Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions

The Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions is a unique annual event founded in 2009 which combines exhibitions, screenings, live performances, and talk sessions. Over the years, the festival has aspired to be a forum for exploring the question of how to nurture and sustain the development of visual expression and media with a wide range of stakeholders, while revitalizing creative activities in the visual arts.

With these things in mind, the logo for this festival was designed to express the idea of approaching matters of “imagery” together, with the aim to come up with more than just one answer. There are things that only become visible once they are included in the bracket of “imagery,” so rather than implying exclusiveness, the brackets here represent an open frame, an open stage that invites and at once highlights all kinds of things going in and out.



The pandemic, an event that none of us had ever experienced before, has caused significant changes in everyday life. The visual media that are increasingly penetrating our daily routine, have become familiar tools for reflecting the various transformations in the realms of society, politics, economics and culture.

In this day and age, easy access to visual media on multiple levels and dimensions, through communication on social media platforms in particular, has made information on any kind of event – be it a festive occasion, a war or a natural disaster – come across as a spectacle of sorts.*

The term “spectacle” is commonly used for describing a magnificent landscape or scenery, and often also some kind of show event. Being partly an optical technical term, the original Latin word “spectaculum” referred at once to such extraordinary natural occurrences as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. With the emergence of modern states in the 19th century, our perception of natural disasters was transformed by expositions, photographs and movies, through visual recreations of such events as great spectacles and magnificent sights.

Themed “After the Spectacle,” the 14th edition of the Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions examines the history of the (moving) image and expositions from the 19th and 20th century up to the present. In addition to displays and screenings of pieces by contemporary artists, and related events, the program was expanded with the aim to further explore the possibilities of visual media. Among others, this time it encompasses a project in which guest curator Kohara Masashi links documents related to the history of expositions to the museum’s own collection; an online movie project by the up-and-coming filmmaker Endo Maiko; and educational programs aimed to connect visitors to a rather broad range of works.

Festival Director

*In The Society of the Spectacle, published in 1967, French philosopher Guy Debord proposed the concept of the “spectacle” as referring to a contemporary society based on “images,” rather than limiting the term to the meaning of a “spectacular event.” Society of the spectacle is what he calls a society that passively identifies with images that are implanted in it through the media.



Deriving from the Latin camera obscura, or “dark room,” camera designates a proto-photographic device that optically replicates a view of the outside world. After the birth of photography, the images produced by camera circulated widely as a spectacle shown to audiences flocking to the universal expositions, theaters and cinemas from the late nineteenth century onward. It is not by chance that the academic discipline of anthropology made significant progress in an age when images of foreign peoples and cultures caught the masses’ imagination and gained popularity in the West. The act of taking photographs with a camera represented the Western colonialist gaze directed at its Others. As the modern transportation networks such as railroads and sea routes developed, the Westerners discovered faraway places including the Orient through camera. Much time has passed since then, but it is still no easy task to understand the Others by seeing them through, or photographing them with a camera. And the truthfulness of the image shown by the camera is not always certain. Rather, it is through imagining what lies beyond the gaze registered in a photograph or moving image that the possibility of dialogue can still emerge.


A relatively new coinage, “selfie” encompasses a wide variety of photographic portraiture, in which the photographers themselves are the subject. In its most common use, the term refers to self-portraits shot with a smartphone and posted to social networking services. During the medium’s infancy, photographic portrait was sometimes an instrument to mechanically reproduce and record as well as scientifically measure and analyze others. In its contemporary incarnation as selfie, it can sublimate the photographer’s image into a unique narrative. Often shot to record one’s everyday life like a diary, selfie also seems to be a powerful tool for projecting an image of oneself on various social network platforms. One can modify one’s own face as one pleases with a variety of filters, or make one’s own life look resplendent by extracting only exceptional moments from one’s everyday existence and parading them. Selfies, in short, can sublimate the photographer’s image into a special kind of narratives. Such narratives of a “secondary self,” i.e., a persona on the social network services, must be continually supplied in order to achieve fame on the internet.


