Atsuko Tanaka

Electric Dress

Tanaka Electric Dress Takamatsu City Museum Of Art 1500
  • Atsuko Tanaka
  • Electric Dress
  • 1956/1986
  • Synthetic paint on incandescent lightbulbs, electric cords, and control
  • 165 × 80 × 80 cm
  • Takamatsu Art Museum

Tanaka Atsuko was a leading Japanese avant-garde artist who was known for her experimental works, but who also later worked in abstraction. Her wearable sculpture Electric Dress (1956/86) was her radical response to the government-prescribed figurative styles and accepted materials of art, embracing technology as an agent in its creation. She was associated with the Gutai group of artists, founded in Osaka in 1954. Unlike the work of other Gutai artists, who emphasized gestural physicality as central to the work of art, she assigned the requisite performative action to the lights and bells in her creations. The almost 200 colorfully painted light bulbs of the kimono-like Electric Dress blink on and off every two and a half minutes, creating a flashing performance of moving light that represents systems pulsing inside the human body. In this way, Electric Dress bypasses conventional ideas about the artist as a maker and instead involves the viewer in the act of witnessing this pulsating display. Moreover, although the artist designed the sculpture to be worn as a kind of performance piece, in this example her body becomes merely the support.

Caroline Wallace

Biography of Atsuko Tanaka

  • Born 1932 in Osaka, Japan
  • Died 2005 in Nara, Japan

Tanaka Atsuko was a leading Japanese avant-garde artist. She began studying art at the Kyōtoshiritsugeijutsudaigaku (Kyoto City University of Arts) in 1950, but in 1951 she transferred to the Āto no Ōsaka ichi Kenkyūjo (Osaka Municipal Institute of Art) to focus on modern Western art. Her husband, artist Akira Kanayama (b. 1924), founded Zero-kai (Zero Society) in 1952. She first participated in Zero-kai, then joined the Gutai Art Association in 1955. After a series of paintings and collages incorporating numbers, she became interested in everyday materials, such as commercially dyed textiles, electric bells, and lightbulbs. She also created many innovative works involving the spectator, performative art, and new technology. At the first Gutai exhibition in 1955, Tanaka Atsuko showed her first electric and participatory piece, Work (Bell). Her most famous work, Electric Dress (1956), was a wearable kimono-like sculpture made of colorfully painted lightbulbs, which one critic described as “a powerful conflation of the tradition of the Japanese kimono with modern industrial technology.” The lights represented systems pulsing inside the human body. She later returned to painting in a visual vocabulary, featuring networks of concentric circles and circuitous lines on large-scale canvases. Her work is included in several important private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York.