Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

An Easy Piece

Monday, June 13, 2016

Working together is difficult and fun

What does it mean to make a so-called "contemporary dance" piece in the "Tokyo context"? In Tokyo there are many theatergoers who like that kind of dance as well as many artists who create that kind of pieces. This city is big, so I cannot summarize how the "Tokyo dance scene" works. While in Brussels everyone seems to know everyone, in Tokyo no one seems to care about what the others are doing. Many things - the audiences' expectation, subsidy, education, competition, etc. - work differently than in Europe.

Dancing in front of audiences has been what I have hesitated to do since 2006, let alone making a dance piece. Although there are many dance people here, I haven't been around with them, except that I took Nancy Stark Smith's workshop a couple of years ago and Violeta Luna's recently. Instead, I've been around with more politically active people especially since the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster. Many of them are among those whom philosopher Angela McRobbie might call "indie micro subcultural entrepreneurs," active often in Koenji district and its DIY ethos. We have been developing a sense of collectiveness since then. With them, I've been playing music and facilitating a small dance workshops. In order for us to work together, it was more important to share certain political views - anti-war, anti-racism, anti-capitalism (or, at least anti-neoliberalism), supporting LGBT rights, etc.- than to share an artistic style.

Last year my colleagues and I created a 30 minute-long piece entitled Unknown Knowns and presented it to about 30 audiences at a privately owned cafe. The work period was 6 months, although it was impossible for us to work every day. Every weekend we used some privately owned rehearsal studios, paying nearly 20 USD per hour. We worked mostly four hours a day and then had a long discussion at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

The audiences responded positively to our performance. Although it was a modest step, we had a sense of achievement. Developing ideas collectively is difficult, and fun.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Soothing music

Three weeks ago, San Francisco-based music critic Marc Weidenbaum created a set comprising 21 tracks by 13 artists - Vladimir Conch, Cullen Miller, Erika Nesse, Julsy, Marcus Fischer, Stabilo (Speaker Gain Teardrop), North Americans, Yasuo Akai, nystada, Bassling, William Boldenreck, Scanner Darkly, Toàn, and R Ben - for Resonance 104.4 FM, Free Lab Radio hosted by Fari Bradley. It is archived here ( The set is entitled Afternoon Music for Day or Night. Does this 'afternoon' mean something like a midday break? It is somewhat soothing to listen to.

I have created few electronic music for the past few years. One of the reasons for this is that the people I meat here in Tokyo are not making electronic music. They play instruments, or sing. They are mostly not professionals in conventional sense. Trumpeter Kyoko Yamamoto is one of them. Although she is working with a so-called "experimental" band such as Maher Shalal Hash Baz, I don't think she considers herself "experimental musician." She often gives me her own melodic materials and asks me to make something out of them. She seems interested in facilitating a musical event in which anyone can participate in, but not interested in creating music that sounds like "experimental." Last year she facilitated an event called "the Beginning of Winter" in which the participants practice her piece called the Beginning of Winter, for which I provided the parts. The record bellow somewhat sounds like the Portsmouth Sinfonia. It was Yamamoto's goal to create a warm, inviting, and intimate atmosphere - can you feel that?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Looking into the future behind

People often say the past is behind them and the future ahead. But, Aymara people seems to think the opposite: the past is in front of them because it is what they see--what they already know; the future is behind because it is what they do not see--what they do not know yet. I am not familiar with the people, so my poor imagination goes like this: Aymara people's experience may be similar to nature trekkers' and climbers'. If you are a climber, you may have plenty of experience of watching from a mountain peak how far you have come. The past is in front of you. My hypothesis may be false unless other peoples living in mountains and highlands are proven to have the same notion of space and time in relation to their own body.

When the future is coming from somewhere in front of you, this future becomes somewhat predictable at a certain point. You can be prepared for it. But, when the future is coming from behind you, this future may not be good, as often happens with horror movies. It can be literally a backstabber.

