Provoke: LE BAL, Paris

LE BAL is located north of Paris’ city centre in the 18th arrondissement, slightly away from the bustle and colossal national museums such as The Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Pompidou Centre and Grande Palais, yet has had a significant impact on the photographic community in the three years it has been open. The building possesses an interesting history and feels an apt home for the image-based exhibitions it now hosts; originally ‘Chez Isis’ a 1920’s drinking den, before becoming the city’s largest betting shop, and then a ruin rescued in 2006 and transformed into LE BAL gallery. I visited a couple of weeks’ ago to view the ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance’ exhibition examining Japanese photography between 1960 and 1975. This era witnessed an unprecedented rise in Western consumer society, huge transformation of cities, an increase in American military bases – and consequently an identity crisis across Japan manifesting in a protest movement. The focus of this show is on the subversive magazine ‘Provoke’ which only published three issues and was heavily influenced by the emergence of Japanese performance art and protest at this time. The exhibition also introduced me to lesser known but highly influential photographers including Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi and Daido Moriyama who not only documented the era but “thought of the camera as a weapon”. The black walls of the ground floor gallery space create an oppressive staging for images depicting protests against the construction of Narin airport, student occupation of universities and local girls mixing with US troops near military bases. The basement gallery in contrast is painted white punctuated with strong vinyl images. Each page of all three publications of Provoke is on display alongside contemporary examples of performance art and film, which help put the magazine into context. All share blurred compositions, abrupt framing and sequential imaging which by the close of the exhibition felt a standardised element of Japanese photography of this era.

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Images of protests against the construction of Narin airport
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Each page of the final issue of Provoke (issue 3) magazine
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One of the accompanying performance art pieces – ’30-Hours Street Play: Knock’ by Shuji Terayama held in various places in the Asagaya neighbourhood in 1975

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