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A Sedimentation of the Archival Mind, 2

"Dear Kara Juro, please forgive me for being late with this design.” —Yokoo Tadanori



Uesaki Sen

Archivist Keio University Art Center Sen Uesaki is an archivist and lecturer at Keio University Art Center (KUAC) whose projects focus on the design of archives for Japanese avant-garde art. His recent... Read more »
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A Sedimentation of the Archival Mind, 2

"Dear Kara Juro, please forgive me for being late with this design.” —Yokoo Tadanori

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"Dear Kara Juro, please forgive me for being late with this design.” —Yokoo Tadanori

Around the “Places of Consignation”: The Archive and Yokoo Tadanori

1. Posters and Events

“Dear Kara Juro, please forgive me for being late with this design.” —Yokoo Tadanori (1967)

"It has, in appearance, primarily to do with a private inscription. This is the title of a first problem concerning the question of its belonging to an archive: which archive?” —Jacques Derrida, “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression” (1995)

80103 %e3%82%b8%e3%83%a7%e3%83%b3%e3%83%bb%e3%82%b7%e3%83%ab%e3%83%90%e3%83%bc
Yokoo Tadanori. Kara Juro's "John Silver: Love in Shinjuku"—Play in Two Parts with Speech (Jokyo Gekijo [Situation Theater] Ninth Apology Performance). 1967. © Yokoo Tadanori. Collection of National Museum of Art, Osaka
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The poster for the Jokyo Gekijo’s (Situation Theater) 9th Apology Event (Kara Juro’s John Silver—Shinjuku Longing and Crying in the Night Edition; former Sogetsu Hall, May 22–25, 1967) is inscribed with a written apology in the lower right corner of the picture plane—a private message—from the designer to the client. Yokoo Tadanori later described the work as “deviating completely from the function of a poster in that it was completed on the morning of the day of the performance.”1 The picture is surrounded by a black border, and its center is also framed by images of countless life-size hanafuda playing cards, each of which is similarly bordered in black.2 Some of the cards—such as the pair of paulownia flower cards at the top and bottom centers—also include inscriptions, apparently copied from existing logos: “‘Fuku’ trademark, all rights reserved,” “Nintendo,” and “Specially manufactured papier maché”). A white moon rising in the background emits light, and there is a dark gray silhouette of a naked woman with her head drooping under the weight of a Shimada-style coiffure. This B1-format (39 3/8" x 27 7/8") poster conceived by Yokoo was at that time exceptionally large for an announcement of a performance by a small theater company. Regardless of when it was submitted and displayed in relation to the four-day performance, it did not, as previously noted, arrive in time for the occasion or event. Yokoo has no shortage of similar anecdotes.

Examining the discursive space that is woven from countless historical descriptions of the artist by scholars and curators, we find an outpouring of unstinting praise. After recounting anecdotes about his genius, the majority of the descriptions turn to praising and commending him. Many of Yokoo’s contemporaries weave in personal stories about him, and after praising and commending him, they recount anew the ways in which others have commended him. This discursive space of theories about Yokoo is analogous to the nested aspect of the pictures in his posters.

Yokoo mentions his work’s “deviation” from the “function of the poster” in the above example (the place where his apology is printed). First, let us establish a point here in this text from which to examine the “place of consignation” (that is, the place of exposed private inscription). It would be desirable for the observation point known as an “archive” to simultaneously allow us to survey the place of consignation and the area “outside” of it (even if it is not possible to look at the delicate grain of the silkscreened poster from this point).3 “Yet, when it comes right down to it, it doesn’t make much difference to the viewer whether these are posters or not.”4 This may indeed be true. But Yokoo’s posters are greatly admired in part because they are thought not to fulfill the poster’s fundamental function and original purpose, nor to relate to such criteria. By entrusting our ideas to this view, which anyone might easily subscribe to, we necessarily neglect to address questions related to the poster medium on which Yokoo’s status as a genius rests. When a poster is seen to depart from the fundamental function and original purpose of its medium, it is invariably regarded as the object it used to be in its pre-printed state. But once a poster is a poster, that is to say printed matter, it is impossible for it to deviate from its “function.” The “advantage” of ignoring the fact that these works by Yokoo are posters that announced specific events in the past and yet are still posters (they carry an announcement) is not evident from our archival observation point. The sense of vivacity in Yokoo’s posters (akin to the lucky rakes lined up in the street stalls at the Torinoichi Festival) and what Mishima Yukio identified as their “unbearable darkness cloaked in bright colors”5; the phony threshold that unjustly separates the expressions of a designer and those of an artist; and Kamekura Yusaku’s reason for calling Yokoo “a genius in his own mold,” are all parts of the question of the poster as a form of printed matter.6 So what exactly is a poster?

