In culture. The whole Japanese society was in a

In Namiko Kunimoto’s article “Tanaka
Atsuko’s Electric Dress and the Cricuits of Subjectivity,” Kunimoto discusses
the life and the work of Tanaka Atsuko, particularly her Electric Dress. She looks beyond the work with formalist elements,
such as color, lines, and materials while referring to the social context of
1950s Japan, in order to explore the construction of the social and
psychological environments in her electric dress. By connecting the electric
dress with the context of social history surrounded, Kunimoto discusses some
important social changes in the 1950s Japan: the transformation from urban to
city, the unprecedented development of industrial technology, an increase in
the commercialization of women’s bodies in media, an awakening in
individualism, etc. The large changes in social environment affect Japanese
people’ sense of self. Tanaka Atsuko, as a female artist at that time, use both
the medium of her art works and her performances to explore the interstices and
limits of gender subjectivity in the contemporary society and express the
frailty of subjectivity in industrialization, urbanization and other social
changes (Kumimoto 16).

Kunimoto
analyzes the electric dress and asserts her claim from a social history
perspective. She connects the electric dress with the context of social history
surrounded and Tanaka’s response to the values and ideas of society. In the
first paragraph, Kunimoto starts his analysis by pointing out the time period
and social background that Tanaka Atsuko lived and made her art works. She
mentions that Tanaka Atsuko was an avant-garde artist in the 1950s Japan which
was the time American occupation ended. With the American values and lifestyles
introduced to Japan, Japanese people were heavily impacted by American culture.
The whole Japanese society was in a time for changing and challenge. Kumimoto
introduces her question that how would Japanese artist, such as Tanaka,
response to the changes in the contemporary art scene. Then Kumimoto introduces
the Gutai Art Association, a group of artists at that time. Tanaka was a member
of the association, her works were connected with boundaries and surface
materiality. Electric Dress is one of
her famous work. Then Kumimoto describes Electric
Dress in detail, here Kumimoto does a close looking to analyze the art works from color,
lines, materials, etc. She divided her research into different sections, and
puts the formalist elements of Electric
Dress in different social context, such as women’s status and the
transformation from urban to city. Kumimoto employed
social history by trying to reconstruct how the social context drove
Tanaka to make the choices her did and explore her intention and response under the art work.

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Kumimoto uses formal analysis. She does a
close looking to analyze the art works from color, lines, materials, and connects it with the big social
context. For example, Kumimoto describes the electric dress as a work with the
height of human body and covers with flashing light bulbs from head to toe. In
the performance, Tanaka would wear the Electric
Dress like a normal dress. But the “dress” is flashing and cover almost her
entire self expect her face. Kumimoto said that “The apparatus drew the eye,
yet at the same time, its enclosure effectively blocked access to the
performer. The contraption both illuminated and concealed the subject, with
flashing lights that heightened the tension between access and denial.”
(Kumimoto 3). According to Kumimoto, Tanaka used the light bulbs to cover her
body and only left her face, it created a sense of hidden. Later in article,
Kumimoto talks about the increase in the commercialization of women’s bodies in
media at that time. In 1950s, as the Americans introduced many different ideas
to Japanese society, commercial visual culture and gender were intertwined in
Japan. Many media, such as newspaper and magazines, showed women bodies as
sexual objects in many. Women in magazines often wear Western-style dress;
Marilyn Monroe’s films become popular; articles in newspapers teaches women to
wear dress rather than kimonos and to make their eyes appear lager. The society
forced women to dress up and behavior in the way the society expected. The
invisible pressure on women made them feel overwhelmed. But Tanaka’s Electric
Dress emphasizes women’s perception to chose and wear. Kumimoto claims that “Electric
Dress offered an alternative visualization of the female body, one that neither
collaborated with the commercialized female body nor affirmed it as empowered.”
(Kumimoto 8).