When you cannot see the future, you need a mirror, You hold it over your shoulder in order to look what comes next after the disaster.

"If an artist or writer nowadays aims to speak about the times in which we live, how does he avoid being crushed by reality, by a world overflowing with horror?," in his Through the Back, Jeroen Peeters asks (Kinesis 5, 2014, 267). Citing Italo Calvino, he suggests that how Perseus handled Medusa and her head can be a clue: "Perseus' power is not the denial of a monstrous reality, but a mastering of it through the refusal of direct perception." Perseus saw Medusa's reflection in his shield.

The Peeters' book primarily aims to introduce contemporary European dance pieces and choreographers to his readers, but he seems not to try to interpret the pieces directly. Instead, he inserts his notes on what he has read and seen, such as Sloterdijk's writings, Botticelli's drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy, Wenders' Lisbon Story, Claude mirror (glass), Calvino, etc., between his description of the pieces and also discussions with choreographers. While these references are not irrelevant, he carefully avoids rigid interpretation. One of his leitmotivs is the art of watching, such as his notes on Perseus and the Claude glass. "Filtering" repeatedly appears as well.

According to Wikipedia, a Claude glass is "a small mirror, slightly convex in shape, with its surface tinted a dark colour. Bound up like a pocket-book or in a carrying case, Claude glasses were used by artists, travelers and connoisseurs of landscape and landscape painting. Claude glasses have the effect of abstracting the subject reflected in it from its surroundings, reducing and simplifying the colour and tonal range of scenes and scenery to give them a painterly quality. They were famously used by picturesque artists in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as a frame for drawing sketches of picturesque landscapes.The user would turn his back on the scene to observe the framed view through the tinted mirror—in a sort of pre-photographic lens—which added the picturesque aesthetic of a subtle gradation of tones." Peeters explains, "The gesture of turning one's back on the contemplated landscape and corporeally appropriating the image is what marks the modern spectator: framing is no longer a compositional practice that seeks to reduce and arrest experience, but the recognition of a complex mediality and a way of navigating in the world." (It reminds me of the people looking into the smartphones.) And then Peeters cites a part of Truman Capote's novel that mentions the Claude glass' soothing effect.

Is he tired of something? I am certainly tired of things going on, especially in Tokyo and have no energy to ask what art can do. After watching Merce Cunningham's (old fashioned) pieces, he asks:
In dance's short-lived memory and poor sense of history, what can be the value of Cunningham's legacy today? Looking at Cunningham's work, I simply felt like an outsider excluded from a perfect world. And yet, confusion and doubt stayed with me, indicating the work's recalcitrance, which imposes an unexpected modesty upon me as a spectator and writer. Placed firmly outside time, high modernism's abstract nature and autonomous stance operates as an anachronism that puts contemporary practices and their historical contingence into perspective. How much medium-specificity do we need for dance to be a critical, self-reflexive practice? Doesn't the critical craze in today's art risk becoming a fetish economy that is often blind to its own limitations, and which ends up trading empty formulas and political pretensions? Aren't we all too eager to embrace not-knowing, doubt, failure and trauma, and even to instrumentalise them in view of promoting dance's critical potential? Why do we, artists and intellectuals today, expect art to make statements about the world? Juxtaposed with current artistic and critical practices, doesn't Cunningham's high modernism teach us, paradoxically enough, more about dorsality, limitations and modesty than we suspect or than we're willing to admit? (290)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Notes on Violeta Luna’s Workshop

As I mentioned in my previous post, San Francisco-based Mexican performer Violeta Luna’s workshop took place from March 26 to 28, 2016 at the Sofia University in Tokyo. She was invited by Professor Emiko Yoshikawa specializing in Latino-American culture. The professor believes that culture and society should be understood by not only reading texts, but also physical experience. As one of the participants, I am grateful for her enthusiasm because few workshops that consider making performance art as political actions are held in Japan, though many ones that teach skills are. The majority of participants were artists struggling to create something that has to do with social and political issues. A few of them were relatively well-known among the art circle in Tokyo.

So, contrary to general perception, it is not that few Japanese artists make political statements by their pieces. On the other hand, I sometimes see that some Japanese artists' strange behavior that they claim their own pieces “not political’’ when asked, even though their pieces obviously involves some kind of political statement. I remember, for example, documentary filmmaker Linda Hoaglund at the talk show after the screening of her ANPO: Art X War (2010)--which studied how Japanese artists had been responding to the US military presence in Japan--reported that Japanese artist Makoto Aida said his painting in which Japanese fighter aircraft attacking New York was not political. Why did he say so?—my guess was that he had to be protective because his piece drew criticisms in New York. I am not criticizing him, but, did he know that his remark would not change the nature of his work?

It can be said that many Japanese artists think that making political statements can risk their career. There is social--or, market, if you like--pressure that conform them to the idea that art should have nothing to do with politics. There is also direct involvement of the authority that suppress them, such as arresting an artist whose pieces are created from 3D printings of her own vagina. Moreover, the pieces that criticize the Abe administration are often (self) censored by art museums and public facilities at which the directors cowardly avoid controversy. Therefore the artists can strategically choose to claim their own pieces "not political."

On the other hand, from artists' practical point of view, ambiguity of their pieces remain important. Many may think their pieces should be open to interpretation, or they simply take the issues to the street.

Violeta Luna's pieces seem to retain such ambiguity, although her pieces make her anti-global capitalism, anti-violence, anti-racism, and anti-sexism position obvious (and she sometimes takes her pieces to the street). Marina Abramović may be her inspiration, but her ritualistic gestures and colorful installations are unique to her.

At the workshop, we learned her rather intuitive approach to "installation"--placing the props and bodies. Every participant was asked to bring objects and costumes that have something to do with their identity. We put them together in a corner of the room and share them when making installations. We were not asked to explain how the objects and costumes we brought relate to identity--and that was good, I think. We can share ideas not only verbally, but also visually, or physically. When you talk too much, creative process often halts. We are divided into smaller groups, given themes such as "globalization," "Japan 2016," "yourself you do not want to show," etc.,  and improvised. The schedule was tight, so we did not have much time to talk, and that was good, too.

In the end of the workshop, each participants made their own solo pieces. They were from various backgrounds, so were the pieces--some were dance, some were music, some were theatrical play, and some were installations. They were honest pieces.

My piece related to my past. In 2004, I was among the struggling artists who were invited to an artist in residence program in Kortrijk, Belgium. We were given an opportunity to have a 3 month-working period and presentations at a festival. I brought my materials which are slide photos of street name signs of a newly built residential area in a suburb of Brussels. Strangely, the streets were named after Hollywood celebrities, such as “Chemin Alfred Hitchcock,” “Rue James Dean,” “Rue Audrey Hepburn,” “Rue Marilyn Monroe,” etc. The idea that doing iconic moments of these film stars easily came to me, but I was reluctant to do so because it was what Jérôme Bel, whose pieces often play with cultural icons, could have done. I liked artists such as Bel, Xavier Le Roy, and Mette Edvardsen, those who created brilliant pieces with simple ideas and clarity. But, I could not find a way of making something as good as theirs without aping them. So, I dropped the initial idea and made an installation. At the workshop I came back to this initial idea.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2 books I'm reading

I'm reading two books: one is Jodi Dean's Crowds and Party (Verso, 2016); another is Jeroen Peeters' Through the Back--Situating Vision between Moving Bodies (Peeters and Theater Academy of the University of Arts Helsinki, Kinesis 5, 2014).