Every page of bulky catalogues like Yokoo Tadanori Gurafikku Daizenshu (The complete Tadanori Yokoo graphic works, Kodansha, 1989), Yokoo Tadanori no zen posta (Yokoo Tadanori’s complete posters, Seibundo Shinkosha, 1995), and Yokoo Tadanori zen posta (The Complete Posters of Yokoo Tadanori, Kokushokankokai, 2010), which announce their comprehensiveness with the word “complete” (zen) in their original Japanese titles, plays a part in enumerating the artist’s work. The covers of many of these books were created by Yokoo himself, and the catalogues also often assume a nested form. They provide a chronological listing of Yokoo’s work, and images of his posters are printed on the surface of each page. The posters are reduced to function as the content (plate) on each page, and after being laid out (planned, prepared, arranged, and placed) are embedded as separate entities in the surface of a distinct skin. The paper of the book is a new and uniform skin that by implication mimics the printed grain of the posters, but relies on the use of offset printing, characterized by the absence of direct contact between the skin of the printing plate and the skin of the paper. Moreover, the places that are not occupied by the (images of the) posters—that is, the blank spaces that are visible in the margins on every page of the catalogue—function as the “outside” of the (image of the) poster. It is also here that we find a description explaining each poster. Notes on the printing technique, such as “silkscreen on paper” or “offset on paper,” and the dimensions typically accompany such entries. This blank space that remains on each page is neither part of the actual assemblage of content on the page nor the subject of interest. Yet, despite its position on the perimeter or outside, it shares the same continuous skin as the content. Naturally, the blank space remains as it is. The perimeter of the plate of the small, reprinted poster is not cut off. From our [archival] observation point in this text, the blank space is the second “place of consignation.” And it is the grain of this blank space, which has passed through the printing press several times along with the content on the page, that is the grain of the archive.

This blank space, this outside, could be explained by the joy that André Malraux emanated when he spread his study floor full of his catch (in this case, the photographic prints). The photographs, which are the subject of the Malraux photograph, are supported from beneath by the photographs themselves.7 In the process of preparing the artwork for Kara Juro’s John Silver, Yokoo “said he took some real hanafuda cards, made the text, and affixed them to a piece of plywood, and carried it to the print shop.”8 Not only did Yokoo deal with the hanafuda cards as printed matter, he took the actual cards to be printed. After understanding this, we once again return to the question of what constitutes a poster.

To come right to the point, a poster is a sign—it serves as a harbinger and conveys a promise. In the present, according to the grain of the archive, the poster recalls the occasion or event that it announced many years ago (and continues to announce today). But the fact is that as this piece of printed matter announced an anticipated event, we must not forget that every poster is printed prior to the occasion that is its subject. As a herald of the event, it most closely resembles a witness in the archive, but without ever touching on what actually happened. It merely testifies to what was proposed; some posters announce events that were canceled, but obviously this does not mean that they give false testimony. The witnesses are verbose, and they still continue to reminisce about the immediate future without knowing anything about how the events of the past that they anticipated actually transpired. Such witnesses, as preliminary announcements or messengers, probably have a more direct connection to the overall event than other witnesses, such as documentary photographs or audio or video recordings that have captured the outcomes of the event. This is due not only to the fact that the reality of a past event lies in the amplitude between the proposed and the actual, but also to the fact that, insofar as it recollects the future and predicts the past, a poster has a dual purpose. “When Yokoo arrived on the scene, everybody became very upset. They said things like it was meaningless [to make a poster] unless you used B-zen size [728mm × 1,030mm] paper… During that period, it was completely viable for a poster to influence the play. For example, they changed the play that they did after John Silver due to the impact of the poster for the previous play.”9

2. Spoilage

“The advent is a promise of events.” —Maurice Merleau-Ponty,_ Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence _(1952)

“It conditions not only the form or the structure which prints, but the printed content of the printing: the pressure of the printing, the impression, before the division between the printed and the printer. This archival technique has commanded that which even in the past instituted and constituted whatever there was as anticipation of the future.” —Jacques Derrida, “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression” (1995)

Derrida writes: “[psychoanalysis] does not privilege by chance the figure of the imprint and the printer.”10 The archive of printed matter is constantly related to (an assemblage of) subject matter, but there is no room for growth in the subject itself. An archive remains “outside” the subject of interest. By the time we begin to refine the question, dismiss the false division between, for example, the quantity of art versus the quantity of design, and ask “What is a poster?” we have already redrawn several times the line that indicates the point at which the archive begins. In other words, an archive reestablishes its position on the outside each time the observer bores through a multilayered, stratified group of dividing lines. While on the one hand we might say that the grain of the blank spaces on every page of Yokoo’s catalogues has the grain of an “archive,” this is due to the fact that our observation point in this text, which provides a clear view of this kind of grain, can be seen as that of an “archive.” An archive exists outside a concept that indicates itself and refuses all rules except the one that concerns gathering a number of examples as an assemblage (extension) of concrete subjects. The place from which we ultimately survey these examples is necessarily outside. If we were to create a new observation point (a change of air) by taking one step back, obtaining a new view that includes the one we are afforded from the observation point in this text, that place would, in other words, be called an “archive.” The process of archivization is always conducted from a specific observation point with regard to the (assemblage of) content, but gradually this observation point is objectified as a kind of vessel. Thus, the archive becomes multilayered: /archive/archive/////…

According to one chronology, after graduating from Nishiwaki High School (Hyogo Prefecture) in his hometown in 1955, Yokoo planned to enter the oil painting department at Musashino Art University and moved to Tokyo to take the entrance exam, but out of concern for his “aged parents,” he abandoned the idea and returned to Nishiwaki. A few months later, his poster for the local Textile Festival (May 7 and 8, 1955) was selected, leading him to take a job at a printing company in Kakogawa (he quit six months later). Apparently, the thing that he found most interesting about the printing process was the spoilage (torn paper).11

In the printing cycle, in processes such as trail printing, some of the paper is inevitably damaged and removed from the printed matter that is set to be delivered to the client. The damaged paper, which has been run through the press several times, is called “spoilage,” and it is accumulated and recycled. This process of printing on waste paper to adjust a new plate and the press itself, and the use of spoilage in the process, is nothing less than the “/” [slash] that is introduced to establish a division between that which is printed and that which prints. The reuse of torn paper as printed matter stems not only from economic reasons. In order to prepare the printed matter to be printed, it is necessary to integrate that which prints into that which is printed in order to achieve the desired grain of the printed matter. Each time the paper passes through the press, an unexpected overprint occurs on the surface of the paper which is unrelated to the layers of print that are a regular part of the printing process.