“Spectacle” may refer to a visually striking landscape. The notion of landscape shifts depending on time and place. It is only with the advent of modernity that it gained currency and what it designates began to be registered for itself as images. Prior to that, landscape in a painting was nothing more than a backdrop to human figures. William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of calotype and the publisher of the world’s oldest photobook, recalled in the preface to that volume the feeling he had upon seeing the beauty of a landscape replicated by camera obscura. “How charming it would be,” he wrote, “if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper!” Human desire to permanently record a landscape thus played a role in the invention of photography.


The evolution of modern transportation made possible global movement not just of people but things and knowledge as well. In the seventeenth century, the “Grand Tour” flourished, the custom of voyage undertaken mainly by the British as a way of self-cultivation, with Southern Europe as principal destination. Opportunities opened up for travellers to learn about the world by experiencing it actually. The impact of the landscapes they saw during their journeys was immense. The ancient ruins of Greece and Italy, for instance, inspired Neoclassicism from the mid-eighteenth century onward, while the magnificent views of nature led to the notions of beauty and sublime in the nineteenth-century Romanticism. The invention of the modern image-making technologies in the nineteenth century rendered the very experience of travel portable. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Lumière Brothers sent cinematographers all over the world to shoot movies that were subsequently shown to the public in France. Through projection of magic lanterns and cinématographe as well as musical concerts, intangible cultures, too, spread and “traveled” widely. Today the global movement of people, things, images and cultures has become the norm, thanks to the international supply chain and the internet.


French thinker Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (La Société du spectacle) was the theoretical summa of the Situationist International, a collective that critiqued art, culture and politics and sought to construct a new “situation” in its praxis across Europe. Published shortly before May 68 in France, the book continues to exert influence on a wide range of philosophical discourse as well as political movements to this day. Analyzing contemporary society through the conceptual prism of “the spectacle,” Debord argued that mass media and visual image influenced people’s life and thought, resulting in alienated individuals and the masses forced to become passive consumers of information (“the lonely crowd,” as sociologist David Riesman put it). The society of the spectacle, Debord concluded, is the consequence of such restructuring of the society into non-community by capitalism. A collection of aphorisms, the book defies easy summarization, but its analysis of the ever-changing nature of the spectacle society opens up ways to think about topics ranging from the universal expositions (those large-scale celebrations of industrial products born in the nineteenth century) to the issues concerning contemporary media like the Internet and social networking services.


Misemono [literally “things shown”] refers to the display and staging of rare objects and performances. In Japan it flourished during the late Edo period, divided into genres such as “kyokugei” (acrobatics), “dōbutsu misemono” (animal show), and “saiku misemono” (artifice show). This last consisted in representations of scenes from fables and legends or celebrated landscapes with a variety of props, diorama-like backdrops and realistic life-size figures. This object of popular enjoyment included elements that would later evolve into various forms of entertainment including circus, magic show, zoo and fairground attractions. Sharing some of its traits with the early cinema as established by the Lumière Brothers and Georges Méliès, misemono was closely related to the emerging mass culture, with its fascinating ability to induce intense pleasure by piquing the audience’s visual curiosity. Some misemono tents, like the freak show in the movie Elephant Man, put actual people on display, exploiting the unusual physical appearance of the exhibits, whether they be human or animal. Due to increasing pressure from advocates of social welfare, children protection and animal preservation this form of entertainment has largely lapsed into decline today.


This term, often used in architecture, photography and ethnology, originally describes the quality of being specific to a particular place and time. The earliest occurrences of the concept include “Architecture Without Architects,” an exhibition organized by architectural historian Bernard Rudofsky at the Museum of Modern Art in 1964. The show garnered attention with its focus on unique structures built sans professional designers and in a style rooted in their sites and its climate (Italian hill towns and Japanese thatched-roof houses, for example). Recently the concept has been expanded to photography, moving images and narratives created by non-specialists in a critical attempt to throw light on them. The rigorous definition of the vernacular, however, remains elusive. In photography, it may exclusively designate pictures taken by amateurs, or those published by professionals without claiming authorship, such as commissioned advertisements and landscapes.


