Installation view of the exhibition Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver’s Cinematic Illumination, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, August 27, 2020–April 18, 2021. Digital image © 2023 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Robert Gerhardt

“I’m not thinking to follow a particular way.”

Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver

As a long-haired teenager growing upon the outskirts of Kyoto, Shuzo Azuchi (b. 1947) was given the nickname Gulliver, which he later embraced as an artist’s name. The shadow of Jonathan Swift’s itinerant adventurer is an apt guide through the multidisciplinary artist’s life and work.

Never formally trained as an artist, Gulliver’s early encounters with the arts include stumbling across a French-language Marcel Duchamp monograph in a Kyoto bookshop; the images in the book inspired him to seek out the life of an artist. Counterculture was also in close proximity, through Beat poets Gary Snyder and Allan Ginsburg, each of whom spent time in Kyoto in the 1960s. Gulliver’s first performances were organized on grounds of his secondary school; soon after, he took part in street actions and outdoor Happenings with the collectives Remandaran and The Play.

Gulliver points to the boundary-breaking artist Shuji Terayama’s remark that any person over the age of 30 was not to be trusted. In 1967, the year the Summer of Love catalyzed the hippie movement in San Francisco, Gulliver hitchhiked to Tokyo to pursue filmmaking. In the Japanese capital, the long-haired, stylishly dressed young artist was photographed by the national press, which deemed him an emblem of Japan’s booming postwar youth culture. Gulliver joined a vibrant scene in which underground film, avant-garde art, psychedelia, and political activism overlapped; experimental art hummed in alternative spaces and spilled over into the streets, clothing stores, nightclubs, and even the postal system.

Gulliver made his earliest films between 1966 and 1968. Film and Screen took on film projection as a subject, while Switch and Box incorporated performative elements into the screenings. Gulliver presented his films at discotheques and jazz clubs, often along with filmmaker-artist-critic Rikuro Miyai, and also in more formal presentations put on by the Art Film Association in Kyoto and Osaka. In 1968, when invited to participate in the Intermedia Arts Festival, organized by Japanese artists associated with the Fluxus movement, Gulliver had the following notion: “Movies are projected [in a certain] way, right? So, instead, in projecting in this way…I'm not thinking to follow a particular way...very much like a child…so, why not sideways?”

For Cinematic Illumination (1968–69), the resulting moving-image event, Gulliver beamed images from eighteen slide projectors across the Tokyo discotheque Killer Joe’s, creating a 360-degree environment intended to meld with the sound, lights, and moving bodies in the underground venue. It was composed of nearly 1,500 slides, and became one of the period’s most ambitious examples of expanded cinema, a form of filmmaking that emphasizes multiple projections and performance. Originating from 16mm film footage of found mass-media imagery and everyday actions, and hand-cut and assembled into slides, Cinematic Illumination is imbued with a do-it-yourself attitude characteristic of alternative scenes of the late 1960s.

The outdoor film performance Flying Focus (1969), which involved an overhead slide projector and a tubular balloon, was Gulliver’s last moving image work from this period. Subsequently, he took up sculpture, painting, installation, and eventually new media. One through line within an adventurous life in art is Gulliver’s use of the body: sculptures made at the weight of his body, line drawings following his body measurements, and paintings using DNA sequences as figuration all appear in his diverse body of work. Gulliver’s continual shape-shifting and search for the unknown are more than an expansion of these art forms’ boundaries—they are a testament to the power and purpose of a nomadic attitude.

Sophie Cavoulacos, Assistant Curator, Department of Film, 2020


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