The complicated tangle that appears on the surface of the spoilage is by no means predetermined. I am not attempting to superimpose an excessive layering of multiple grains that belong to (or are lost in) a multitude of different wholes on the surface of the spoilage, which captured Yokoo’s interest, to arrive at the artist’s specific approach to printed matter. Spoilage cannot be the third “place of consignation” in this text. The complications on the surface of the spoilage have a decidedly different character from a planned overlapping of plates. The multiple layers of grain on the spoilage are overwhelming but at the same time lack both body and coverage. After repeatedly passing through the press, the paper is dedifferentiated. The spoilage leads us to the complicated tangle of discursive space arising out of the critical praise and commendation that turns out to be devoid of an archive (en mal d’archive, in Derrida’s terms). However, from an archival perspective, we do not select (do not establish the outside) a particular picture from Yokoo’s work.

Awazu Kiyoshi. “Expose 1968: Say something, I’m trying.” 1968. © Awazu Kiyoshi. Courtesy Sogetsu Foundation and Keio University Art Center

Finally, I would like to turn to some specific posters at a specific event. “Changed? What? (Contemporary Transformation)” (held at the former Sogetsu Art Center Hall, April 10, 1968) was the first part of a multiday symposium called “Expose 1968: Nanika Ittekure, Ima Sagasu” (Expose 1968: Say something, I’m trying), which was co-organized by the Sogetsu Art Center and Design Review (Fudosha). The introduction, “Psycho Delicious,” was overseen by three people: Ichiyanagi Toshi, Kurokawa Noriaki [Kisho], and Yokoo. Apparently, it ended without ever beginning, in keeping with the artists’ idea that “because we don’t believe in words, we won’t make any statements.”12 Posters with photographic portraits of the composer, architect, and graphic designer were hung at the rear of the stage (horizon) without any gaps between them.

Psycho delicious
The stage of "Psycho Delicious." Photographer unknown. Courtesy Sogetsu Foundation
80741 tadanori yokoo %e4%bb%8a%e3%80%81%e3%81%aa%e3%81%ab%e3%81%8b%e8%a8%80%e3%81%86 sm
Yokoo Tadanori. Now, to say something. 1968. © Yokoo Tadanori. Collection of National Museum of Art, Osaka [reg. no. 80741]
80743 toshi ichiyanagi %e4%bb%8a%e3%80%81%e3%81%aa%e3%81%ab%e3%81%8b%e8%a8%80%e3%81%86 sm
Yokoo Tadanori. Now, to say something. 1968. © Yokoo Tadanori. Collection of National Museum of Art, Osaka [reg. no. 80743]
80742 noriaki kurokawa %e4%bb%8a%e3%80%81%e3%81%aa%e3%81%ab%e3%81%8b%e8%a8%80%e3%81%86 sm
Yokoo Tadanori. Now, to say something. 1968. © Yokoo Tadanori. Collection of National Museum of Art, Osaka [reg. no. 80742]

Yet, these witnesses that we have called forward into the here and now cannot provide us with any evidence of the event that they created together. In this specific place of consignation, there is no recorded information, neither a public notice of content nor a personal note.13 These witnesses that were linked in a performative relationship to the event that they themselves anticipated remain completely silent about every aspect of that event, including themselves, the posters. Indeed, the performative witnesses repeat themselves as subjects in documentary photographs of the event and imitate (perform an “archive” in the photograph) the nesting aspect of these documentary photographs depicting the posters. This is the mold for Yokoo’s posters, which ceaselessly create the multiple layers of the archive. Derrida might offer the following explanation in regard to this type of example related to printed matter: “Because the archive, if this word or this figure can be stabilized so as to take signification, will never be either memory or anamnesis as spontaneous, alive and internal experience. On the contrary: the archive takes place at the place of originary and structural breakdown of the said memory. There is no archive without a place of consignation, without a technique of repetition, and without a certain exteriority. No archive without outside.”14

To “Say something.” Is this unwritten title the thing that is inscribed “outside” the assemblage of the posters? If the poster is waiting for a title other than the name of the event that it anticipates, where was the place that the title was inscribed at that time? Wasn’t the title given according to the grain of the blank space after the dividing line was drawn to indicate the beginning of the archive? Say something, I’m trying. In the end, whose voice is responding to the line (both a call and a reply) that Awazu Kiyoshi borrowed from Waiting for Godot?

Note: The Japanese version of this text is adapted from an essay that appeared in the November 2012 issue of Eureka 44(13) under the same title.

Text translated into English by Christopher Stephens.


