In the fall of 1971, Japanese photographer and cultural critic Takuma Nakahira (1938–2015)—lead editor of Provoke magazine and guiding figure of the “Provoke era” in postwar Japan—took part in the seventh edition of the Paris Biennale. He brought no existing work but instead created from scratch a visionary photo-performance titled Circulation. Every day for one week, Nakahira strolled the streets of Paris, taking pictures with a handheld camera; every evening the artist rapidly developed his negatives and just as quickly made prints, which he then glued to the wall inside the biennale hall.
After one week, the lengthy wall was covered from top to bottom and end to end with these pictures, nearly 600 in all. Further photographs were arranged in rows on the floor and also came to cover an adjacent cinderblock “desk.” The massive installation—covering a total of 15 meters—included photographs of its own progress, along with pictures of works that had crept in from other artists. Sections were divided by date. When the week was over, Nakahira and his friends tore it down, leaving a heap of prints strewn across the floor that visitors were encouraged to take with them.
In 1975 Nakahira destroyed almost all of his negatives and prints from the Provoke era. Only one of these projects still exists intact in any form: Circulation. This lone surviving project is also one of Nakahira’s greatest ideas—to transform photography into performance art. Negatives for many of the pictures have survived, as have a scattering of prints made at the time, some of which were used in the weeklong performance. The only evocation of Circulation at exhibition to date has been as enlarged, selected modern prints.
Using a darkroom facility in the Art Institute that long lay dormant, the Department of Photography has recreated the 1971 installation of Circulation. The entirety of the pictures, printed chemically from the original negatives, are glued to the wall or laid on the floor as they were in Paris; even the photo-covered cinderblock “desk” is included, along with a selection of the vintage prints. The result presents an archeological view of one of the most original uses of photographs anywhere in the world in recent decades.
This project is made possible by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Japan Foundation.