Toshihiro ANZAI

The introduction of "Kokinshu (a collection of ancient and modern Japanese poetry)" compiled in the early tenth century contains the following passage: "Waka (Japanese poetry) move Heaven and Earth without the use of physical force."
In modern times, literature is believed to develop in a metaphorical space outside of the physical space we inhabit. We all know that TV dramas are fiction and that fiction never interferes with reality. Before contemporary literature, however, metaphorical space and physical space were connected. Poetry was thought to mitigate a prevailing epidemic and occasionally served as a tool to lead a national project to success. Ancient people had a sense of awe and were moved by the mysterious power of words, which could affect an object without exerting any physical force.
I feel that such a richness of words is lacking in modern society.
The expression "could effect an object without exerting any physical force" could be applied to electronic media around us. It is digital technology that fuses physical and metaphorical space. Information network systems melt the long-frozen richness of the metaphorical space and restore its abundance to us. It also shows us that an archetype of our new experiences in electronic media goes back to the expression of ancient people.
Our project, "Renga", was conceived at the conjunction point of classical and modern artform.

by Nakamura

by Anzai

What triggered our idea was a workshop on computer painting held in the winter of 1991. A work by Rieko Nakamura was loaded into the painting system in front of me. Although it was digital data that could be reproduced an infinite number of times, I was reluctant to modify a completed work by someone else. But I dared to add some touches to it, and then "undid" the change. I repeated this process several times. This casual operation gave me a pleasant surprise. After a while I forgot about undoing it and further modified the work in my style until it became a sort of hybrid of my style with remnants of Nakamura's.

In April of 1992, I suggested to Nakamura a creative method to make this scintillating play an organized activity. First, person A creates a seed work of CG (computer graphics) and sends it to person B through E-mail. Person B may use part of the work or alter it to create his/her own work and send back the result to person A. By repeating this process, a series of works just like a picture scroll will be created.
I named this method "Renga" (linked pictures) after the collective poetry style "Renga(linked poems)." Each member of the group, called "Renju"(linked members) will append a phrase in turn. "Ren" means link and "Ga" means poem in this case. There is another kanji(Chinese character) which is pronounced "Ga" but means "picture". Simply put, I coined the word "Renga(linked pictures)" by replacing the kanji for "poem" with the kanji for "picture."

In "Renga(poetry)", following the initial phrase called "Hokku" (which later became known in its independent form as "Haiku"), the second member creates the second phrase according to certain rules. A new meaning will be formed out of this relay. When the third phrase is added it opens up a completely new aspect. The "Renga" increases its chain of free association, just as the landscape through the window of a train constantly changes.
"Renga" was in fashion from the 14th to 15th century and then became formalized and lost its steam. Later it was revived as "Renga of Haiku", called "Renku" and was brought to perfection in the 17th century by the poet Basho Matsuo. Basho is highly evaluated not only as a leader of the collective creative activities of "Renga," but also as a master, in his own right, of "Haiku". His devotees revealed Basho's true perception of his own work was that; "I may be evaluated as a creator of "Haiku", but the focus of my work is "Renga."" This was surprising to the people even then. The 19th century poet Shiki Masaoka said that Basho's "Haiku" was literature but his "Renga" was not.
Already by the time of Basho, "Renga" has been regarded as one rank lower than "Hokku". Perhaps this is influenced by the common notion that a work of art should remain aloof and collaboration is thought to dilute the uniqueness of the work.

It is clear to see from our first six works, done in April 1992, that we were still too cautious about altering other people's ideas, but at the same time it was stimulating to free ourselves of the notion that a work of art belongs only to the originator.
And we tapped into something beyond the outworn expression "individual and group" in a new framework of "individual and Ren".

In the Autumn of 1992, I did an experiment to reassess the relationship between artists and their work. A friend of mine, Takayuki Terakado, is a painter who uses various electronic media, new materials and ancient images to create his works, producing a unique atmosphere. His talent is widely acknowledged. One of his works is a series titled "Transgenic Angel". I scanned in some of it. He creates a quick distortion effect using a photocopier. I wrote a computer program to simulate the effect and applied it to a digitized image. I was convinced that I had managed to create something similar to his. Something he might have created himself. I fastened it into a binder with his other works and on the pretext of interviewing him on the copyright system, about which I was soon to give a lecture at NICOGRAPH, headed for his atelier. I turned my video camera toward the artist and handed over the binder to him.

He quickly noticed my work and immediately figured it out. Then he gave me his honest impression of it. He said, "I feel that my work has been purified by this. I can't reach this level myself. I felt the same pleasure that I usually feel when my own work is printed. I don't know where it's coming from. It is just a groundless, inexplicable sense of familiarity".
The response of Terakado gave me a good opportunity to think not only about the pleasure of using others ideas, but also the pleasure of my own ideas being used by others.
Touching someone, either in a physical or spiritual sense, can be a pleasure in some cases, a discomfort in others. We invented the copyright system to avoid this discomfort. Perhaps it also serves as a mechanism to drive the pleasure of touching each other out of its cozy autism.
Digital media is beginning to divulge the invalidity of copyright system. At the same time it amplifies the pleasure of using each others works.

Our second session took place at the end of the same year. I took the first step, literally by taking a picture of my feet about to step forward. I digitized the photo and sent it to Nakamura. She printed out the image, added blue ink and scanned in the picture. The image of the feet sticking out of the blue sky was then deformed into whirlpool-like swirls as I sent it back to her with a title "On Fully Automatic Washing Machine and la Dexterite."
There was a tacit agreement to go for freer and wider variation when the second session started. We occasionally picked up a piece of text or image out of our daily life and put it into the work. Sometimes a part of the work was converted into another form. Not only usage of the image, but conceptual linkages, such as a triangle, to three deities of beauty, were used. Both of us once tried to hold the image of "Spring", by Botticelli, in mind.

While pursuing "Renga", I found one E-mail sent from Nakumura very inspiring as a clue to the meaning of "Renga." It said that ""Renga" is not a play between oneself and others. I think it is a play catch between myself and another "Renju" self. To be connected with "Renju", to achieve something, you have to face yourself, confront yourself or you just can't make it. To be connected with "Renju" could be a very individual creative process. When I am painting alone, a projection from somebody or memory sneaks into the work. I notice it and say "Aha! This is the blue of Mr. A". Individual work often tends to chop things into pieces but when you work with "Renju" you have to start with other elements. You can't create anything by trying to separate yourself from others. Only by embracing it, you can make it your own original work."

People pointed out that "Renga" is the creation of a virtual personality out of the fusion of two personalities. It is like enterprises and nations behaving as personalities. However, we have never felt a new personality during "Renga." Although a streak of the other person is involved in the work, we regarded the work in hand as one's own creation. A gigantic personality formed by the fusion of individuals was not a comfortable idea for us.
We prefer to regard creation, which is usually believed to be a solitary monologue, as being accomplished in dialogues with many other people within ourselves. This was a revelation to me. I used to believe that "the self" was a set of elements different from others, contained in a hard shell.
Perhaps the invention of "Renga(poetry)" is a formalization of the natural interaction between oneself and the community, before the establishment of the contemporary sense of self as a tool. Digital media and network communications have the power to bring the fixed boundary of personality back to its innocent state. It may cause a loss of identity but it would also serve as an opportunity to encounter the more natural and familiar self-image.