The Japanese for ghosts, obake, along with its synonym henge, refers to beings and phenomena of nature perceived differently than what we have always known them to be, or the materialization of beings beyond human sensation, such as spirits. If the concept is to be expanded to supernatural beings and phenomena in general, what it designates could be seen repeatedly in projection-based media both in the East and the West, such as shadow play and magic lantern. Also, for a time projection of image was enjoyed for itself, presented and enjoyed by spectators as a supernatural phenomenon in its own right. In Europe, with its power to “materialize the invisible,” projected images gave bodily form to the beings that are neither Christian nor scientific. Phantasmagoria in eighteenth-century France, for instance, thus materialized ghosts through magic lantern. Local ghosts often appear in the contemporary Southeastern Asian movies and soap operas as well. Sometimes they are humorous spirits, at other times symbols for the victims of unstable political situations. With respect to projected/moving images, then, a conclusion can be drawn that while a driving force for innovation, ghosts have also served as a vehicle for people’s desire to gain access to the irrational or the vernacular.


In general, archives are composed of documents selected for permanent preservation because of their historical and cultural values. In the twentieth century, documentation came to play an important role in art, as evident in various avant-garde movements such as Surrealism that emerged after WWI. As practices that spanned multiple media including photography and projected image questioned the preexisting framework of modern art, activities in each medium came to be documented in a systematic manner. The rise of performance art presented another opportunity for artists to take documentation of their own work seriously. It is also not coincident that documents (photography, film, and text) played an important role in much of the Land Art and Conceptual Art from the 1960s onward. While instrumental to entertainment like cinema and popular magazines in the process of modernization, photography and projected image also established themselves as art. At the same time, they served as a recording medium that constituted archives. In an age when the internet and social networking services are part and parcel of everyday life, archival thinking and practices have expanded the possibilities of invisible dialogue and networking between humans and objects through memory and documentation.


The Japanese word for a moment of time, shunkan, literally means the blink of an eye. The mechanical eye of the camera has registered an infinite number of such instants. People were stunned by pictures of those moments imperceptible to the human eye, such as the crown shape created by a drop of milk or flying legs of a running horse. Today it is possible to share those moments of wonder on social networking services as soon as one photographs them. The images born out of the mechanical eye infiltrates everyday life as never before, continually stirring our emotions. In a performance, every stroke on the drums releases the shutter on a connected camera, the resulting images coming out of a linked printer. It is the drummer himself who is captured in the pictures. In a single moment, a great spectacle of “watching/being watched” unfolds. A slideshow threads moments that evoke our own everyday life, one after another. The images projected on the screen alternate as though blinking, turning into disappearing afterimages.


When something comes into view, we say we “see” it. However, are we really “seeing” it? Something appears in our visual field, triggering a process in us. It is only when we find various meanings and reasons in it, looking at it consciously, that we “see” it in earnest. For instance, two photographs taken of the same object from slightly different angles assumes three-dimensionality all of a sudden when seen consciously, through a stereoscope. Or else, birds drawn on an umbrella hanging from the ceiling come to life and appear as though in flight when a stroboscope starts flashing. Or else, looking at artworks in a diverse company of people, including the visually impaired, can lead us to rethink what it means to “see.” Or else, a group photo can take on an altogether different meaning when you realize its underlying theme. Even when several people look at the same object, each experiences this switching of “invisible” to “visible” at a different moment. Then the fact comes home to us that at times we look at something without seeing anything, without understanding anything.


The Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2022
After the Spectacle
Friday, 2/4 – Sunday, 2/20/2022 [15 days] Closed on Mondays
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, The Garden Room, Center Square of Yebisu Garden Place, affiliated local facilities, galleries, etc.
10:00−20:00 (Until 18:00 on the final day)
*Admission will be charged for the 3rd floor, events with limited capacity such as screenings etc., and certain online programs.
*We recommend that you book online.
*Kindly note that hours and details are subject to change. Please check the latest information on this website.
Organized by:
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government / Tokyo Photographic Art Museum and Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture) / Nikkei Inc.
Co-organized by:
SAPPORO REAL ESTATE CO., LTD / Fondation Maison franco-japonaise
With assistance from:
Sponsored by:
SAPPORO BREWERIES LTD. / Corporate Membership of Tokyo Photographic Art Museum


TADA Kaori, ITO Takahiro, ENDO Miyuki, FUJIMURA Satomi
PR, Liaisons, Regional Cooperation
Curatorial Supervisor
Guest curator
KOHARA Masashi
Editorial Coordinator
UCHIDA Shinichi
Translation (Japanese to English)
Web Design
Web Supervision


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