Published by Kaya Press. By Genpei Akasegawa. Translated by Matthew Fargo.
There is a small but potent club of authors—Miranda July and Patti Smith are both members—who were renowned artists long before they became writers. Genpei Akasagawa was already a giant of the Japanese contemporary art world when he began writing these stories, which earned him Japan’s two most prestigious book awards.
In these stories, ostensibly quiet tales of a single dad in 1970s Tokyo, a doorknob practices radical politics, a peeled tomato smarts in pain, raw oysters tick like time bombs and gravestones provide a critique of capitalism. After reading I Guess All We Have Is Freedom, you will never be able to look at a sliding door, a rubber band or a plastic gutter the same way again. In spite of their suburban settings, the stories here are more radical than the most cosmopolitan contemporary art. Or as the protagonist puts it: “The whole art thing is a little played out at this point. Nowadays, it’s all about buying gutters. Going out to buy a gutter on a sunny day.”
Genpei Akasegawa (1937-2014) was a rare phenomenon, an artist who successfully transitioned from the avant-garde to the larger realm of popular culture. Akasegawa emerged on the Japanese art scene around 1960, starting in the radical Anti-Art movement and becoming a member of the seminal artist collectives Neo Dada and Hi Red Center. The epic piece Model 1,000-Yen Note Incident (1963-74), which involved a real-life police investigation and trial, cemented his place as an inspired conceptualist. Hyperart: Thomasson (Kaya Press, 2010), a collection of musings on art that the city itself makes, marks a crucial turning point in his metamorphosis from subculture to pop-culture status. Also an accomplished author writing under the penname Katsuhiko Otsuji, in 1981 he won Japan's most prestigious literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, for his story “Dad's Gone,” translated into English here for the first time in this volume.
Published by Kaya Press. Essays by Jordan Sand, Reiko Tomii. Translated by Matthew Fargo.
In the 1970s, estranged from the institutions and practices of high art, avant-garde artist and award-winning novelist Genpei Akasegawa launched an open-ended, participatory project to search the streets of Japan for strange objects which he and his collaborators labeled "hyperart," codifying them with an elaborate system of humorous nomenclature. Along with "modernologists" such as the Japanese urban anthropologist Kon Wajiro and his European contemporary, Walter Benjamin, Akasegawa is part of a lineage of modern wanderers of the cityscape. His work, which has captured the imagination of Japan, reads like a comic forerunner of the somber mixed-media writings of W.G. Sebald, and will appeal to all fans of modern literature, art, artistic/social movements and writing that combines visual images and text in the exploration of urban life. Matthew Fargo's first U.S. translation of Akasegawa's hilarious, brilliantly conceived exercise in collective observation is accompanied by essays from noted scholars Jordan Sand and Reiko Tomii.