2013 “Katsuhiro Yamaguchi – Imaginarium” by Jasia Reichardt


Katsuhiro Yamaguchi – Imaginarium

Jasia Reichardt

Yamaguchi’s ‘Imaginarium’ was a project he developed gradually from the 1950s. It is an updated version of Malraux’s “Le musée Imaginaire” (1947) , a museum of an infinite number of reproductions. What Yamaguchi wanted to achieve with his ‘Imaginarium’ was to enable the visitor not only to see all the works in the world, but also to interact with them. He wanted art to be seen very much like everything else in our natural environment, something that can be touched, moved, addressed, and changed.
Like Malraux, Yamaguchi was in advance of his time.

The 21 works in this exhibition represent the early period of Katsuhiro Yamaguchi’s creative life. They belong to the 1950s and 1960s, an important moment for experiment in the history of Japanese art. For Yamaguchi this was the beginning of his progress from illusionistic Vitrines, light sculptures, constructions with stretched sacking, structures with fluorescent plastics and photographs, to video, to installations and finally to multimedia works. Since the 1950s, using whatever technology was available, his work has concentrated on two specific ideas: the spectator’s intentional or unintentional interaction with the works, and fluid exchange between the past and the present.
By the 1970s, Yamaguchi was already known in Japan as the father of video and media art, gradually becoming one of the most admired and influential artists in the country.

The 1950s was a significant period of experimental art in Japan that left the conventional concerns of painting and sculpture behind. The new art set out to embrace movement, music, dance, unconventional materials, lighting effects, photographic collages and synchronized audio-visual presentations with multiple screens. Leading this departure from convention was a group of young artists and composers, who belonged to Experimental Workshop (Jikken Kobo) so named by the poet and critic, Shuzo Takiguchi. Yamaguchi was one of its 14 members. Among them were: Kuniharu Akiyama, Shozo Kitadai, Toru Takemitsu, Hideko Fukushima, Hiroyoshi Suzuki and Joji Yuasa. Like the other members of Experimental Workshop, Yamaguchi had no conventional art education. He had trained as a lawyer and when he joined •he group in 1951, he was 23. The group had neither an office nor a studio – during the seven years of its existence, the Experimental Workshop was portable, and its members worked where they could, individually or in small teams. They were responsible for some memorable exhibitions, animated environments and experimental stage designs for ballets.

Yamaguchi’s works of that period, 1950s and 1960s, anticipate his later development because they already deal with ideas he continued to develop throughout his career. What are they?

First of all, he emphasizes that any single three-dimensional work, con be seen in several different ways. ‘When I took pictures of my work,’ — wrote Yamaguchi — ‘I would light it with Kiyoshi Otsuji and others, and then shoot a certain port of the work. Things look completely different depending on the way you light them.’ His Trial Objects (cat. nos. 9-11), for instance, yellow forms in fluorescent acrylic, when suspended from above under a rotating light, perhaps even an ultraviolet light, will change their appearance for each of the visit was looking at them.
The same is true of the Magnetic Reliefs (cat. no. 12) that look different every time someone changes the positions of the colored pieces on the vertical black surface. When we look at the work we see what was done lost time, we don’t see, we don’t know, the history of the movements of the magnetic pieces that had token place before. The post hos gone, what we see is just the present.
What had been seen once becomes virtual, a memory. And that is central to Yamaguchi’s thinking. That is what he wants to capture – the history of the piece, the history of what it looked like at different times.

Time, movement and transformations are the themes Yamaguchi tackles in the Vitrines (cat. nos. 4, 14, 15), which he started making during the years of the Experimental Workshop. These are paintings covered with layers of patterned and/or opaque glass, which impose a texture on the painted surface. The texture, in turn, becomes affected by whatever is reflected in the gloss such as the fragmented faces of the viewers. As one walks in front of one of the Vitrines so one experiences on illusion of the painting in motion. Their appearance changes. No photograph token of the work from a given angle, however carefully positioned, will be quite the same as others. Artists like Soto and Agam, have used a similar principle of walking in front of the work to see it change, often quite radically, as one continues to move. With the Vitrines, however especially the large ones, the changes tend to be subtle, small, but sometimes quite unexpected however many times one undertakes the journey in front of the picture.