When
doing formal
analysis, Kumimoto also
emphasizes Tanaka’s choice of light bulbs. Kumimoto said that Tanaka used bulb,
a friable material, to express a sense of uncertainty in Japanese society and
people’s frailty of subjectivity in industrialization, urbanization and other
social changes. According to Kumimoto, “The flashing lights and sense of
disorder in Electric Dress offer a synecdoche of the hustle and busde of the
city, vividly evoking the transportation networks that were central to postwar
urbanization and economic development.” (Kumimoto 5) By using the friable
material, Tanaka shows her concern on the issues that surrounded her, such as
economic issues and city issues. Tanaka lived in time that Japan started to
develop their own economic and politics in contemporary age. With the rapid
development of modern society, the society become better but the ensuing crisis
was emerging as while. The complexity and uncertainty of modern societies
caused the social stratum quickly disunite and recombine, and leads to the
issue of economic issues, inequality in class and gender. Kumimoto points out
that Tanaka uses the flashing light bulbs to remind people that city life is
beautiful and enjoyable, like the dazzling light. But it also friable and is
filled with hallucination. The friable bulbs express the people’s frailty of
subjectivity in industrialization, urbanization and other social changes. “Her
art reveals a lack of fixity in the subject, a sense of uncertainty about the
strength and physical presence of self.” As Kumimoto points out, Tanaka address
the uncertainty of society and as while as people’s sense of self. In a
society, there are to much rules to limit a people’s behavior and even
thinking. 

Kumimoto employed social history with formal analysis, she reconstructs how the social context
drove Tanaka to make the choices her
did and explore her intention and response
under the art work. Her approach is effective. The Electric Dress is a concept art, it’s hard to understand the art works
without the connections to the social
context of 1950s Japan. By giving the historical background of that time, she
can bracket herself into the 1950 ‘period eye’ to examine the art work. The
studies of social history of art think that great art is not only made for
aesthetic appreciation, but also an explanation and thinking of life and social
environment. Kumimoto’s studies for Tanaka
Atsuko’s Electric Dress consist with
this statement since she discovers Tanaka’s response to the values and ideas of
society after analyzing the social context. Especially in analyzing Tanaka’s
expression for the inequity and constraint that women have. Kumimoto shows how
the society expectation for women’s appearance in detail. And she also
describes how the electric dress looks like when Tanaka wears it. It covers the
whole body of Tanaka, and it is so different from the women’s appearance in
Newspapers and other medias. By giving the social context of women’s appearance
at that time, it forms a strong contrast with the “dress” that Tanaka created.
It speaks out Tanaka’s desire for women to chose their cloths and to reject to
become sexual objects in media. If Kumimoto does not give the social context,
the viewer may not feel the Tanaka’s strong desire for women’s self perception.

His formal analysis is powerful as
while. He describes Tanaka’s
performance of wearing the electric dress as lack of fixity and heavy. It gives
people a sense of uncertainty and uncontrollable. It shows vividly how people
lives in that time. It emphasizes Tanaka’s expression of the frailty of
subjectivity. And Kumimoto focus a lot on the description of the flashing light
when he does close looking. He describes how shine of the light, it helps
viewer to understand Tanaka’s thought on city: beautiful and enjoyable, like
the dazzling light. But it also friable and is filled with hallucination. One
way that can be added to Kumimoto’s studies is that she could add some
contemporary critique into the article. Because people in that time period’s responds
may be different since they were lived in the society. It will make the studies
become more objective and convictive, like Clark’s article of Manet’s
“Olympia”.

In
Namiko Kunimoto’s article “Tanaka
Atsuko’s Electric Dress and the Cricuits of Subjectivity,” She looks beyond
the work with formal
analysis while referring to
the social context of 1950s Japan, she asserts her claim that from a social
history perspective that Tanaka Atsuko use both the medium of her art works and
her performances to express the interstices and limits of gender subjectivity and
people’s frailty of subjectivity.