Kenjiro Okazaki


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to conduct research as a SARF fellow. It is a great honor for me to be able to present my findings from your great archive and share my experience with you here today.

For many years, I have produced works as an artist and at the same time, have examined art as a researcher and a critic. Although I have been working in various areas, there was a common, underlying experience that I always encountered as an artist. What I have found is that the experience an artist goes through when producing a work is not necessarily grounded in differences of perception—that is to say, differences between visual, auditory, or tactile phenomenon. For example, the audience can see figures of dancers in motion, however, the dancers themselves can never see their own performance as a whole. Dancers do have a grasp of the images of their own dancing, of course. But they see these images without resorting to their eyes. Similarly, the experience of painters also does not solely consist of directly looking at what they are painting. The painters see even when they are not actually seeing. I don’t mean that painters do not see at all, I mean that painters not only see with their eyes.

This is strongly realized when dancers or painters try to instruct others how to dance or paint. To convey how to dance or paint is equivalent to communicating their internal experience to others. Could this internal experience be called truly a subjective experience? Is there any possibility to treat this process as something objective? My conclusion will be that this internal experience is, in fact, what is objective. And in comparison, the experience of perceiving only the external appearance of things as when the audience appreciate dance or paintings is more subjective and ambiguous. It is clear that what is taking place inside an object to generate phenomena, as well as the attempt to grasp this process, is more “object-oriented,” so to speak.

From 2006 to 2008, I had the privilege to collaborate with Trisha Brown who as well as being a dancer, is an outstanding drawing artist. She began drawing as a choreographic method to convey internally grasped dance movements to her dancers. We could therefore say that her drawings are direct notation of her dance. When I was asked to make a stage set , I decided to record the process of her drawing and reproduce it on stage using two simple, 10 feet poles or columns. They seem like a part of architecture when they are still, and once they move together they remind one of human legs. Since these poles are replicating recorded movements of the pen that Trisha drew with. She was thus able to dance with the movement of her own drawings in the past, to dance with her own movement in the past. she danced with herself in the past.

In recent Japan, engineers are eager to develop robots which closely imitate the outward appearances of human beings. Contrary to this trend, our robots did not resemble human appearance at all. Humans can feel the presence of a person without resorting to appearances, through the subtle gestures of objects, the vibration of water in a glass, or the squeak of a door. Because of this, I called them poltergeist-type robots. Even if something looked like a mere broom, or a chair, one can sense the object as being a person.


We tend to consider the observation of exterior phenomenon as objective. Therefore it seems impossible to regard objects themselves as being capable of thinking or feeling. This was actually the reason why we humans could not objectively describe or prove the workings of our own mind or consciousness, despite what we feel and think as internal experience. This is the very reason many people have discriminated animals as not having mind and consciousness. However, we artists know that what takes place and is experienced when making art is a living process whereby our own bodies act physically and feel as materials, which then becomes transmitted to other materials; This is the condition of so-called modernism art: to develop art works by following the necessity of the medium. The idea generates itself from within the medium. Therefore things as medium have the ability to memorize these live processes and to reproduce them. Things as medium can think as well as reproduce thoughts. Things think.

However their thoughts can only be experienced as the internal generative process. So, here is the device we came up with. This machine enables the participants to directly experience the internal sensation, which the artist felt in his drawing process. Instead of the artist drawing, this machine makes the participant draw: what is moving is the board itself as a medium. Despite not moving their hands, the participants can feel that they are actually drawing. For instance, when this device replays the drawing process of Matisse, the participants can feel what Matisse was feeling. At this moment, it becomes impossible for the participant to distinguish the agent of drawing between whether Matisse, or the machine, or the participant himself. Indeliberately, after developing poltergeist-type robots, we found ourselves making a table turning robot. We call it Ms. Contact. What are the potentials for this robot? Of course, it is to assemble archives of handwritings and drawings, the records of movement made in production process, of all painters, poets, musicians, and dancers, and enable their reproduction at any given moment. In other words, one goal becomes to create an archive of “how to get the knack.” Ms. Contact enables the indefinite reproduction of vivid production processes of artists from the past.