The Vitrines ore the beginning of Yamaguchi’s journey following the moment he first marveled at making something that defies our grasp. How to combine the past and the present? How can a work of art absorb all that is going on around it? It doesn’t matter if the visitors to the gallery do not stop to contemplate the objects on display — their presence costs a shadow, and the work is affected by their presence. These thoughts led Yamaguchi towards several significant works, which placed him right in the centre of the art and technology movement in Japan.

One particular work intended to combine the past and the present is called Reflection 1958, 1994. It was exhibited at Satani Gallery in 1994. On one side of the gallery hung Vitrine – Landscape, 1958. Opposite this was installed Video Passage, 1994, a construction of transparent acrylic columns with eight video monitors. A hand-held camera, in the shape of a small sphere could be held by a visitor and pointed at any detail on the Vitrine. That detail then became transferred to the Video Passage and combined with other reflections. In that exhibition the viewers’ attention was directed towards reflections in the Video Passage, some of which they could control. The physical reality of the work faded as the viewers themselves joined the images gathered inside the work. Yamaguchi’s inspiration for the works that combine the old and the new, the past and the present was the story by Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel. In it, Morel creates a machine that replays ad infinitum scenes from the life of a group of characters. Whoever is watching cannot participate because the sequences replicated by the machine are locked into the moments when they were recorded. And so, in the book, the world consists of those virtual lifelike images going about their business, and the viewer, a young man who tries, but cannot, join them.

The Vitrines are not the only works through which the ethos of Experiment al Workshop has continued in Yamaguchi’s work. Jikken Kobo was a collective enterprise in which composers, photographers, and lighting designers collaborated, improvising with whatever means were available. Yamaguchi has continued to work with groups of artists, musicians, architects, dancers, students, and has continued to invent means to realize their common ideas. He organized performances, teams working with video, displays, exhibitions, and operas. The ethos of Experimental Workshop was never far away, but in the 1990s the ideas underlying experimental art in Japan found their new home on Awaji Island in the Art Village organized by Yamaguchi. This too was intended to tread unorthodox paths of combining and redefining ideas outside the current mainstream.

Today, Yamaguchi is not able to undertake and organize big projects, but he continues to work. He now paints vibrant animated gouaches that continue to reflect his view of the changing world unfolding before him.one of his most moving recent exhibitions was his Sanriku Requiem at Tamagawa University in Tokyo. This was a requiem in memory of the devastation inflicted by the tsunami on Sanriku,the beautiful northeastern Tohoku region, in 2011.

Yamaguchi’s work continues to emphasize Shuzo Takiguchi’s dictum for the Experimental Workshop, that in experiment nothing can be, or should even attempt to be, fixed and made permanent.

August 2013

Exhibition Catalog
Annely Juda Fine Art, London
11 September – 26 October 2013

Yamaguchi Katsuhiro Imaginarium Exhibition Catalog

2013 回遊する思考:山口勝弘展



2013年 10 月15 日(火)~ 19日(土)
神戸芸術工科大学 ギャラリーセレンディップ





本展は、JSPS科研費(23520195)及び 相模女子大学特定研究助成費 の助成を受けています。


2011 Sanriku Requiem




2011 – Sanriku Requiem exhibition view


2001 Dragon Stream INAX

INAX Gallery website

「今展では1999年のプロジェクトを象徴的に構築して展示します。1920年に台北につくられた旧日本人小学校を保存修復した建物が、台北市第2美術館に生まれ変わり、そこに龍をイメージした、カラフルで力強く軽やかなプラスティックチューブの作品が常設展示されます。半世紀のメディアアートのエッセンスをちりばめた山口勝弘の作品で、INAXギャラリーは21世紀の幕あけを言祝ぎます。」 (INAX Gallery websiteより)

