4th Open Art Festival which took place in Changchun, China, September 2003, Arai performed "Happy Japan!," a well known performance work which is his signature piece having been performed more than ten times since 1999.
For the performance, Arai dressed soberly in a dark green suit which, he tells us, is the uniform of Japan Overseas Cooperate Volunteers,
a body of young people under 40 to propagate Japanese civilization around the world. And the honorary president of the Organization is
In a clear, unemotional speech, he introduces his audience to the book he holds in his hands, "War theory," a controversial comic book that has sold a most a million copies.
It looks like an ordinary, inoffensive comic book but is in fact a compendium of ultranationalist propaganda, featuring revisionist theses about tragedies of modern Japanese history-denying, for instance, the Nanjing genocide in China as well as the sexual slavery imposed on Southeast Asian women by the occupying Japanese army during the Second World War.
He then takes off his clothes, keeping only a small yellow "Pikachu Pokemon" fig leaf on his genitals, and squats on a square white canvas on the floor. While singing the Japanese national anthem, he presses a plastic tube of Riquitex containing red paint from just below his buttocks, as if excreting red human waste.
Using his bare buttocks on the "waste," he paints a full but irregular rising sun in the middle of the white canvas that turns out to be a copy of the Japanese national flag, which he later hangs on the wall.
He then tears out random pages of the comic book, giving some to the audience, and stuffing others into his mouth after reading out a few lines. He chews them, shouting "Happy Japan." At the same time, the accumulation of paper in his mouth blocks his emotional speech, making his voice hoarse before it disappears entirely inside his throat.
The performance ends when a last, almost inaudible "Happy Japan" emerges from his suffocating mouth, while tears run down his pain-distorted face.
Is Arai an activist -- which is how he is often perceived in Japan outside performance art circles? Is he really an artist -- which is how he is received abroad, especially in China where his performances always move his audiences deeply? The emotion prompted by his work is on multiple and successive levels, and reveals that his performance is subtler than it seems:
it goes beyond the simple eruption of anger and rage provoked by ultra nationalism, slowly assuming innocuous form.
This is also the case of his other performance pieces -- such as the Tourist's Series, the last episode of which, "Tourist #7 Viva Globalism!," was also performed in Changchun:
a performance with a crude political message, so banal and comic that it may lull the audience into cynicism, is suddenly disturbed by scenes of painful incorporation, the multiple waves of intense emotions produced progressively engulfed its audience; herein lives the force of Arai's work. His criticism is based on images which despite looking like childish artifacts, reveal terrifying techniques of mass production and consumerism:
the Pokemon figures (Pikachu as a fig leaf) which feed the imagination of children the world over; and the Manga images which are present everyday in the life of Japanese people and in the art scene (MURAKAMI Takashi) and beyond, forge the image that Westerners have of contemporary Japanese art.
"Here in Japan, which is said to be rich, to be a mature democracy, to have freedom of expression, all I can do is just cry," Arai said in a recent interview. All societies which have experienced wars of aggression go through revisionist phases to deal with their feelings of guilt and to deny their collective responsibility -- and thus commit another crime, that of denying the humane essence of their victims and their right to memory and justice.
When a publishing house transforms its revisionist ideology into a social phenomenon, with the commercial success of a book (War theory) at least in part due to its popular Manga form, the sense of unease goes even deeper.
Arai doesn't use his body to express his political rebellion in a theatrical fashion, by miming or acting it out -- he lives it. He makes his body experience his political conscience by eating the
source of nationalism and defecating the symbols of the Japanese nation.
Moreover, his body in action creating the image of the Japanese flag
takes him even further from the traditional anti-establishment gesture:
the burning or shredding of the national flag. Action is not based on destruction, or indirect use but on simple, straightforward creation.
In other performances, he insists on performing
along with "Happy Japan!" at festivals, Arai follows the same process:
a narrative discourse, followed by action -- first, comical, then intense or even dramatic.
All his recent performances in China -- "Tourist #4 Globalism/lnternationalism", "Tourist #6 You're no good" and "Tourist #7 Viva Globalism" denounce excess consumerism. The body in action becomes a focus for social tensions to manifest themselves and attitude becomes form.
His performances can sometimes disturb his audience -- either because of the issues he raises or simply because of the taboo, intimate presence of his own body, naked or clothed.
Yet, the body of Arai is not on show (a show -- a theatrical performance -- is easier for an audience to assimilate), it isn't a tool in the service of art -- it is art at the moment of performance.
In this way, the work of Arai links up with the most radical expressions of performance art from its beginnings in the 1950s -- the Gutai Group and Neo-DADA-organizers in Japan, the Viennese Actionists in Austria, and Body Art in the U.S.
In Asia, performance art first developed in Japan, in an atmosphere conducive to the emergence of counter-culture ideals similar to the ones present in Europe and America. The famous Gutai group founded in 1955 in Osaka by YOSHIHARA Jiro, and the Neo-DADA-Organizers in Tokyo, set the tone:
a radical, physical art of expression which would occasionally manifest itself as a political response to the desolation of post-war, post-Hiroshima Japan.
The isolated actions of artists such as SHIMODA Seiji in the 1980s, while set in a context of social and political protest, were also accompanied by touches of theatre and poetry which gave performance art a personal dimension and a formalist aesthetic. The contemporary performance art scene in Japan undoubtedly owes much to the irrepressible energy of Shimoda, who ever since the creation of the Nippon International Performance Art Festival (NIPAF) in 1993, has inspired and gathered together performers mainly from Japan and Asia.
In this context open to all forms of performance art, artists like Arai have been able to give free rein to their libertarian, challenging and creative acts.
Arai's artistic language is undoubtedly a fundamental part of his own country's contemporary art scene -- in that his political opposition, mainly aimed at issues of globalism and nationalism, experienced with humour and insight (despite and we should say because of its obviousness) precedes the expression of his personal experiences and the aesthetic dimension of his performances. Although less poetic and formalist than many other performers in NIPAF.
Arai forces us by virtue of his work to rethink the violence of quotidian ideology:
precisely because we all think we already know where the trap of ideology lies and hence unconsciously dismiss its force. We therefore succumb to the spectacle of our own cynicism.
Berenice Angremy is a freelance art critic based in Beijing, China. She is also Executive Director of DIAF, Dashanzi International Art
Festival in Beijing.