Archives consist of collected objects, and are therefore nothing but dead stock objects by themselves. That is why they have been indexed, tagged, and classified according to people’s necessity. But in this condition, archives were like prisons, with the materials as its prisoners. And History is narrated by selecting objects from these archives according to a particular plot. History gives an arbitrary disposition to objects. However, today, we are able to search without resorting to tags. We can search literally anything. Objects that are not installed in a single storage, or that are scattered around the city are also searchable. And these objects need not to be classified in advance. Regardless of indexes, machines can discover unforeseen relations among broad and numerous data on their own. This is what they call “machine learning” which enables “deep learning”. In principle, all the materials in the world can be seen as archives. Objects are now able to generate different networks and alternative plots by themselves without following the given narrative of history.

Well, when we try to see culture conventionally as historical development, many discontinuous singular points inevitably appear. A great current suddenly turns up. It is often possible to recognize these currents in relation to new media or production methods. However, in many cases, we realize that the cause for the occurrence of these sudden developments lies in the creation of new sources of information, portals for new knowledge and information to flow in. And in many cases, these portals were living human beings who provided vast amount of new information and stimulated people. A person as a source of information. “ A living archive”, so to speak. This person provides new visions to his surroundings and points towards brand-new direction of works. However, since the amount of information he possesses is enormous and the flow of knowledge unidirectional, once this person is gone it becomes impossible to comprehend his work or the context he relied upon. In the same way that an archive cannot be understood in itself, his work cannot be contained in history, and becomes incomprehensible and invisible, as if it were a black box.

Such discontinuous points can be observed in all kinds of history. Even when we examine the so-called Japanese art history of modern age. It goes without saying that cultural history is not divided by nations and ethnicities, nor is it deployed linearly. The seeming linearity derives from the disposition of history created to preserve the consistency and identity of a given narrative. If we look closely, numerous subtle splits, interruptions exist and different paths appear. What triggers new streams are always people who are regarded as living archives. These people always possess a broad network which cannot be confined to a single line. As the Italian art historian Robert Longhi once stated. In order to understand this discontinuity, it is crucial to grasp the open network transcending historical understanding, and therefore pertaining to archives, and conduct deep learning which departs from preconceptions of existing social order, differences of nation, or human preconceptions.


During my fellowship, I researched two Ukraine born artists, John D. Graham and David Burliuk. Even though every contemporary artist or critic refers to these two artists, all the remarks center around their mysterious characters and their works seem to be not yet placed as if they exist outside of history. They were, in fact, "living archives".

David Burliuk was born in 1882. He wrote the famous manifesto for Russian Futurists “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste.” in 1912. He was renowned as “the Father of Russian Futurism”. To elude the confusion of the World War I and Russian Revolution, he migrated to the United States via Japan with his family and relatives. Japan at the time of his stay, from 1920 to 1921, in between the First World War and the Great Kanto Earthquake, was enjoying economic boom and the liberal atmosphere. He learned that in Japan the most comprehensive introduction of Late Impressionism and Expressionism was in progress, therefore decided to stop by Japan. He planned to raise funds through exhibitions and lectures in Japan before migrating to US. He was nearly in his forties at the time, but still tagged as “the Father of Russian Futurism”. With the supports of newspaper companies, D. Burliuk gave many lectures, and drew a number of young audiences. Even today, art historians in Japan refer to Burliuk as the first avant-garde artist, “the Father of Futurism” who visited and stayed in Japan. Due to this preconception, only “ Futurism"=avant-garde type works were noticed, and the majority of his works have been overlooked.

The avant-garde movement that developed in Europe almost 10 years before, might have none the less been exciting for young Japanese. However, the World War I and Russian Revolution had significantly changed the direction of avant-garde art. That was why Burliuk decided to leave Russia and go to US. By 1920, when Burliuk arrived to Japan, Picasso was already in his Classicism period. This same year Giorgio de Chirico, who gained attention throughout the war time, published a book that assembled the themes of metaphysical painting. On the surface, it seemed as if avant-garde was subsiding and the current was directing toward representational painting, in Germany and in France as well. But the differences in appearances were considered less significant. This becomes clear when we look at the development from Dadaism which began during the World War I, to Surrealism, whose statement was dispatched in 1923. The historical diagram which sees forms as evolving seemed invalid. The history and the establishment of space within which the evolution of forms was positioned, became questioned. Rather, the focus shifted to the very process of production. Differences of forms are defined by particular space and history they are positioned. However, what is included in production process was not yet appeared as forms, result nor effect much greater transforming possibilities.