Yamaguchi Katsuhiro Profil – INAX website

中原佑介:「 山口龍あらわる」、2001年1月、INAXギャラリ-2 Art&News

2000 From Darkness 2000 to Light

「闇 2000 光」展

2001 「第42回毎日芸術賞」


協力:NEC ビューテクノロジー株式会社、



1- はじまりの夢のデッサン




「ヴィトリーヌ」の古い写真を箱の中に入れて並べる。ビデオパサージュの模型を並べる。ロンドンのヤシャ・ライハートの家にあった小さな立体ヴィトリーヌを思い出した。すっかり忘れていた3 x 3 x 7cmくらいのサイズの大きさだった。入善の美術館も大きく見えて、これも一つの箱だ。その箱の中にイメージや光や音を詰め込んでおくと、人々はここでもパノラマ体験をする。


2-  この美術館の宿命を考えて









闇2000光4mini 闇2000光5mini 闇2000光6mini

(Photos by Saito Sadamu)

production:     Center for Environmental  Art and Media
cooperation:     Nizayama Forest Art Museum
thanks to:     NEC Viewtechnology Ltd
Shigeru Yokota Inc. Tokyo Publishing House

From Darkness 2000 to Light
Starting with an Obsession for the Baroque

Katsuhiro Yamaguchi

1. A sketch from the first dream

It’ s just after two in the morning and I’m standing  at the window of this urban apartment, looking out at windows on other buildings. I just woke from a dream. In it I had received several large wooden crates of sketches from Michio Fukuoka and I had to carry these boxes somewhere. I could see some of the sketches through the slats of the crates: ink drawings on white paper, a piece of red wood. They seemed to have more physical form than ordinary sketches. Yet as I had received these crates I still needed to carry them somewhere. And then I woke.

When I thought about it I realized that I still had one of his pieces in my home in Ôi. The piece, with its strings hanging down from the branch, seemed to be sway­ing like a scene from under the sea. I remember making a seascape diorama in a little candy box when I was a child. When I wrapped the front of the box in blue cellophane,  it gave it just the right underwater feel. I had even made a little sub­ marine for it.

That little diorama was the basis for the pieces I started creating in my twenties called Vitrine. I realize that as I think about the structure of the Toyama exhibit. The night before I go out to take pictures in Toyama, I stand here watching  the panorama from the apartment window. I am in Toyama because tomorrow I want to visit the Uozu Buried Forest Museum, to see the remnants of the forest beneath the sea there and to capture them on film for the exhibit. I would want to light up the darkened panorama as if it were a diorama, just as I had lit up my candy box seascape. I would experiment with some ideas about conceiving of the exhibition space as a box. The exhibit-goers would enter the exhibit from the perspective of boxes in their own pasts.

I place some old photos of Vitrine  in a box. I align some images from  Video Passage. I recalled the small three-dimensional Vitrine from the home of Jasia Reichardt in London, just 3 x 3 x 7 centimeters, small enough for me to have com­pletely forgotten until that moment. The art museum at Nyuzen seemed so large, and yet as another box. If one fills this box with images, light and sound, then the people within might undergo a diorama experience of their own.

Fa-la-do, fa-so-do, fa-so-la

Assuming that I was able to realize the dream within a dream within a dream…
Assuming  that I could create a series of nested boxes, with one box within an­ other within another, that continued  ad infinitum  in both the larger and smaller  dimensions.
Assuming that humanity was reality…
I want to shine a flashlight into the diorama of that reality.
–even as a momentary fantasy–

