Artists Space

Yasunao Tone: Region of Paramedia

January 13 – March 18

Artists Space is pleased to present Region of Paramedia, the first retrospective dedicated to the work of Japanese American conceptual artist, composer, and theorist Yasunao Tone, whose deep investigation of the potential uses and misuses of emerging technology has made him a pioneer in performance, sound, and digital composition. This landmark exhibition and event series encompasses a comprehensive range of mediums and materials, from graphic scores to manipulated sound objects to documentation of performative actions and rare ephemera, and includes live events as well as first-time restagings that cover both Tone’s frequent, wide-ranging collaborations and his individually authored works.

Black-and-white photograph of a blurred figure in motion sitting behind a wooden desk surrounded by audio equipment in a sparse room.
Yasunao Tone performing Music for 2 CD Players at Experimental Intermedia Foundation, New York, 1986. [Black-and-white photograph of a blurred figure in motion sitting behind a wooden desk surrounded by audio equipment in a sparse room.]

Spanning the 1960s to the present, Region of Paramedia begins in Japan with Tone’s varied artistic efforts during his time as a founding member of the Japanese branch of Fluxus, a co-conspirator of Hi-Red Center in their social interventions, and a pivotal member of the key postwar collectives Group Ongaku, the world’s first freely improvising music ensemble, and Team Random, the first computer-art collective in Japan. Tone’s active participation in unsettling artistic forms, genres, and social expectations across these disparate affiliations boldly presaged his future activities.

Tone’s penchant for collaboration only deepened with his move to the United States in 1972, where he soon began to work with a prolific range of dancers, visual artists, and musicians that included Merce Cunningham, Blondell Cummings, Allan Kaprow, Senga Nengudi, Butch Morris, and George Maciunas. Since coming to New York in 1973, Tone’s work has been distinguished by his radical procedures for transmuting media into unpredictable and unstable forms through both analog and digital systems. Works like Molecular Music (1982)—in which Tone arranges light sensors on the surface of a projection screen to actively interpret 16mm images (characters from Chinese poetic texts) and sends that information to sound-producing instruments—bring together contingent systems, contemporary continental philosophy and media theory, and traditional Eastern culture.

Tone originated the use of “glitch” in artmaking thanks to his groundbreaking modifications of prerecorded compact discs, becoming the first person to compose via the inbuilt potential for their digital disruption. In performances and compositions beginning in the mid-1980s such as Music for 2 CD Players (1985), Tone physically alters the surfaces of compact discs, overriding their error-correcting system and generating wild unpredictability in playback. The artist calls these deviations paramedia, a shorthand way of describing a practice of diverting technological devices from their intended purposes to, in his words, “create pieces that are simultaneously multipliable and nonrepetitive.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, Yasunao Tone will perform on multiple occasions at Artists Space, including a January 19 appearance with renowned flutist and composer Barbara Held. More performances will be announced. The exhibition will conclude in March with a weekend of film screenings, organized in collaboration with film scholar Go Hirasawa and the Brooklyn cinematheque Light Industry.

January 19, 2023

Yasunao Tone in Concert with Barbara Held

Yasunao Tone (b. Tokyo, Japan, 1935) is a multidisciplinary artist working in New York City. Tone graduated from Chiba University in 1957 with a major in Japanese literature and became an important figure in postwar Japanese art during the 1960s. He was a key member of Group Ongaku, Team Random, and the Japanese branch of Fluxus, and was involved with several other collectives and artists such as the Neo-Dada Organizers, Hi-Red Center, and Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata. Relocating to the United States in 1972, he has since been a crucial force in the philosophical and material advancement of durational art across myriad live forms, gaining a legendary reputation as a musician, performer, and writer. He has collaborated with a prolific range of dancers, visual artists, and musicians including Merce Cunningham, Blondell Cummings, Allan Kaprow, Senga Nengudi, Butch Morris, and George Maciunas.

Much gratitude to Ann Adachi-Tasch, Hideki Aoyama, Thomas Beard and Ed Halter (Light Industry), Christophe Cherix, Danielle Johnson, and Emily Cushman (The Museum of Modern Art), Paula Cooper Gallery, Merce Cunningham Trust, Rhodri Davies, Steve Giordano, Gladstone Gallery, Linda Goode Byrant, Taro Hanaga, Barbara Held, Jon Hendricks, Go Hirasawa, Mari Ingram, Taka Ishii Gallery and the Estate of Minoru Hirata, Yukie Kamiya, The Kitchen, T. (Thomas) Jean Lax, Joshua Mack and Ron Warren, Sean McCann, David Meschter, Akiko Miyake, Barbara Moore, Shinji Nanzuka, Senga Nengudi, Phill Niblock, Northwestern University, Takako Okamoto, Erica Papernick-Shimzu, Participant Inc., Glenn Phillips, Yuzo Sakuramoto, Sara Seagull and Larry Miller (Estate of Robert Watts), MM Serra (The Filmmaker’s Cooperative), Olivia Shao, Amy Sloper and Mark Johnson (Harvard Film Archive), Swiss Institute, Keiichi Tanaami, Reiko Tomii, Walker Art Center, Christian Xatrec and Emily Harvey Foundation, and Nancy Zendora.

Major support for Yasunao Tone: Region of Paramedia is provided by Taka Ishii Gallery and Joe & Nancy Walker. Exhibition support is provided by James Cahn & Jeremiah Collatz, Gretchen Gonzales Davidson, Fridman Gallery, Stephanie LaCava, and the Japan Foundation, New York.

Support for Artists Space’s exhibitions and programs is provided by Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, The Cy Twombly Foundation, The Teiger Foundation, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, Imperfect Family Foundation, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The Willem de Kooning Foundation, The Fox Aarons Foundation, Herman Goldman Foundation, The Destina Foundation, The Luce Foundation, May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, Arison Arts Foundation, The David Rockefeller Fund, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, The Jill and Peter Kraus Foundation, The Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation.