Fragments of an experimental archeology
Recovering my memory, I’m not sure if what had impacted me was the concept — the dance for a sick body — or the vision of that old man’s tightened flesh, illuminated in the middle of the black walls stage, performing twists that accumulated a force today I would call “potency”.
Sitting in the shade, I felt a strange and gradual contraction which was not my own muscles, but my senses, or something else I still can’t express by words.
When the performance ended, that feeling depleted like a lock. There was no wonder, no judgment, only physical exhaustion.
Since then, I read about butoh and my favorite butoh character became Tatsumi Hijikata.
Masumi, Sayoko and I visited the Hijikata Tatsumi Archive and there I was introduced to Natsuyuki Nakanishi. The name sounded familiar to me. I vaguely remembered him being part of an artists collective named High Red Center (Jiro Takamatsu, Genpei Akasegawa and Natsuyuki Nakanishi), which in my repertoire on Japanese Art, was overshadowed by the fame of other avant-garde groups such as Gutai, Fluxus, Mono-ha or Jikken Kobo.
From there, the opportunity to visit the former Nakanishi studio came up and I also discovered that he was the professor of our current professors.
I screamed when my right foot and one of the huge speaker wheels sank to the floor, puncturing the wooden floor which was clearly rotten by the humidity. Despite the shock, I didn’t get hurt in my at least 20cm fall.
Six people were needed to lift the speaker and we put wooden sheets over the hole, in order to prevent the entrance of cats or other animals, based on Nara-san’s instructions. The floor was packed with wooden sheets.
It didn’t take long for us to adjust our movements to such space limitations. There, the act of walking would require an awareness of the body weight, and attention to where the foot could land. We quickly learned to guide ourselves through the trails drawn by the layers of wooden sheets deposited on the treacherous floor. Somehow, we felt the place was requiring us to dance.
We had a work idea: remove part of the wooden floor, inserting light in the rectangular hole and covering it with an acrylic sheet. Sayoko executed this project in a simpler and more poetic way: she chose some existing holes and inside them, she inserted colorful LED lamps and glass bottles of various shapes, making the light radiated, highlighting the wounds of that place.
A deactivated thread factory, a studio, an archive. A place in a coma. As the space was inhabited – by cleaning, tidying, organizing and revealing hidden objects in the boxes – the studio was being revived as an environment for creation, for research. An archaeological site that evoked the presence of Nakanishi-sensei and Asubeto-kan (Hijikata’s studio) members. That’s why we dressed in white. We were healers, white blood cells.
Nakanishi, an accomplished painter, explored the limits of these traditional art media by experiencing the materiality, specialty and temporality of the canvas and his own body. Dialoging painting, sculpture, theater and performance, Nakanishi was a true avant-garde artist engaged and active in his time.
What would be our engagement with our time?
As a security measure for the studio’s visitors, we needed to mark the areas where walking was prohibited. I didn’t want these areas to have literal warnings or awaken any sense of imposition.
I sutured the floor with a fluorescent yellow thread, similar to the color used by Nakanishi in some of his paintings. It can be said that the choice of this material also brought back historical references related to that building, but the metaphor I defend is the act of sewing wounds and highlighting them, showing the fragility of the damaged areas, the signs of the time and absence.
On the embroidered floor, I placed some objects archived in the boxes. These objects fulfilled the function of medicinal-objects, which in fact did not heal, but when they appear in the visitor’s gaze, they save those areas from being stepped on. They were pieces used in Abesuto-kan performances and pieces of wood with paint splashes excreted by Nakanishi’s paintings.
They were medicinal-objects whose expository aura evoked old narratives of old faith.
I don’t define my actions in the studio as artworks. They assume hybrid qualities of artwork, exhibition design, curatorial proposal. These are exercises, attempts, acts with potential to become things, which even I am not sure of exactly…