The Caravan Project
Preparing the Caravan Project | photo by Koma

The Caravan Project (1999)

A Vehicle for Art Activism

The Caravan Project delivers art activism. We do not mean by this artwork with a social or protest message. Eiko & Koma are not changing gears and involving ourselves in social activism instead of art making. There is no "agitprop" facet, no manipulative propaganda, nor any wise sermon in our work. Instead, Koma and I want to present as serious a work of art as we can, but do so in unusual places where people do not necessarily expect to encounter the arts. The risk is surprise and interference, but we believe that this itinerant mode of presentation addresses our priorities in art making: educating audiences through real encounters, exposing our work beyond theater-goers, sharing our process of experimentation, creating a dialogue with people, and offering a story and myth for communities to share.

The Caravan Project is meant to connect us with thousands of citizens, but with each on her or his own terms. The audience is sure to include many who might otherwise not be exposed to our work. They may not, by inclination or circumstance, be theater-goers. However, throughout our career, it has not only been culturally sophisticated art audiences who have expressed their strong appreciation of our work, but also novices whose daily life does not include a dose of the arts. Our idea is to initiate dialogues that can continue after we, the artists, have left, and that can involve other community activists and other artists, be they local or "national."

The Caravan Project happens in a customized trailer hitched to our Jeep and driven to the site. The trailer contains everything necessary for the performance so the work can be presented in various settings, such as a public park, a parking lot, a college green or even someone's backyard. Under the night sky, doors open on all four sides and reveal the installation that nestles our bodies. The piece begins when an assistant opens these doors and ends from one to three hours later when s/he shuts them. Anytime during the performance, the audience can come and go. People can view the work from whichever perspectives they choose. We use no music. The audience hears ambient sounds, be they from nature, from the city, from the audience itself. We perform rain or shine.

The merit of the project is that the presentation feels right in widely different places. For example, at Dartmouth College and at Emory University, more than 500 people gathered and watched each "performance," creating a big community event. In places like Bryant Park in New York City and on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, people crowded around an ongoing installation that was open for several hours. We then had a widest range of audiences. Some viewers were informed and committed; others were just passing by. A few were momentarily disruptive. On private property, a handful of invited guests gathered to share a very intimate experience. Frogs or insects and the sheer darkness of the field were beautiful. Thus, on each occasion, people saw us against different backgrounds and in different soundscapes. They (and we) had to make some sense out of unsettling juxtapositions. Urban noises and the comments of passers-by are not always pretty, but they become a part of a fascinating mosaic. Koma and I enjoy very much the varied nuances and challenges that each performance brings.

All Caravan Project presentations share certain qualities. To casual passers by and committed audience members alike, we offer a visually and, kinetically viable presentation. The focus is the relationship of live bodies to the landscape, which we take to include both the design within the caravan trailer and the surrounding environment. People digest the experience in any way they see fit. Each person remains as an audience member as long as she or he feels appropriate.

Inevitably questions are raised. What is the potential of art such as this? How is a community formed by diverse people digesting a common experience, even though each may have reacted differently to it?

The more unusual our presentation, the more enthusiasm we as artists encounter on the part of what one might call the less elite spectrum of the local community, press-wise and gossip-wise. Once we free our work from prestigious theater environments, we get a wider range of people as our audience. It is not that we no longer like to work in theaters; we cherish the opportunities that are given to us in more controlled environments. However, Koma and I are also realists who acknowledge that the theater is not only expensive and socially exclusive, but it is also too intimidating to the young, to the poor and to minority groups such as immigrants and the handicapped. That is why we conceived and are committed to continue The Caravan Project.

--Eiko

Read more about The Caravan Project.