This is a photograph of a work by Burliuk I discovered by chance in the storage of Hirshhorn Museum. It surprised me a great deal. At first glance, this painting did not look like Burliuk to me since I was exposed to only Futuristic or Russian Constructivist type works of his. Why is there a painting of a Japanese painter from the 1920's in Washington D.C!? This work was showing the typical style found among Japanese paintings of the 1920s. In other words, the characteristic of this painting corresponds to the generation older than the young avant-garde artists who frenzied to Burliuk's lectures. They were closer to Burliuk's own age. While giving lectures to young audiences, Burliuk actually associated with these older artists and participated in their group exhibitions, Nikaten. In fact, these were the generation of painters, critics, and authors, who were the first to import movements like Futurism to Japan. Among them, Ryusei Kishida was the most influential. Kishida claimed that if one radicalized the process of depiction, beyond the mere reflection of exterior appearances, those appearances inevitably become dismantled, and one can attain a materialistic as well as metaphysical domain which transcends familiar forms. This notion overlaps exactly with the direction Surrealists, and especially early Dali, were to take. Kishida had foreseen these movements that took place after World War I. He saw the possibility of tactile state of mind which protrude reality, therefore surreal, to dwell among the works of Northern Renaissance painters, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein and realism paintings from Song and Yuan Dynasty.

There are two arguments here. First, visual forms are mere conventions for social recognition. Second, production process is object-oriented thinking process in itself, and the method consisted in extracting the materiality, and plasticity that both the object and the mind as object latently possess, in order to break through conventional and superficial forms. David Burliuk probably was aware of the group of painters who shared these similar ideas in Japan. The closest sensibility to David Burliuk can be found in Harue Koga.
When we relate Koga to Burliuk, we can see why Yasuo Kuniyoshi who precedingly went to the US was able to make such a quick debut. It probably is a coincidence that all these painters liked to draw cows. (They might be cow buddies.)

David Burliuk came to the US and, as is widely recognized, his studio became a salon where artists and collectors gathered. Moreover, Burliuk was inspiring, and encouraged younger artists who knew him in NewYork, like Mimi Gross and Red Grooms. In this way, through the presence of David Burliuk, we are able to understand (for the first time) how art histories, divided between America and Japan, and of course between Russia and Europe, actually resonated as closely related movements. However, the work of this Ukrainian artist who served as the crucial key, is far from being widely recognized or understood. Why? One reason is that the great variety of his works appears to be inconsistent. When we look at his works, different styles co-exist nonchalantly within the same time period. He produced these great variety of works within two years (in Japan). Why was he so diverse, split? And even if it is possible to draw the characteristics of Burliuk’s work, as tactile, powerful, primitive, and kitsch expression, they are widely removed from the tag of Futurism that was attached to him. However, does this truly contradict with being a Futurist? If Futurism merely aimed at being at the forefront of time, it can only follow the socialized order of time and the progress of history. On the contrary, Futurism must have been a movement that aimed to produce a temporal order including past and future in itself, without relying on an exterior preestablished order of time (Therefore, Kruchenykh and other Russian Futurists thought they must conquer the sun which controlled human time.) Hence, it would be natural for Burliuk's expression to seem anachronistic, as belonging to a confused temporal progression, when viewed from the standpoint of conventional order of time. Any style is possible. Since there is no time order set in advance, neither new nor old. Past and future is included in present. Therefore past and future also generate in the here and now, each time it occurs.


Next we will move on to a mysterious artist, also from Ukraine, who was Burliuk's friend. John Graham was the first painter to clearly state that the major purpose of art lies in the process of solving problems, and that a medium is a generator which produces processes. As it is known, he was an autobiography maniac. Depending on the biographies, he was born in 1881, 1886, or in 18th century reincarnating an ancient Roman emperor. In any sense, it is well known through many remarks that he continued to give guidance to the works of artists like David Smith, Achille Gorkey, De Kooning, or Jackson Pollock. Not only he brought in enormous amount of information extending from latest developments in art in Europe, Renaissance Art to African Sculptures, he also excelled in his ability to analyze everything with brilliant logic and insight, as is testified in his book “System and Dialectics of Art.” However, it seems that since he passed away, his works are left waiting to be revealed anew.

