Interrogating Ecology: 1970s Media and Art in Japan

December 10, 2021
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Online Via Zoom

Norio Imai, Pieces of Images - 64 Pieces, 1973-2014. Courtesy of Artcourt Gallery. © Norio Imai.

Norio Imai, Pieces of Images - 64 Pieces, 1973-2014. Courtesy of Artcourt Gallery. © Norio Imai.

Winter Panel Event
Pre-recorded Presentations: December 2-12, 2012
Live Discussion: December 10th (EST)

Collaborative Cataloguing Japan hosts Winter Panel event for Interrogating Ecology project, with core group scholars Haeyun Park, Seoul National University; Tomotaro Kaneko, Aichi University of the Arts; Nina Horisaki-Christens, Columbia University; Franz Prichard, Princeton University; Julian Ross, Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society (LUCAS); and contextual scholars Yuriko Furuhata, McGill University; Takeshi Kadobayashi, Kansai University; and Takuya Tsunoda, Columbia University.

The presentations by the panelists will be available online (link to the videos to be announced on 12/2) from December 2-12, and a collective panel discussion and Q&A will be held on December 10th EST. Please register at the above link to join the panel discussion event.

Online Screening
Norio Imai: Eizō as Intermedial Practice
December 3-12, 2021
Available on CCJ Streaming Site


In Japan, 1970 marked a shift from rapid economic growth, industrialization, and urbanization to a critical reckoning with the new order created by the information economy, the managed society, and environmental pollution. Instigated by the 1960s discourses of cybernetics and futurology, compounded by the publication of Silent Spring and the litigation of pollution in Minamata Bay, and still further modulated by the burgeoning discourse of the information society (jōhō shakai), systems-thinking had reached an inflection point by the start of Expo ’70. This conference posits the concept of “ecology” as a key framework through which to re-examine the role, structure, and aspirations that shaped the 1970s Japanese art and media landscapes.

There was a marked increase, starting in 1970, in the appearance of the term ekorojī in Japanese publications on such diverse topics as arts, architecture, electronics, and economics. However, beyond the proliferation of the term, our consideration of ecology gestures to a more widespread systems-based conceptualization of contemporary society that came into its own with the turn of the decade. Within media discourse, the flurry around Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s 1974 appearance in Tokyo signaled the popularity of a perspective that envisioned media as a complex interaction between different modalities, materialities, and institutional structures—namely a media ecological perspective. At the same time, early 1970s articles in Bijutsu techō (Art Notebook) and Shin nihon bungaku (New Japanese Literature) address the “ecology” of art and the relationship of literature to the “information environment.” Still, as early as December 1970, science fiction writer and futurologist Komatsu Sakyō posits a turn toward a concern with “environmental balance” in an article entitled “Banpaku kara kōgai e” (From Expo to Pollution). With the spate of anti-pollution bills passed by the Diet that month, the rise of Japan’s environmental movement through Jishu Kōza’s appearance on the international scene in 1972, and a series of supply chain crises purportedly linked to the oil crisis in 1973, the interrelatedness of environmental, economic, and social concerns became inescapable. Thus, although environmental concerns were an integral element in the rise of this systems-based perspective, during the greater 1970s, the boundaries of ecological thinking did not start nor end only with a concern for man’s effect on the natural environment.

In bringing together scholars of art, film, television, media, photography, and literature, this academic conference takes a first step toward analyzing the diversity and limits of ecological thinking in 1970s Japan. A panel of contextual presentations will address Japan’s media and material conditions in the late 1960s and early ’70s, while a panel of case studies will analyze works of art and expanded media in the greater 1970s. These presentations will be available online from December 2-12, and a collective panel discussion and Q&A on December 10 will directly address the intersections between our respective studies. The conference thus cuts across disciplinary boundaries in pursuit of a more comprehensive account of the cultural landscape of an underexamined decade in Japanese history while providing a critical historical example through which to approach contemporary concerns about how media forms and structures shape environmental crises, participatory politics, and social accessibility anew.