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Mar 13 2020

Are We at New Levels of Dumb? The Return of Dumb Type

by Pamela Wong

Installation view of DUMB TYPE’s TRACE / REACT II, 2020, multimedia installation, dimensions variable, at “Actions + Reflections,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 2019–20. Photo by Kazuo Fukunaga. Courtesy The Japan Foundation.

Japanese multimedia collective Dumb Type is making a major comeback to the international art scene as Japan’s representative for the 59th Venice Biennale in 2021, as announced by the Japan Foundation on March 12. The commissioned project will feature Dumb Type co-founder and performer Shiro Takatani; sound artists Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ken Furudate, and Satoshi Hama; programmer Ryo Shiraki; and other members.

Founded in 1984—the start of Japan’s bubble economy—by students at Kyoto City University of Arts, the leaderless group has explored the superficiality of consumer society through “flat, fluid, non-hierarchic” collaborations with artists from a wide range of disciplines including visual arts, video, computer programming, engineering, music, and dance. Following the death of co-founder Teiji Furuhashi in 1995, whose final work, Lovers (1994)—featuring projections of nude dancers—was shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art that same year, the group peaked by the early 2000s, after which no new works have been created until recently. In 2014, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, the group premiered the video installation MEMORANDUM OR VOYAGE, although it was reconstructed from three older videos: OR (1997), memorandum (1999), and Voyage (2002).  The collective’s first new performance since the hiatus, titled 2020, is currently scheduled to debut at ROHM Theatre Kyoto on March 28 and 29.

Dumb Type’s statement on the forthcoming Venice presentation highlights the change in social perceptions of “truth,” “future,” “hope,” and “happiness,” claiming: "In a world of fragmented chaos in which the systems we believed in are on verge of collapse, what had once appeared to be fact now seems uncertain, and people assume what they want to believe in as being the “truth.” The group proposed that “We must continue to question how to perceive spaces of discourse on the internet = post-truth, and ask ourselves ‘How should we understand the present, live our lives, and die?’ while revisiting ‘norms’ through a pure and unfaltering gaze in the context of an information environment where words are like fog and have lost their weight.”

For the first time, instead of reviewing artist proposals, Japan’s selection committee directly chose the collective for the Biennale. Members of the current committee include Akira Tatehata, president of Tama Art University; Yasuyuki Nakai, chief curator of Osaka’s National Museum of Art; Yuko Hasegawa, artistic director at Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo; Toru Matsumoto, director of Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum; Yusuke Minami, director of Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art; and independent curator Meruro Washida.

Dumb Type has resurfaced in recent years. Ahead of its 35th anniversary, the group held a large-scale retrospective, “Actions + Reflections,” curated by Yuko Hasegawa at Paris’s Centre Pompidou-Metz in 2018. The show was re-installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in 2019, along with the presentation of MEMORANDUM OR VOYAGE

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

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