Mono-ha [School of Things] was a movement which although had a short duration from 1968 through the early 1970s, had a pivotal effect on Japanese contemporary art. Mono-ha artists utilised raw, unworked materials such as bare wood, stone, clay, or water, and sought to draw out an artistic expression by arranging them, often temporarily and with minimal manipulation, within an environment. Central to Mono-ha thought was a desire to create a contemporary Asian art free from what the artists considered to be Japan’s unquestioning absorption of International Modernism. In addition they also rejected the use of Asian motifs (such as those derived from Buddhism or Zen) which could be considered derivative.
At the centre of the group was artist-philosopher Lee Ufan (b. 1936) and graduates of Tama Art University - Nobuo Sekine, Kishio Suga, Katsuro Yoshida, Susumu Koshimizu, and Katsuhiko Narita. Mono-ha officially emerged in October 1968 with Nobuo Sekine’s outdoor site-specific work Phase - Mother Earth; a large cylinder of packed soil situated beside a cylindrical hole in the ground the same shape and size, from where it came. In doing so he rendered earth as earth with minimal intervention. Lee Ufan’s commentaries on the work, which were subsequently published in art magazines, developed the concept further. As a result artists came together, meeting regularly at a cafe in Tokyo to discuss and debate the thinking central to Mono-ha. Further works followed, such as Kishio Suga’s Unnamed Situation I (1970) and Nobuo Sekine’s Phase of Nothingness, a series of works which began in 1969 and each involved a large rock positioned on top of a mirrored rectangular stand.