It has passed five years since I was excited about people rising up everywhere. Dean's book comes at the time of reflection. Why did it become so difficult to say "we"? In her introduction, her observation of one of the "Occupy" actions at Washington Square Park describes what kind of ethos we are in:
We knew that Washington Square Park was closing at midnight. We felt the police tightening their line, starting to deny newcomers entry to the park. After the fifteen-minute or so breakout session where we talked with those around us about talking the park, we pulled back together as one assembly. Speaker after speaker, amplified by the People's Mic (where the crowd repeats the words of a speaker so that those who are farther away know what is being said), urged us to take the park. We are many. We outnumber them. We can do it. We must do it. Upraised hands twinkled approval in waves of support round and round the circle. Then, a tall, thin, young man with curly dark hair and a revolutionary look began to speak.
We can take this park!
We can take this park!
We can take this park tonight!
We can take this park tonight!
We can also take this park another night.
We can also take this park another night.
Not everyone may be ready tonight.
Not everyone may be ready tonight.
Each person has to make their own autonomous decision.
Each person has to make their own autonomous decision.
No one can decide for you. You have to decide for yourself.
No one can decide for you. You have to decide for yourself.

Everyone is autonomous individual.
Everyone is autonomous individual.
The mood was broken. The next few speakers also affirmed their individuality, describing some of the problems they would encounter if they had to deal with security from NYU or if they got arrested. We were no longer a "we," a collective. (3)
Elsewhere in the book she states, "It sometimes seems as if people on the Left love revolution, but hate the party. We enthusiastically support transformation, especially personal transformation. Yet in the same breath we scoff at institutionalized practices strategically oriented toward the pursuit of radical political change. Many of us thus reject the organizational form that marks the difference between the chaos of revolution and the building of a new political and social order. With this rejection, we shield ourselves from a confrontation with the real of division, luxuriating instead in the fantasy of the beautiful moment.(209)" She basically argues that some kind of communist (she revives this word) party is necessary after the crowds have been dispersed. But, she is not trying to revive that Soviet style parties. I will write my thoughts when I will have finished.

Dean also criticizes the ethos behind the feminists' slogan of that the personal is political, which may still be important for many of those who make performance art. The pieces that have something to do with identity politics may work as long as the artists aim at social transformation, but not personal one. There may be many artists who start making pieces from identity politics aiming at social transformation. In February I participated in a creative workshop by San Francisco-based Mexican artist Violeta Luna. Discussing with her, I noticed that, for her, "identity" means "taking sides" rather than "who I am." She said that although she was not, for example, one of those undocumented immigrants, she could use that identity to make a piece on behalf of them. Although I don't dismiss Dean's criticism on that the personal is political, at this moment I just note that artistic practices (Dean is not writing about art, anyway) revolving around identity politics are complex.

During her workshop Luna used the word, "subversive body,' which was familiar to me. I have an experience of participating in a workshop entitled exactly "subversive body." It happened in 2001. The workshop was directed by German artists, deufert & plischke. That time my English was too bad to discuss identity politics, let alone to understand Judith Butler--Gender Trouble is still hard for me to grapple with--, but anyway, it made me start learning English. After the workshop, I briefly worked with them and then kept staying in Europe--mainly in Brussels.

It has already past ten years since I left Brussels. I have been trying to understand what I could not understand during my stay in Europe, reading some philosophical books, etc. A failed artist can make a philosopher.

When I arrived in Brussels in 2002 and was trying to know what kind of people were around, dance critic Helmut Ploebst's no wind no word (Kieser, 2001) came in handy. It introduces Meg Stuart, Vera Mantero, Xavier Le Roy, Benoît Lachambre, Raimund Hogue, Emio Greco / PC, João Fiadeiro, Boris Charmatz, and Jérôme Bel. Jeroen Peeters' Through the Back also covers some of those artists--Stuart, Mantero, Lachambre, and Charmatz--and then younger artists including deufert & plischke. It basically is a collection of his writings written between 2000 and 2013. During the second half of this period I was absent, but he describes a good number of pieces I actually saw. You cannot know a dance piece by reading about it.