2. Considering the Destiny of the Nizayama Forest Art Museum

The destiny of this art museum lies with the fact that the building was erected for another purpose long before the idea of calling it an art museum ever arose. We must focus on the fact that this building  was not made to house works of art. There are similar  examples: the Musée d’ Orsay in Paris is housed in what was once a rail station and the Tate Modem in London in an old power station. In both of these cases, however,  the original building  was stripped  bare before  being converted to new functionality. This is a matter of course if the new facility is to exist solely  in name and functionality as an art museum. With the Nizayama Forest Art Museum, however, very different  choices were made when it came time to renovate. Architecturally the large space has been preserved for use, but one will also find two large water conduits with great holes cut into them as well as some of turbines and gauges that were in use when the facility functioned  as a hydroelectric power station. As a result, items that once served a functional pur­ pose within the plant now occupy some space in an art museum.It seems fair to say that this venue therefore acts as a hydroelectric power plant museum as well, and not solely  as an art museum. As I mentioned  earlier,  even though this art museum has been reborn as an art museum, it still continues to bear out its des­tiny from its days as a hydroelectric power station. From the moment I received the request to open an exhibit here at this power station art museum, I have con­tinually thought about the ways in which I should handle this fact. My first deci­sion was to entomb the inner space of the art museum in darkness. In so doing I eliminate the historical destiny of the art museum from the visible world, making things disappear within a black box. Then, through  the use of sound, light and imagery, I thought I would convert physical existence into something that could not be perceived  visually as well. I had reached  this point in my plans when I happened one day to visit the art museum. My objective in doing so was to inves­tigate  the acoustics of the architecture, and I had brought along a small video camera to record some of the building’ s architectural  details. When I was there, however, I realized that the use of the hand-held camera affected my approach to the turbines and gauges  and I began  to start  banging  on them and elsewhere throughout the building with wrenches and hammers. I found myself to be totally absorbed by the percussive effects of the building as a whole, and without realiz­ing it several hours went by as I banged my way around. As all this was happen­ing, some of my movements were recorded by some of the museum interns, and I subsequently  decided to use some of this footage within my piece.

For the next phase I decided  to capture on film several  shots around  Nyuzen depicting water. A rich supply of water is generated in the mountains of Kurobe, and it makes its way to the sea. I took lots of photographs in the preserved forest of swamp cedar near the coast, the buried forest remaining on the seabed at Uozu. A great many photographs were of the movement of water.

These photographs helped me next to determine my themes: the changes wrought by water and the changes wrought by history. Both water and history are items that change through interaction with human beings, and the art museum itself has grown out of a combination  of nature and human industry. From Darkness 2000 to Light makes  the art museum  itself  into a grand  theme, and it incorporates imagery from the museums construction, from the environment of nearby Nyuzen, and from the items left behind from its time as a hydroelectric plant, allowing my to interweave image,  sound and light in a single  comprehensive performance space.

Lastly I worked a virtual panorama image into the massive trussed beams of the ceiling, using imagery that calls to mind a grand Baroque palace from the glory of the eighteenth century. My aim in using this was to invoke the future of the art museum as I explode the Baroque image.



From Darkness 2000 to Light – Making

From Darkness 2000 to Light

「ギャラリー」2000 Vol.11 No.187

From Darkness 2000 to Light – video digest

From Darkness 2000 to Light – single frame video



2014 Metamorphosis of Water – Azamino


横浜の芸術資源としての作品やアーティストを発掘し、紹介するシリーズ展「横浜wo発掘suru」。今回は青葉区在住、メディアアートの先駆者・山口勝弘さんの「水」をテーマとした個展を開催しました。1951年に結成した前衛芸術グループ「実験工房」時代の代表作《ヴィトリーヌ》や旧作の再構成はもちろんのこと、86歳となる現在も旺盛な活動を続ける山口さんの新作および近作の絵画、映像を中心とした近年の活動を紹介する展示となりました。 山口さんと森下明彦さんによる「瀧口修造と美術映画」をテーマとした対談は、会場が満席となる盛況ぶり。草原真知子さん、北市記子さん、八尾里絵子さんの3名によるレクチャーではメディアアート草創期の山口さんの功績とその影響、現在の制作秘話など興味深いお話に会場も盛り上がりました。 ほかにも担当学芸スタッフによるギャラリートークやアートなピクニック(視覚に障がいがある人とない人が共に楽しむ鑑賞会)、あざみ野アートクラブ(子どものための鑑賞会)を通じて、80歳を超えてなお、型にはまらない山口さんの尽きることのない創造力を体感する展覧会となりました。(Exhibition Website)

Exhibition Poster

Exhibition Catalog

Video recording of Yamaguchi Katsuhiro interview by Morishita Akihiko

2006 From “Experimental Workshop” to Teatrine



Pioneer of Media Art YAMAGUCHI KATSUHIRO: From “Experimental Workshop” to Teatrine
会場:神奈川県立近代美術館 鎌倉





(報道用資料 2005年12月)