“The Group 1965 (Showa 40Nen Kai) － Shines under the spotlight.”
( Hitomi Hasegawa, 2005)
We were born in 1965. That’s all!
(Hiroyuki Matsukage, artist, president of The Group 1965)
The Group 1965 (Showa 40Nen Kai) is distinguishable from other artist-collectives in Japan. The members usually work individually, and are all established to a certain degree. Some are internationally acclaimed artists. They do not have any specific aim, common artistic belief or ambitions to take a strategic approach to the art world as a group. The only reason they formed a group is that they discovered they were all born in 1965.
“Showa 40nen” means 1965. “Kai” means group. Showa is the name of an era and the name of the current Japanese Emperor. So do they have a specific ideology concerning Japanese imperial discourse? No, they used Showa because the term is commonly used to signify years. Only one member artist, Makoto Aida, is concerned in his work with themes and notions of the Emperor.
In 1994, at the NICAF venue (Nihon International Contemporary Art Festival), Makoto Aida, Hiroyuki Matsukage, Oscar Satio Oiwa and Tsuyoshi Ozawa were chatting and suddenly realized that they were all born in 1965. The idea of forming a group hit upon them, and the same year they organized a “Press Conference Performance” at NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) and announced the start up of the Showa 40 Nen Kai. The original members were: Makoto Aida, Chie Kaihatsu, Parco Kinoshita, Hiroyuki Matsukage, Oscar Satio Oiwa, Tsuyoshi Ozawa and Yutaka Sone.
There have been some withdrawals and new enrollments of members, but from 1999 until now the group members have remained stable: Makoto Aida, Sumihisa Arima, Parco Kinoshita, Hiroyuki Matsukage, Oscar Satio Oiwa, Tsuyoshi Ozawa and Masamichi Tosa. There used to be female members, however, according to Matsukage, the female members did not want to let people know their ages so they left.
They usually do one or two projects a year. From 1997 to 1998, the Group implemented touring exhibitions in Europe. In 2002 and 2003, they did not do any public events due to the absence of members who were abroad on residency programs.
One of the features of the Group 1965 is the variety of styles and concepts of art that they embrace;
Makoto Aida often works with Japanese traditional paintings’ formats and materials to create work with a political message (for example, the series “War Picture Returns”).
Sumihisa Arima is a sound/media artist and a musician, who sometimes invents experimental musical instruments.
Parco Kinoshita is a painter who incorporates Japanese youth culture such as Manga and Karaoke into his works.
Hiroyuki Matsukage is a photographer and a performer in the artist unit called “Gorgeorous” with Muneteru Ujino.
Oscar Satio Oiwa is a Brazilian-Japanese painter who paints allegorical and satirical paintings about the industrialized world.
Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s works usually involve the audience or other people; one can categorize them relational aesthetics. For example his piece, “Art Soccer” involves many artists from two nations who they send a soccer ball back and forth changing its appearance each time. This is a ‘match’ but there is no winner or loser; the project leaves documentation and a strange soccer ball.
Masamichi Tosa used to belong to the Maywa Denki which is a performance art unit who disguised themselves as employees of a typical 1970s Japanese factory, as well as a producer of art multiples with the label Maywa Denki. He left the unit and is now a performance artist and actor.
Their exhibitions naturally became concerned with their generation, that is, the first generation without war experiences, who saw the World Expo in 1970 when they were kids, the first TV game and TV generation, and the so-called non-political generation. They grew up in the middle of Japan’s rapid economic growth, and in their mid-twenties they experienced an economic crash and then a long recession. As a result, to the older generation they seem to be indifferent and dispassionate to the outer world, especially politics. Art critic Satoru Nagoya wrote;
Although it can’t be said their mentality represents the whole artists of their generation in Japan, the group’s activities certainly reflect a collective tendency of many Japanese contemporary artists born in the 1960s or later: disbelief in any positive artistic values and disillusions at existing systems of the art world, including museums and commercial galleries.
(Satoru Nagoya “The Group 1965: ambitious and ambivalent ‘realists’ from Tokyo “ 1998, The group 1965 － The Voices from Tokyo catalogue )
In the earlier period, and for some of the member artists, The Group 1965 was meaningful as it provided spaces to exhibit experimental or adventurous pieces. There was not so much pressure compared to exhibiting as an individual. Also, exhibiting as a group gave them more freedom to show, they did not have to think about their galleries or sales.
