Theses Doctoral

VIDEO HIROBA: Contingent Publics and Video Communication in Japan, 1966-1981

Horisaki-Christens, Andrea Janine

"VIDEO HIROBA: Contingent Publics and Video Communication in Japan, 1966-1981" is the first major study in English or Japanese of the seminal 1970s video collective Video Hiroba (Video Plaza). Formed in the aftermath of both Expo ’70 and the late 1960s season of protest, Video Hiroba’s founding in 1972 coincided with a moment of crisis in public space. The combination of high economic growth, rapid industrialization and urbanization, and expansion of mass media in the 1960s also sparked a series of cultural debates around the effects of eizō (technological images) and media (both mass media systems and media technologies) under the highly-managed conditions of the information age, encompassed in the term kanri shakai (the managed or controlled society). Through encounters with North American video practitioners and engagements with these Japanese debates, the members of Video Hiroba developed video as an applied discourse centered on the idea of “video communication,” where video, counter to television but also to industrial capitalism, was positioned as process not product. Through individual and collective experiments with the possibilities of video, the members of Video Hiroba imagined contingent forms of community and experiences of urban space as alternative solutions to the failures of direct confrontation with authorities.

Taking a cue from Video Hiroba’s concern with “video communication” over “video art,” this art historical study takes the framework of critical translation to investigate and articulate the forms of collectivity, the processes of mediation, and the systems of circulation with which Video Hiroba members experimented. After laying out the problems of visual culture and subjectivity in the arts from Japanese Surrealism through Expo ‘70, this dissertation devotes four chapters to examining Video Hiroba as a collective, charting their visions for video through their collective exhibitions, the circulation of their work domestically and internationally, the collective’s engagement with institutions, and their community-based work. Through these perspectives, it uncovers both a unique vision of video formed from the local context of 1970s Tokyo but with transnational aspirations, and an alternative lineage for contemporary Japanese socially-engaged art. The final two chapters look at the practices of individual members through a thematic lens to reveal different models of contingency in both urban space, and the discursive public space of media and culture. While these experiments chart possibilities for alternative ways of visualizing collectivity, in their attempts to make systems of media exchange both open and visible, they displace human authors. Combined with their aspirations to engage international art and video circles, in which Video Hiroba was seen as representative of “Japan” and “Asia,” this effect inadvertently played into a burgeoning techno-orientalist image for Japanese video in the early 1980s. This project thus charts competing possibilities for early video in Japan, as both a medium around which alternative modes of human-centered community could be formed, and a medium through which Japan could become, yet again, an empty image of reflection.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Reynolds, Jonathan M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 14, 2021