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Challenging Mud

Kazuo Shiraga

Challenging Mud

Kazuo Shiraga
  • Original Title: Doro ni idomu
  • Date: 1955; Tokyo, Japan  
  • Style: Conceptual Art
  • Genre: performance

Shiraga performed Challenging Mud by writhing and wrestling in a pile of mud at the First Gutai Art Exhibition at the Ohara Kaikan Hall in Tokyo, creating a work that was both performance and painting. In this work, Shiraga cultivates the same energy and dynamic action of his barefoot action paintings, radicalizing and extending the notion of painting even further. Here, he completely relinquishes the canvas, paint, conventional materials and museum space, using his body not as a tool for applying paint, but as a direct means of interaction with the material. Both the painting in the mud and the artist’s body become sites of action. Shiraga emerges from the work cut and bruised and covered with mud; as he acts on the mud, the mud likewise acts on him. In this sense, the work embodies the emphasis of the Gutai on the engagement of the artist with the material in such a way that he “shakes hands” with it. The artist ultimately relinquishes the mastery of control over the material and enters into partnership with it. Staging his act of creation for visitors to the exhibition to witness, Shiraga furthermore articulates the importance placed by the Gutai on the process of creation rather than on the works themselves. He transforms painting into a process-oriented medium and actually “performs” his work. Nevertheless, the Gutai artists intended their actions to result in the creation of paintings. Shiraga conceived of Challenging Mud as a painting, which is evidenced by the exhibition of the work alongside other paintings, complete with an exhibition label. He says of the work, “I painted the same way I had painted with my feet but with my whole body to create a painting: I had no intention of making a three-dimensional work.” While photographic documentation records the action, for Shiraga, Challenging Mud is essentially a painting made with his body. (Sara Kowalski)

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