However, now the activities of the group have shifted almost to performance. This shift altered the notion and significance of the Group for the member artists. Perhaps they got tired of doing Group exhibitions themed around their generation. The tendency of the shift has existed earlier, but it probably started in 2000.
In 1999, The Group created a collaborative video piece, “Rain or Shine”. In “Rain or Shine”, group members played roles as a family. The appearances of the characters were strange but the story was an ordinary family drama. The members seemed to enjoy acting and disguising themselves; a nymphomaniac young girl, slightly eccentric father, old grandparents, an impudent but good-hearted stepmother, etc. At the opening of this video installation exhibition, most of the group members did 15-20 minute performances. Matsukage, Parco and Tosa are performance artists first of all, so they were good at it, but the rest were flustered at the start, then grew to enjoy the performance. These proved very popular, with many viewers craning to catch a glimpse of the performers. People already familiar with the artists’ individual art works were very interested in how they would act as performers. Then after the first show, many people became fans of The Group and came back to other performances.
In their ‘show style’ performances, doing the performance one after another, each of them becomes their alter ego without prior consensus. Intriguingly, each has chosen as alter ego a person from a different culture; gender, nation and generation.
Parco sang along with a Karaoke machine disguised as Haruko, (the name of a female character in “Rain or Shine”), and did live paintings disguised as “Ado”, a well-known female TV personality who drew Manga. Ozawa did a performance with another Japanese guy and gave it a Chinese name “Won Won Xiao Xiao” (though Ozawa clamed the dance itself was not about China), Tosa did a live music performances with the unit entitled Y&M☆O. They parodied the Techno music movement pioneer YMO, while extravagantly dressed. At a 24-hour live performance in Seoul in 2005, Aida disguised himself as a man from the ancient Japanese era, Jyoumon-jin, and analyzed the locality and strange local phenomena in Japan. Then he wanted to do a mentally masochistic talk with some local feminists, but he could not find any.
Matsukage presented a passionate Flamenco dance performance with his alter ego Tamaquin Jorge. Matsukage actually is learning flamenco but only for a year. For a Japanese audience, whether the dance is authentic or not does not really matter; his dance is an essence of Spain somewhere far from Tokyo. He occasionally does the solo performance “The Art of Men’s Cocktail” with his other personality “Master Hiroyuki Matsukage” whose age is 16 years older than his real age. Matsukage invented his personal history. The master once intended to be an author but failed, now he is writing travel journals from his experiences wondering around the world when he was young. The master loves alcohol and is didactic towards his young audience.
In the performances, the artists became other people and played their roles. To become another person is what people long for; beyond national borders or biological differences, even times. Their performances tell pseudo-narratives within their imaginary realms in a quite amusing way, but they connote reconciliation with a reality that is full of discontentment, uncertainties and fear of the outer world. This feeling is common with the audience of The Group and in this sense it is easier for the audience to identify themselves to the artist. The artists create an intimate space with utopian notions. A big fat guy wearing make up, odd dirty man supposed to be from an ancient era, a sweaty passionate Spanish dancer, all those anomalous guys talked to the audience and offer non-hierarchical (temporary) community. There is no division between performer and viewers, altogether they can all believe in a better tomorrow. Their performances are sometimes transgressive but they offer a temporary refusal of the real world, and emotional emancipation from Japan’s vertical and monolithic social system. This seems to be something that the audience can never get from mass cultural production. Moreover, their performances are fun.
The year 2005 is a special year for them, because the entire membership has hit the age of 40. They decided to do seven projects within this year on each of their birthdays. The yearly project is titled “40 x 40”. As a result, they have more than 20 projects in this year including a 24 hour-long installation and exhibition project in Korea, a solo exhibition in Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, a hotel installation project in BankArt together with architects during the 2nd Yokohama Triennale. Every time they participate in exhibitions, there are performance or talk events. The Group 1965 nurtured their talents as art performers.
The Group 1965 (Showa 40 Nen Kai) has endured for 11 years. The Group has sometimes been visible and sometimes invisible in the Japanese art world. Without specific intention, The Group initiated a new form of artist-collective. Performance is sideways to their art practice, but for each artist, it is more than a mere supplement. The Group shines when it is on stage.