The Situation Created by Radio Polybucket


Yoshinori Tsuda, one of Kogawa’s former students and a former Radio Home Run member, who is now a professor at Nagoya University of Arts himself, remembers Kogawa discussing the experience of ika using Jasper Johns’ 1960 sculpture, Painted Bronze (Ale Cans) as an example.[5] This iconic artwork features two realistic-looking Ballantine Ale cans made out of bronze — one opened and one closed. Wendy Weitman explains that Johns was inspired by an “often-quoted quip of Willem de Kooning’s that the dealer Leo Castelli could sell even two beer cans,” so he made this sculpture, which depicts “the tension between illusion and reality and the perceptual puzzles” that result when things are not what they seem (Weitman 1991: 39-40).

One way to realize that these Ballantine ale cans are not what they seem is to pick them up and experience what happens when the objects' physical relationships to its surrounding materials changes. Since these ale cans are made out of bronze, they have different weights than typical everyday Ballantine ale cans. While the open can feels relatively similar to other open ale cans, the closed ale can is shockingly heavy. So, when a person kinetically interacts with this can by changing its physical position relative to other materials surrounding it, they perceive its uncanny weight.

This experience makes the everyday act of 'grabbing a beer' suddenly seem strange, and as Joshua Shannon explains, it causes new conceptual possibilities of sculptural art objects to be revealed. Shannon writes: “Painted Bronze (Ale Cans), after all, is named not for what it represents, but for what it is,” in this case, a cylindrical hunk of painted bronze (Shannon 2003: 117). As Kogawa explained to Tsuda and Tsuda explains to me, this artwork relies on an experience of ika that occurs when the object is lifted, moved, or put down in a person's hand. Each of these constitutes what I consider to be a kinetic interaction that not only makes the closed Ballantine ale can suddenly seem strange, but also reveals new possibilities for thinking about sculpture and the nature of representational art in general. Tsuda remembers this example clearly illustrating the concept of ika and adds that this topic frequently came up during Kogawa's phenomenology seminars at Wako University during the early 1980s when participants discussed the nature of modern phenomena and the perception of experience.


Another common topic of discussion in these seminars was the European free radio movement and the Italian station, Radio Alice, in particular. Radio Alice began broadcasting in Bologna in 1976, but it was shut down in 1977 when riots broke out in the city. As John Downing explains, the station allowed anyone who called in or visited the studio to go on the air. This practice caused the station to become “the nerve center of the highly militant national student movement” when clashes between demonstrators and police turned deadly at Bologna University in March of 1977 (Downing 2000: 140). As riots took place in the streets, protesters called Radio Alice to share tactical information about police whereabouts and to call for back-up at various locations around the city. The police soon shut down the station and arrested many of its members, charging them with inciting a riot. Collective A/Traverso, a radical group associated with Radio Alice, issued a statement calling the entire series of events uncanny and saying: “What makes me crazy is the uncanny” (Collective A/Traverso2007: 134, original emphasis).


After hearing about the European free radio movement and Radio Alice, Tsuda and a couple of his friends from Kogawa’s seminar, were inspired to establish their own free radio station on the Wako University campus in 1982. At the time, Tokyo listeners could only choose from one of two FM  stations to tune into: a public station operated by NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai) and a private station called Tokyo FM (Kogawa 1988: 62). Japan's strict broadcasting regulations made community, university and even pirate radio stations an anomaly in the country. Therefore, when Tsuda and his friends established their own very low-powered FM radio station called Radio Polybucket, they did something truly out of the ordinary.


They found a spot in a long corridor of faculty offices on the top floor of a university building where they set up a table, a few chairs, a microphone, and a very low-powered FM transmitter. Tsuda remembers climbing out of the window to hoist the transmitter's simple dipole antenna onto the roof. He explains that, for him, the most important part of Radio Polybucket was the ika experience it created for others. He remembers that the station’s equipment frequently malfunctioned or broke down completely, but this did not matter as much the situation created by Radio Polybucket. People would frequently walk by the station's extremely basic studio on their way to a class or a meeting. They would see Tsuda or another person speaking into the microphone, stop their everyday activities, and go out of their way to ask, “What are you doing?”[6] It was this interruption to a person's daily movements that Tsuda remembers most fondly. Not only did it reveal new possibilities for public interaction with the airwaves in Japan, it also revealed new ways of interacting with members of the university community. 

Radio Polybucket in their long corridor. (Photo by Toshiyuki Maeda on November 21, 1982).


It was this situation, this change in the passerby’s movements and their relative relationship to their surroundings, that was important for him.