Yokoo Tadanori, “Sakka to boku to design to” (The artist, me, and design), Tokyo Shimbun, Nov. 10, 1978. Quotations by Yokoo cited in the present text are from the following: Senda Akihito, “Yokoo Tadanori to poster no atsui jidai” (The passionate age of Yokoo Tadanori and Posters) in Takahashi Naohiro, Tsukada Miki, Okamoto Hiroki, Dehara Hitoshi, eds., Tadanori Yokoo Be Adventurous! (Tokyo: Kokusho Kankokai, 2008), pp. 82–83.


Hanafuda are traditional Japanese playing cards dating to the Ando-Momoyama era (1573–1603). Initially a two-person game for the elite, the cards are often decorated elaborately, with twelve suites (each with a flower that corresponds to a month of the year) and four cards in each suite. [Editor’s note]


Throughout the essay, the author uses the word “grain” in its multiple meanings to refer to the coarseness of the texture of paper, as well as the parallel lines in a cut of wood. The “archival grain” is a term that Ann Stoler elaborates on in her 2009 book Along the Archival Grain. Sen Uesaki’s use of the term is also in conversation with the use the “grain” in writings by Gilles Deleuze, Roland Barthes, and Millie Taylor, among others. [Editor’s note]


Sawaragi Noi, “Nigiyaka de kurai basho” (A lively, dark place) in Yokoo Tadanori, Recent Works of Poster Art by Yokoo Tadanori (Tokyo: Jitsugyo no Nihonsha, Ltd, 2000), pp. 4–7.


Mishima Yukio, “Bureina geijutsu” (Rude art) in Yokoo Tadanori no isakushu (Posthumous works of Yokoo Tadanori), ed. Awazu Kiyoshi (Tokyo: Gakugei Shorin, 1968).


Kamekura Yusaku quoted in Marta Sylvestrova, “Jidai no nami o tayutau mono” (People who made waves in an era), YokooTadanori, Recent Works of Poster Art, pp. 10–19. “Hatenko no tensai. Soko ga omoshiroi. (Jishin no igata no naka no tensai)” (Unprecedented genius: that’s interesting—a genius in his own mold.) Originally quoted in Yokoo Tadanori (Tokyo: Ginza Graphic Gallery, ggg Books 28, 1997), pp. 4–7.


In the famous photograph of Malraux by Maurice Jarnoux, the French author and critic stands gazing over a sea of photographs spread across his study floor in the process of choosing photographs for the book Le Musée imaginaire. [Editor’s note]


Hirano Koga and Oyobe Katsuhiko, “Dialogue: Underground Graphics,” in Gendai engeki no art work 60’s–80’s: Poster / Butai bijutsu ni mire shogekijo undo no kiseki (Art work of contemporary theatre 60’s-80’s: the trajectory of the little theatre movement as seen in posters and stage design) (Tokyo: Seibu Bijutsukan, 1988). The comment is Oyobe’s.


Koga’s comment from “Dialogue: Underground Graphics.” The quote comes from Senda Akihito’s “The Passionate Age of Yokoo Tadanori and Posters” (see footnote 1).


Jacques Derrida, “Prière d'insérer” (Please insert). This is an addendum added to the French version of Derrida’s text Mal d'archive (Paris: Éditions Galilee, 1995). "Elle [la psychanalyse] ne privilégie pas par hasard les figures de l'empreinte et de l'imprimerie." Translation by Sen Uesaki.


For information on Yokoo’s interest in spoilage, I referred to an explanation in Tadanori Yokoo: All Things in the Universe by Midori Wakakuwa, Yusuke Minami, Hitoshi Dehara (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppan-sha, 2002), p. 61.


Izumi’s Shinya’s explanation appeared in Design Review, no. 6, July 1968, p. 19.


The names Toshi Ichiyanagi, Noriaki Kurokawa, and Tadanori Yokoo are apparently inscribed in the border at the bottom of the posters, but in the small-scale reproduction that appears in the catalogue, it is difficult to decipher them among the halftone dots.


Derrida, p. 14.

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The Poster Archive

Posted on 19 May

The printed poster as archive - a fascinating proposition. Especially in this case, where the pictorial surface of the poster is indeed constructed like an archival space, a collection of playing cards. Then, it is clear that this particular poster documents the past of the famous former Sogetsu Art Center, and as such is part of yet another archive.

More important for my purposes here, however, is something else: it is the artist’s added apology, for which the artist signs, and for which his poster serves as an archive. If this marks another point of intersection between the poster and an archive--the apology being consigned to the poster--, it also signals a specific temporality that is, properly speaking, the temporality of the archive (and for which the artist, tongue in cheek, apologizes). By creating a poster that announces an event already past, Tanadori in fact reminds us of the specific form of temporality that is common to archives and to posters alike. The temporality I have in mind here is commonly called the “future in the past”, a “will have been” for which languages with an elaborate temporal morphology (such as German or English) have a formalized expression, while others (such as the Slavic languages, for example) need to use various forms of circumlocution.

