On July 23, 2015 Shigeko Kubota—a seminal Japanese female figure in the international Fluxus collective—passed away. But it is not too late to take a dose of her Flux Medicine (1966/1968). The Walker’s extensive Fluxus collection includes Kubota’s iconic multiple of this title, comprising a plastic box with a label depicting a small white tablet with the word “FLUX” engraved on it. The contents are Kubota’s medicinal concoction: one white ball, one empty capsule, one Styrofoam disk, a clear bottle of unidentified liquid, an eye dropper, crushed eggshells, packages of Alka-Seltzer, Calcium-Lactate, and Neo-Synephrine, accompanied by a plastic tube and a needle for injection. Like most Fluxus multiples, Flux Medicine can be read as either an absurdist, apolitical gesture or a radical renegotiation of the role of the artist and art object in our commodity culture. This slippage between commerce, art, and life epitomized the zeitgeist in which artists from the 1960s and early 1970s were working, as exemplified in the exhibition International Pop (closing August 29). Kubota’s “Flux-formula” presents art that can be injected, an aesthetic “supplement” for transforming art—and perhaps the role of the artist—into a consumable commodity. International Pop posits “Pop” as a pill—akin to Kubota’s Flux Medicine—that was being popped by artists across the globe.
A floor-to-ceiling “shop window” within the exhibition ignites a dialogue between the Fluxus anthology Flux Year Box 2 (variants of which include Kubota’s Flux Medicine) and works by American, European, and Japanese artists associated with the viral Pop aesthetic. Japanese artist Genpei Akasegawa’s One-Thousand-Yen Note Trial Impound Object: Mask (1963) presents an uncanny aesthetic parallel to American artist Christo’s Package 1961 (1961), both made of found and fabricated objects bound by rope. Additionally, the imitation Yen notes (on view) that Akasegawa incorporates throughout his practice are in direct dialogue with the counterfeit dollar bills that his American Fluxus counterpart Robert Watts was contemporaneously producing en masse.
The work of Kubota and her Fluxus cohort speaks to the formative cultural flows between the US and Japan throughout the 1960s. Kubota met Fluxus founder George Maciunas in Japan and shortly after accepted his request to relocate to New York in 1964, the same year that Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg traveled to Tokyo’s Sogetsu Art Center, as part of the first world tour of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. A section of International Pop is dedicated to these cross-cultural intersections at the Sogetsu Art Center, an international hub where the experimental practices of the West collided with those of the emerging Japanese avant-garde. The Sogetsu Art Center played a major role in the integration of Japanese artists such as Kubota and Yoko Ono (whose 1966 Sky TV is also on view) into the Fluxus collective, while also cultivating Tokyo Pop. Sogetsu was also the site of the infamous encounter between Rauschenberg and Ushio Shinohara—who had been reproducing the American painter’s work based on black-and-white magazine images—during his Twenty Questions to Bob Rauschenberg performance (1964). Imitation and appropriation are themes that run throughout International Pop, especially in the work of Shinohara who described his practice as “imitation” art, positing Rauschenberg’s 1958 assemblage Coca Cola Plan as a jumping off point for a series of replicas (both versions are on view).
In an oral history interview with Shigeko Kubota, the interdisciplinary artist notes, “at school [in Japan in the early 1960s] I studied about [Marcel Duchamp] in [art] history. But Pop art was the main, topic, very fashionable. Of course, if we trace back, Duchamp was the beginning of Pop.” Many of the artists—including John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns—who visited Japan during this transformative period and performed at the Sogetsu Art Center were directly influenced by the Duchampian gesture of making art out of the stuff of everyday life. In this spirit, Hi Red Center, a rotating cast of experimental artists founded by close friends of Kubota including Genpei Akasegawa, began treating the streets of Tokyo as their experimental studio and playground. The collective organized politically charged Happenings such as Street Cleaning Event (1964). In tongue-in-cheek “preparation” for the Olympic Games, which represented the pinnacle of western influence, Hi Red Center began scrubbing the streets of the city in an effort to make it pristine for international visitation.
Hi Red Center performed myriad public events and spatially documented them on a map of Tokyo’s urban landscape in what became called the Bundle of Events (1965), which exists in the Walker’s collection. Kubota was the primary US liaison for the group, translating the map into English so that George Maciunas could publish it in New York as a Fluxus edition. The irony of Hi Red Center “cleaning” the streets of Tokyo in resistance to Western influence while collaborating with New York-based artists who shared their aesthetic sensibility speaks to the critical ambivalence of both Fluxus and Tokyo Pop. In this way, Kubota’s Flux Medicine acts as a representative metaphor for this cultural paradigm. While the work can be viewed as a playful, faux-commodity embracing the productive repurposing of the products of consumer culture, it simultaneously proposes a way in which to purge the effects of a hyper-mediated image society—a potential “cure” for the maladaptive symptoms of the global pop virus.