This is a notebook Gertrude Stein purchased. It gives very precise and intellectual impression as if it belonged to a Renaissance artist. On the other hand, this is a notebook from the archives of American Art. On the contrary, it looks like a notebook of a teenager. Why are these so different? Here we also find splits. When going through his materials, I noticed that one of the most important method for Graham was tracing. He traced anything: The photocopies of the great ancient and modern paintings, handwritings, and the fryers, works of other artists even of his own. In fact, he did not hesitate to trace the works of Picasso or Braque etc. It seems as if he considered tracing an original work not as an act of mimicry, but rather as a process of modification and sophistication. In fact, there is a work which seems as if he tried to improve upon the work of his friend, Stuart Davis. In the same way that Ezra Pound was a brilliant editor and proof reader, Graham’s tracing may have been an act of criticism and speculation, therefore, it was indeed the act of painting. I t was a process of abstraction.

Quote from "System and Dialectics of Art"; Art is essentially a process. A process of what? A process of abstracting. What kind of a process? A creative process of abstracting. A writer abstracts his thoughts and experiences on a white sheet of paper, a musician abstracts the same phenomena into sounds And a painter abstracts three-dimensional phenomena on a two-dimensional plane.

For Graham, there is no end to tracing. he traced the photos of his own already presented works. It is endlessly repeated. The book he published, “System and Dialectics of Art” was of no exception. He kept modifying and rewriting this already published work until his death. Graham’s works after 1942 are said to have followed the works of the Mannerism painter Bronzino, or 19th century Neoclassicist, Dominique Ingres. Here again he pursues and refines his method of tracing the outlines, using different colors to fill out the drawn planes, and overlaying the drawings. One characteristic is to draw over oil paint with pencil or pen. The drawing is articulated with basic outline, like a silk screen print, however, the lines drawn over it deviate from the original, and the colors flow out, the forms metamorphose.

The portraits Graham painted have its characteristic crossed eyes. Overall, the impressions of this split feature remind us of the drawings of an architect of 18th century, dating farther back from Ingres, Jean-Jacques Lequeu. Lequeu considered both architectures and humans alike, as bundles of multiple organs. Ears and nose, digestive organ, each have their own pathos and thoughts. More over, what the right eye thinks differs from the left eye. An architecture is a complex of these internal organs, and Lequeu thought that consciousness, that is to say the subject, is generated by going through the interiors of his architecture. His architecture was a generator of subjects. As is well known, these alchemistic and occultic images appear frequently in Graham’s drawings.

It is said that he approached gnosis through Jung. However, I feel that it is Graham’s work that give us the opportunity to reexamine Jung’s theories as a toolbox to understand the contemporary issues, such as so-called Big data and so on. I will leave the detailed discussion for another time, but isn’t collective unconsciousness something like an archive? The primary characteristic of collective unconsciousness is that it is not localized in the individual, and is open to the networking with the unconsciousness of others. “Individuation process,” as termed by Jung, was a process of assigning a constellation-like disposition to the indefinitely large and endlessly open collective of objective data, and endow movement upon it. Constellations arise from the archive of collective unconsciousness as something that replaces the subejct. In this way, every time a new disposition and new personality are produced, and these successively generated patterns are discontinuous from each other. We can hardly regard his paintings as having been done by a single character. It is as if he was the medium that generate different subjects each time. Here the act or work, of the artist is to become a medium which draws out and mediate other possible subjects from the archive. What is nowadays called “deep learning” or “machine learning” is an self-referential generative process of the archive itself to extract different dispositions, or constellation from the vast amount of data, without resorting to exterior search process conducted via the necessities of a human being. The existence and the works of Graham seems to present a living precursor to this.