The future in the past is a temporal mode that anticipates the future as a part of history (the art of Socialist Realism, which is particularly rich in posters, is based on this temporal mode, in which an anticipated “bright” future is shown as if it were a part of history). Looked at as a purely anticipatory public announcement, a poster seems to project the event it announces into an open future. Yet as a printed artefact, a poster also has a monumental component - posters announce a future event which they commemorate at the same time as an event already past (this is the "Future II"). This particular paradox of a future anticipated as the past is, I believe, highlighted, if not produced, by Tanadori’s belated production of the poster, and by his apology. His ruined poster no longer simply anticipates an event; it commemorates a future event. As I mentioned, while Tanadori's remarkable admission of his belated production highlights the "failure" of his poster, in a sense, all posters embody this temporality. And as such, they resemble archives.

Like posters, archives are monuments dedicated to (past) events that are yet to come; in an archive, the past itself becomes visible as the future, as an event that still has to arrive. Ever since Freud’s Mystic Writing Pad, the archive has been thought to embody this paradoxical temporality - a mode of remembering that properly speaking belongs to the future; or, put differently, the anticipation of the future as the past. Once we strip a poster of its exclusively appelative/communicative character, we might say that it embodies precisely this temporality. Of course, a poster--a term that nowadays can also refer to a person who posts messages to blogs and other online formats--does not technically integrate these two components the way in which Freud’s Wunderblock does; nor do posters by and large have the kind of public character we associate with posters. In producing a poster that so obviously misses its most obvious and straightforward purpose--to announce an event--, Tanadori ruins the poster, but he also reproduces in rather pure form what is most paradoxical about an archive as a place of consignment for documents of events whose future in the past is yet to come.

Of course, the question is what is an event? The introduction to the symposium “Expose 1968: Nanika Ittekure, Ima Sagasu” (Expose 1968: Say something, I’m trying), which was co-organized by the Sogetsu Art Center and Design Review (Fudosha), which was announced by its organizers but then “ended without ever beginning, in keeping with the artists’ idea that because we don’t believe in words, we won’t make any statements’” is testimony to an attitude that approaches the archive not from the point of view of an event as a fully determined occurrence but rather as an eventuality, a possibility, an anticipation. I see here the greatest benefit of Tanadori’s failed poster: it reminds us that events, especially future ones, are always proposals rather more than certainties. As such, their proper time is the Future II, the archive’s tense. In this tense, "historical" events are always part of what the Austrian novelist Robert Musil called Möglichkeitssinn, the sense of possibility. Together with the future in the past, Möglichkeitssinn ought to be the departure point for a new understanding of the archive. And of the poster: what if we understood posters to announce possible, rather than certain events? Or, conversely, how about producing posters of past events, including ones that never in fact occurred? Anyone who has looked into the arsenal of neo-avantgarde art of the 1960s and 70s has come across "posters" of all kinds that announce events that were in fact non-events, or posters that were themselves considered to be the event. The "late" poster produced by Tanadori, in effect, works in tandem with a (non) aesthetic whose goal was the evacuation of the event, though not of its possibility, from art. The creation of archives as posters announcing non-events served as a conduit for these endeavors. When in 1962 the Zagreb-based artist group Gorgona sent out printed invitations to 50 addresses that said in block letters "Isvolite prisustvovati" ("You Are Invited") on the front, there was no added information about any event to be found. The invitation was, like Tanadori's, a kind of failed poster. Yet as such, it forced its recipients to consider the possibility that an archive, printed or otherwise, is not simply the certification of a (future) event. It may, on occasion, simply hint that an event is, or was, in the realm of what is possible or thinkable and that it can be, or even needs to be, recalled or archived precisely as such. That is why I have ventured to call Tanadori's apology tongue in cheek...

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The printed poster as archive - a fascinating proposition. Especially in this case, where the pictorial surface of the poster is indeed constructed like an archival space, a collection of playing cards. Then, it is clear that this particular...

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M moskalewicz

Sven’s comment about the poster or invitation that becomes the event itself, instead of announcing one, made me think of another neo-avantgarde artist, the Romanian Andre Cadere, who in 1975 produced a perforated invitation to his show at the gallery Yvon Lambert. The invite could be split in half and Cadere handed one of the halves to random people met in the streets of Paris, in a leaflet-distributing mode, while he traditionally mailed the other half by post to all the respected participants of the Parisian art world. In this way the artist pointed to various channels of art distribution as having (or not) the value-assigning powers. Interestingly, the half intended to be sent by post emphasized the gallery’s name, which was printed as first, in capital letters. The one handed personally by the artist, however, started with his own name - as if to stress the personal aspect of this direct relationship that was created between two strangers at the moment of the exchange. Through this double act Cadere did what he liked best – commented on the institutionalization of the art world.

Photo may 24  14 26 21

And so - similarly to Gorgona’s “You are invited”, and the aforementioned Tanadori’s poster that became an event - Cadere transformed the invitation into a piece and emphasized the very act of handing/sending the printed invite as meaningful. Indeed, he presented it as the point of departure for the potential production of a variety of meanings, and at least equally important to the very show, which it announced.

Interestingly enough, Andre Cadere himself commented on this institutionalization-through-invitation effect in another work of his, a mailed document in a form of yet another invite. This one is a self-reflexive piece of no actual function; it calls itself an “invitation” but the lack of date or place makes it impossible to see it as such. (And also prevents from situating the piece in any context even today, when it is not clear when he sent it and why).

