Installation view of DUMB TYPE’s Playback, 2018, mixed media sound installation, approx. 650 × 650 × 120 cm, at “Actions + Reflections,” Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, 2019–20. All photos by Nobutada Omote. All images courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.

Actions + Reflections

Dumb Type

Museum of Contemporary Art

Formed by students of the Kyoto City University of Arts during Japan’s decade of economic prowess and newly empowered consumers, founding member Teiji Furuhashi started the multi-media art collective Dumb Type in 1984 alongside Toru Koyamada, Yukihiro Hozumi, Shiro Takatani, Takayuki Fujimoto, and Hiromasa Tomari. With the collective name alluding to the group’s reaction to the superficial mainstream culture as well asserting its non-scripted, textless approach, this new formation of artists, dancers, architects, composers, and computer programmers banded to broaden the definition of performance and video art, to evolve the political dimensions of collaborative artistic practice, and to confront the growing pandemic of HIV/AIDS. To mark the collective’s 35 years, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo presented “Dumb Type: Actions + Reflections,” updating the 2018 titular retrospective at Paris’s Centre Pompidou-Metz.

Although many of the group’s major works were on display, so too were some new pieces produced in collaboration with the likes of visual and sound artist Ryoji Ikeda, who joined the collective later, in 1994. Expanding on the selection exhibited in Paris, three video works, OR (1997), memorandum (1999), and Voyage (2002), reconstructed in 2014 as MEMORANDUM OR VOYAGE for the Tokyo museum’s group exhibition “Tokyo Art Meeting V Seeking New Genealogies—Bodies / Leaps / Traces,” was presented here once more.

Unlike theatrical productions, Dumb Type’s performances are absent of conventional narrative structure, deliberately rendering the performers mute, and thus amplifying the interpretative space between the artists and the audience. Visually, the viewer experiences “Actions + Reflections” through wipes, scans, glitches, and light bursts—the presence of technology readily apparent throughout. Although most works showcased were produced before the widespread application of artificial intelligence (AI), Dumb Type casts the specter of technology as a foreboding presence, achieved, in part, with programmable elements.

Installation view of DUMB TYPE’s memorandum, 2014, 4k viewing LED Panel: 16 min, 160 × 2.5 m, at “Actions + Reflections,” Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, 2019–20.

In a darkened gallery space, a vast backlit video installation played the recently re-edited videos in a loop. Ambient sounds from the previous rooms showing older works carried over, the signals mingling with each other. In memorandum, fuzzy images of performers are cut between closeups of a city, overlaid with dotted nets like motion capture suits, and situated among footage of tiles, textures, and graffiti. Spliced together, these patterns repeat and merge, then transition into Ikeda’s boundless walls of data, and back again.

Voyage, the only work shown that doesn’t explicitly feature performers, portrays white-lined nautical charts describing islands with markers bearing Spanish names, based on Charles Darwin’s 1839 voyage on the vessel HMS Beagle. A graphic representation of this previously uncharted journey, the varicolored lines on the lower half of the screen bend and distort, being pulled vertically like thread over the bar of a loom. By retelling this journey, the work conveys how discoveries redefine what we know as we adapt to new information before us.

In OR, eleven performers dressed in white lie asleep on eleven white beds. Shot from above, each person in fixed position, appearing life-sized on screen, is only made visible when revealed by a steadily sweeping wash of light that runs from left to right, accompanied by echoey bleeps resembling heart rate monitoring equipment. As the performers change positions, the flashes of light and beeping sounds repeat, until finally, an all-encompassing blast of white light engulfs the entire gallery space amid rising strings, culminating in a total blackout and a pronounced silence. Alluding to an operating theater, OR places the viewer somewhere between life and death. The project itself was conceived by Furuhashi as a future production before his untimely death in 1995.

Installation view of DUMB TYPE’s OR, 2014, 4k viewing LED Panel: 16 min, 160 × 2.5 m, at “Actions + Reflections,” Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, 2019–20.

“Actions + Reflections” succeeds in reconstructing Dumb Type’s major works with some updates; their installations rely on a bodily response that translates poorly across online platforms. To understand these works, one needs to see them in person, in purpose-built spaces such as those employed in the show. These uniquely Dumb Type experiences, made through collaboration and not by a single leader, continue to register their relevance today.

Dumb Type | Actions + Reflections” is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo until February 16, 2020.

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