This is a common characteristic that can be found in the works of artists, including Burliuk, who often appear in the discontinuous points in history and function like living archives. Any history presents only one arbitrary possibility among the numerous possible configuration and time order that can be drawn from archives. The configuration only relies on the identity and consistency of the subject who selected the order. Burliuk and Graham were, in fact, living archives and mediums who each time raised variously possible subjects from the archive that they themselves were. They were not subjects but mediums which generated subjects. Therefore when their function ceased to exist, they become invisible and incomprehensible.


Therefore, I found it appropriate to reproduce Burliuk and Graham’s drawings by using Ms. Contact. We call her Conta. Conta’s characteristic is to deal with the movement of drawing as a relative motion between the drawing board and the nib (pen point) and reverse the movements of the pen into that of the board. As a result, the following points were verified;

  1. Movement is perceived by only touching the board at a single point without moving the pen.
  2. Participants were able to grasp what images are drawn even if they keep their eyes closed.
  3. The sense of agency is perceived without moving one’s hand.
  4. By experiencing the production process, even differences that cannot be perceived visually, can be recognized. For example one can tell who made a given drawing.

There are no film footage recording on how Burliuk and Graham moved their pen. Therefore I asked a Russian conceptual artist, Vadim Zakharov, who created the work for the Russian pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, to trace and reproduce the drawings of Burliuk and Graham. Through Conta, therefore, the drawing is reproduced through a collaborative synergy between three subjects: Burliuk, Zakharov, and the participant of this experiment, or Graham, Zakharov and the participant. This drawing was found in the Archives of American Art. Since there are other drawings by Graham likewise drawn in a single stroke, we believe this to be also done by Graham, however it was classified in “other” file, meaning it is not clear who drew it. What is confounding is that on top of the pencil drawing, another tracing with a pen in an apparently different hand has been added. So it is an over-laying by another hand, or even if it was by the same Graham, it would be by another personality distanced in time. It seems relevant to our approach to reproduce it. (When we remove the pen drawn lines,) we notice that two drawings of almost the same size are overlaid. Both are women’s back drawn in a single stroke. It seems that he traced two different drawings separately. The relation between their positions is accidental (the superimposition is arbitrary).

First, allow the participant to draw with MIDI and reproduce it using Conta.
*Reproduce Matisse’s drawing.
*Vadim reproduces Graham’s drawing.
*The participants close their eyes and re-draw the drawing after experiencing it by Conta.

Based on the findings stated above, these are the possibilities for further investigation.

  1. The sensations internally experienced in production process, which transcends the differences between direct sensory information, such as vision, audition, or touch, can be grasped and recorded.
  2. It reveals a new possibility for the mutual transformation of the senses, wherein visual information becomes converted into tactile information, tactile into visual, or auditory into visual, using the internal grasp as a common sense, which is to say a medium.
  3. By extracting the differences inherent within the production process that are not perceived as outward appearances, it becomes possible to extract patterns of thought or behavior, which has been understood only in terms of personal character, as objective data. This leads to the possibility of transmitting and transferring these individual characteristics to others. For example, a similar pattern may be found between the process of depicting a subject matter which triggers psychological resistance, and that of avoiding physical obstacles. Similarly, common features can be found among the planning of itinerary, procedure of action, and composition of an argument. In other words, the pattern within temporary development may be extracted.

As I have stated in the beginning, this is to say that, Ms. Contact will make it possible to assemble archives of handwritings and drawings, the records of movement made in production process, of all painters, poets, musicians, and dancers, and enable their reproduction at any given moment. And we find ourselves already in the constructing process of the device which create an archive of “how to get the knack.” Thus it becomes possible to explore deeper levels of information that does not appear on the surface, which had been impossible to render into a search engine until now. The connection between one information and another, becomes itself a meta-information, enabling the understanding of what was embedded in the information. It becomes possible to perceive movement information from visual information, or visual information from auditory information. More over, this robot, Ms. Contact, although she is currently a mere prototype, enables the grasp of the others’ internal grasp, thereby making it possible to learn what has been understood until now as individual characteristics. Therefore, we can say, it is possible to become the other. Ultimately, it reveals to us the plasticity of the subject itself. What is important is not the modeling (plasticity) of an object, but to regain the plasticity of the subject as a living archive, by creating the possibility of interactive contact with the archive, where all history remain plastic.