Photo may 21  11 36 18
Both invitations are reproduced in “Documenting Andre Cadere 1972-1978” by Lynda Morris - the catalogue of an exhibition currently on view in Artists Space in New York

What’s more, the message is not entirely clear (is there a verb missing in the second sentence?). Cadere, most of the time a French-speaker for the sake of his language-based art, wrote this piece in English, possibly for international circulation. This might explain the language slippage. Or was this an intentional step, taken to make the non-inviting invite even more intriguing, “null and void”?

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Sven’s comment about the poster or invitation that becomes the event itself, instead of announcing one, made me think of another neo-avantgarde artist, the Romanian Andre Cadere, who in 1975 produced a perforated invitation to his show at the...

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Img 6457

Please Attend

Posted on 28 May

In Sven Spieker’s contribution to this discussion, he noted the really wonderful invitation from 1962 that was dispatched by the artist group Gorgona. It simply stated, “You Are Invited” - or as translated elsewhere, “Please Attend.” There was no other discerning markings or information that would lead you anywhere - just that one was invited, generally.

In the recent past, I have been doing some research on special invitation cards and event flyers in the ephemera files in the MoMA Library. This research was leading up to a small exhibition of these materials - dating from c. 1960-1980 - that has just opened in the Cullman Research and Education Building at MoMA. The working title for this show had been Please Attend. Even though we do not have a copy of the Gorgona invite, I wanted to pay homage to the Zagreb group’s gesture though this show title. In fact, a perfect, little show would simply be that one Gorgona invite in the center of an otherwise empty room. Alas, a recent gallery show in Berlin of Gorgona material had the same name, so I decided not to be redundant and I finally called the MoMA show, Please Come to the Show.

During this research. the working premise was to collect examples of artists' invitations - gestures that used and manipulated the convention of the invitation to produce, refine, extend, or obfuscate works. Just as artists have used other tools in strange and unexpected ways, the tool of the announcement card or exhibition advertisement has been appropriated and played with to various ends. I can quickly list a few examples from my recent foray into MoMA Library's artist’s files. Please follow the link to the show to see more illustrated examples of these materials and a checklist of invitations included in the show.

1962 warchol stable soupcancover
Warhol Stable Gallery announcement / Suzy Stanton term paper, 1962.

One favorite in the exhibition is Suzy Stanton’s term paper that she wrote in Lawrence Alloway’s class at Bennington College in 1962. Andy Warhol's 1962 Campbell's Soup Cans were the source of much debate among Alloway's students at Bennington that year. One student, Ms. Stanton, wrote a term paper titled "On Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can." The paper creates the fictional scenario of a studio visit with Warhol, including hypothetical conversations between 16 students and Warhol about his work and his relationship with soup. Alloway sent the paper to Warhol, who, according to Alloway, "was enthusiastic about it and reproduced it photostatically for use as an exhibition announcement put out by the Stable Gallery." The only identification of the student paper as an exhibition announcement is a gallery stamp with the dates of the show and Warhol's name on the back of the last page.

1971barry chiuso
Barry Closed Gallery

Second, two Robert Barry invitations are parts of works in which the announcement was the decisive element in the work. For Closed Gallery, the announcement communicates that for the run of the exhibition the gallery will be closed. This was staged three times through the post in 1969, through an announcement by the Los Angeles gallery, Eugenia Butler, and through these announcements by Art & Project and Galleria Sperone. The second work, Invitation piece, involved the coordination of eight galleries: Paul Maenz, Art & Project, Jack Wendler Gallery, Leo Castelli, Yvon Lambert, galerie MTL, Galerie Toselli, and Galleria Sperone. In each invitation, the gallery invited the audience to attend a Robert Barry show at another gallery. In the example here, Art & Projects invites you to Jack Wendler Gallery. The piece extended over the course of the 1972–73 gallery season.

Fort Boyard.
Fort Boyard.

Another anecdote that I came across was the story of the fictional Festival de Fort Boyard. A description of the posters for the “festival” can be found in Anne Moeglin-Delcroix’s essay in Steven Leiber’s publication Extra Art : A Survey of Artists’ Ephemera, 1960-1999. The paper performance was created by Henri Chopin and Gianni Bertini in 1967. The posters were stuck up around Paris throughout June of 1967 and they listed an elaborate range of activities by artists such as Ian Hamilton Finlay, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, Mimmo Rotella and Chopin. Visitors were invited to Fort Boyard - an old, rather forbidding French prison that was located on a island off the French coast. The advertised events were never going to take place and the posters were the event for the “organizers”. A publication was subsequently made in 1970 that reproduced the posters that had been created. In this book, Chopin recounted of the participants, “We were...living beings who placed creation in non-creation above all else...” For some images of the book and some more description, follow this link to a colleague from the Beinecke Library at Yale’s attempt to decipher this little book.

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Discuss (4) Print

In Sven Spieker’s contribution to this discussion, he noted the really wonderful invitation from 1962 that was dispatched by the artist group Gorgona. It simply stated, “You Are Invited” - or as translated elsewhere, “Please Attend.” There was no...

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1: Archive and Curation

 In his essay "The Sogetsu Art Center and the Matter of Printed Matter: The Bean Sprout Invitation,”(1) Sen Uesaki distinguishes two modes of archive, “composition” and “juxtaposition,” defining the former as composed of “selected” materials from all the potential elements by certain criterion, while the latter “lists” all the related elements without omission. Additionally, an archive composes a scene that corresponds to a specific subject, or stands just as an accumulation of comprehensive information. Uesaki explains this as “the difference in the degree of fictitiousness between representation that emerges from a selected list and documentation that emerges from a comprehensive list.”(2)

 In the manner of composition, as a selection criterion determines a scene = representation of an archive, I’m tempted to replace the term “archive” with “curation.” As a curator often searches for an artist via an online archive such as artist an registry website, or as a museum exhibition is composed of works from its collection, the act of curation exists on a different level from the archive in spite of their close relationship, which may be inclusive. The relationship, is not neutral, but is under a mechanism of unequal force. Curation is to edit and redefine the objects, which are originally individual, towards one story conceived by the curator, and as a result, its accumulation will program the “history.” Therefore, curation has to function as an authority that judges those who are going to be registered in history and those who are not. Curation is an act that brings geopolitical unevenness and its hierarchy to flat-and-smooth horizon of database that archive prepares.

2: The Archival Mode in Graffiti Culture

 The characters of archive and curation discussed so far are ones modeled simply for the ease of description. In realty, they overlap and intricately weave into each other. An archive includes elements of curation, and curation contributes to establish an archive, in form of a catalog for instance. In addition, there is a need to consider the function of “parallax” between communities or genres, as a condition that enhances this complexity. “Parallax” defined here is a situation where perspectives and criteria vary based on differences of literacy, value and context the background.

 The relationship between graffiti(3) and contemporary art is a good example for surving this issue. Graffiti culture has a high affinity with the manner of an archive due to its need to capture the ephemeral existence forced by its illegalness in public space. Many graffiti writers(4) from the early days of graffiti culture devoted themselves to photographing their masterpieces before they were erased. Those photographs called Flicks are also archived online after the emergence of Internet. "Art Crimes,”(5) one of the largest graffiti websites in the world, is characterized by its database structure that simply juxtaposes only images. Many other websites or indie magazines also show the archival intention of this culture. Even so, it can be hardly said that there is no hierarchy in graffiti community. Still, it is not a “representation” externally operated by someone outside of the community, such as a curator, but something that spontaneously forms by the criterion of “fame” in the community brought by activity in streets of each graffiti writer. Therefore, the graffiti community lacks the “selection” phase (and its accompanying authority) in the process. Or, at least, it is a “natural” selection process based on competitions in the community, which is different from that of curation.

Graffiti in New York City (Photo by Ōyama Enrico Isamu Letter, 2011)
A typical database-look layout in Berlin graffiti magazine. Quote: DOWN BY LAW MAGAZINE, No.1

3: Micro-power Effects: Between Graffiti and Contemporary Art

 In contrast, when graffiti culture is introduced to the world of contemporary art, such as the “ART IN THE STREETS”(6) exhibition held in 2011 at Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angels, an external curatorial selection takes place in order to contextualize the history. In such occasions, a parallax often occurs and brings a feeling of misunderstanding and a mismatch of criteria between the graffiti community and contemporary art world. For instance, it is not rare that someone considered important in the community is excluded, or, by contrast, someone considered not important in the community is included, based on curiosity from the perspective of art world. At the same time, it is also possible that the high evaluation in the community converts directly to recognition in the art world, or the evaluation in the art world feeds back to that in graffiti community. There are also cases where an evaluation of a graffiti writer in the community varies and is not very stable. In addition, along with the increase of artists who belong neither to the graffiti world nor the art world completely, a new territory often called “street art” is emerging. It is getting more and more difficult to capture the situation in a simple dichotomy between graffiti and art.

 Previously, I described curation as “an act that brings geopolitical unevenness and its hierarchy to flat-and-smooth horizon of database that archive prepares.” If we are permitted to simplify the relationship between graffiti and contemporary art, it may be possible to consider the former as the level of archive, and the latter as that of curation. In truth, the structure of contemporary art, where “art” picks up only the artists and the works, which are considered valuable enough to integrate into art history, is also taking over the mode of comprehensive accumulation in graffiti culture. This system of “taking over” is a standard tactic that has been repeated to reactivate contemporary art, and can be seen in its history. Still, as I have discussed so far, the interaction between archiving and curation, or the issue of parallax, should not be ignored. Even if it is a one-directional “taking over” on the broader level, there are also multi-directal micro power interactions in the details. This gets clearer if we focus on the concrete examples instead of abstract logics.

The entrance of “ART IN THE STREETS” exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (Photo by Ōyama Enrico Isamu Letter, 2011)

4: Flooding Signatures in “/ = inter-space”

 Let’s shift the discussion to different phase and take one question. What is archived in graffiti culture? “Signatures.” Graffiti is an act of writing one’s name diffusely in public space. What does this mean? A signature is originally something positioned “beside” a product. It is a marker of “completion” that is given to the unfinished “process” to frame it as a “product” ready to circulate in society. Therefore, it works also as an index for an archive. Borrowing again from Uesaki, a signature also exists in this “place of consignation” or “the grain of the archive”:

…the places that are not occupied by the (images of the) posters—that is, the blank spaces that are visible in the margins on every page of the catalogue—function as the “outside” of the (image of the) poster. It is also here that we find a description explaining each poster. Notes on the printing technique, such as “silkscreen on paper” or “offset on paper,” and the dimensions typically accompany such entries… From our [archival] observation point in this text, the blank space is the second “place of consignation.” And it is the grain of this blank space, which has passed through the printing press several times along with the content on the page, that is the grain of the archive.(7)

 What happened when graffiti culture was first born in late 1960’s is a radical situation that signatures flood the city on their own, without belonging to anything else, removed from their subordinate position of supporting a product’s completion from the “beside / outside”. The strategy here is not limited to jumping out of the given position, and / or jumping into “city space” as real a “outside” out of canvases, museums and printed matters. In today’s postmodern society where there is no “outside,” including city space, within the system controlled under “Empire” (Antonio Negri), the mission of graffiti focuses on shooting illegal signatures to occupy tiny inter-spaces that appear everywhere “in between.” They slide into alleys behind buildings, on backside of public advertisements and along handrails of stairs. As Uesaki states, if “the archive becomes multilayered: /archive/archive/////… ”(8), then, graffiti attempts to derange the layering dynamism of “/outside” which an archive is based on, or to disable its privileged outside observer point of view. By the illegal intervention of the flooding of signs, a linear “/” that distinguishes each layer in an archive and keeps their relation, widens outwardly to a more planate “inter-space” and turns into a battlefield, all without losing its neutral character. Here, the partition of “/archive/archive/////…” collapses by the illegal expansion of “/ = inter-space.”

Subway graffiti in 70’s New York City. Photo by Henry Chalfant. Quote: Craig Castleman ”Getting Up: Subway Graffiti in New York”, The MIT Press, 1982

 This is not limited to what happens in city space. The blank margin space of printed matters that Uesaki called “place of consignation” is also an inter-space where the signs proliferate. Moreover, this proliferation runs beyond the border of the master-subordinate relation between the “image” and the “blank margin space.” No matter whether it’s called graffiti, signature, or scribbles. Importantly, it brings our thoughts to the border of those which can be archived and those which cannot be. This seems much more fundamental than the border of archive and curation. Additionally, this matter is also directed at an issue of anonymity: these extremely difficult borders can be treated under the idea of anonymousness and those which cannot. This tension-filled situation, however, does not last for a long time. The explanation above fits only to the very beginning of graffiti culture, which Jean Baudrillard described as an “Empty Sign,”(9) from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. After those early periods, with its development and maturity, graffiti culture started to form its existence as “product,” and also established its institutional character as culture. On the one hand as an artistic practice that every writer competes his/her own designed-lettering(10) style with others, and, on the other hand, as a social problem that is target of crackdown effort, graffiti culture became a remarkable subject of archiving as it grew up.

5: A Signed Signature

 It has been a while since something like this can happen: there is a masterpiece(11) of Wild Style(12) graffiti on a wall under an elevated railway. This is the style expressing the “name” of the graffiti writer by complicated lettering style with the best design and technique of the artist, positioned in an out-of-sight location chosen very carefully in order to spend enough time to complete the creation. To make the already-three dimensional lettering pop out more effectively, the background is painted all black. At the bottom right of the background, along with the date of completion of the artwork, a signature of the artist is sprayed: this is a unique instance where a signature gets accompanied by another signature beside it. Then, things go faster. This signed-signature masterpiece is professionally photographed and gets archived. If an art book by this artist is published, the photo image will be included in it, and most likely, we will find an additional signature in the margin blank space external to the image itself. After a while, the book will be stored in a bookshelf titled “street art” in a library (if the artist is enough famous, maybe it will be under his / her own name). And, sometime in future, if the artist’s retrospective exhibition is organized in a museum, the photo and the book also will be displayed there as reference materials. Of course, with one more caption next to it. The “side” is always the real living space of signatures.


(1) Sen Uesaki “The Sogetsu Art Center and the Matter of Printed Matter: The Bean Sprout Invitation” http://post.at.moma.org/content_items/173

(2) Sen Uesaki, op.cit.

(3) Subculture initiated in New York and Philadelphia in late 1960s. Characterized as act of writing one’s name in urban space using aerosol sprays and markers. Recognized as an art form based on amount and location of writing as well as the originality of lettering styles. On the other hand, also its illegal aspect is considered as social problem.

(4) The name for practitioners of graffiti.

(5) http://www.graffiti.org/

(6) http://www.moca.org/museum/exhibitiondetail.php?&id=443

(7) Sen Uesaki “Around the “Places of Consignation”: The Archive and Yokoo Tadanori” http://post.at.moma.org/content_items/68

(8) Sen Uesaki, op.cit.

(9) Baurdrillard, Jean. ‘Kool Killer, or The Insurrection of Signs’ “Symbolic Exchange and Death”, 1976.

(10) As the practice of graffiti is name writing, its visual is basically combination of letterings uniquely transformed into three-dimensional mode.

(11) One of the main forms of graffiti. It is characterized by a degreed complexity in the shape and the colors as an artwork, sometimes very close to murals.

(12) One of the main styles in masterpiece of graffiti. Characterized by its complex three-dimensional letterings popping out. There is also a movie of same title Wild Style (Director: Charlie Ahearn, 1983) that captured the early days of Hip Hop culture.

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Discuss (4) Print

1: Archive and Curation

In his essay "The Sogetsu Art Center and the Matter of Printed Matter: The Bean Sprout Invitation,”(1) Sen Uesaki distinguishes two modes of archive, “composition” and “juxtaposition,” defining the former as composed of “...

Show more »