Walker Art Center Magazine
photo coutersy to the Walker Art Center

Walker Art Center Magazine

  • November 2010
  • Philip Bither

“The performance world Eiko and Koma inhabit is primordial in its expression; time acts almost as a silent third member of the duo.” — Philip Bither, Mcguire Senior Curator Of Performing Arts

As Eiko and Koma’s Naked unfolds throughout the month of November in a Walker gallery—six hours a day, six days a week—time begins to take on new meanings. Audiences may watch for a few minutes or a few hours, and whether or not they return to experience Naked as it evolves, the dimensions of the piece extend beyond the existing gallery space and the immediate, experienced moment. As Eiko notes below in an interview with Philip Bither, she and Koma see Naked as collapsing time in several different ways: from 1998, when the renowned Japanese American artists performed Breath, another landmark, durational performance; over the course of their nearly 40-year career together; and even in terms of the materials used for Naked and Raven, another new work the duo performed at the Walker in October. Below, Eiko elaborates on those ideas of collapse, on the differences between a staged performance and a “living installation,” and on getting close—literally—to one’s audience.

PB: Naked comes some 12 years after you and Koma performed Breath at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a piece that took place throughout the month of June in 1998. Why did you want to make another “living installation,” and what did you  learn from Breath that you will incorporate into Naked?

Eiko: We think that the body offers a radical questioning, particularly in a museum context—not asking questions necessarily, but questioning as a state of being. For us a body, or the acute sense of remains or the lack of a body, is always a part of our artistic pursuit and a larger conception of a possibility for art—a frame and a space. A body gives other objects and situations scale and reference.

Through other projects during the 12 years since Breath—including large-scale theatrical works, outdoor works, and international and multi-generational collaborations—we have continued our interest in exploring thirst and hunger as bodily needs that correlate with a thirst and hunger for intimacy, relationships, and interactions.

By coming back to live and move in a gallery, we hope to collapse the time passed since Breath, a time in which we have lingered as much as we have aged. We are inviting a close look at another one-month period of time in our bodies, saying to our audience: Linger, stay here with your eyes, live and kinetically observe how our bodies move towards death.

PB: Naked is a part of your three-year Retrospective Project currently underway, which takes you and Koma to numerous cities throughout the U.S. for performances and residences, and includes a major catalogue published by the Walker, Eiko & Koma: Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty. How has all of that impacted the nature and content of Naked?

Eiko: Archiving our work forces us deal with memories, traces, facts, photos, and words. This process has given us a new appetite, a desire for a place that is beyond memory and facts—a no man’s land. The archiving effort also made us see several continuous desires we have carried for decades, which have influenced Naked. Instead of crowding every wall space, we filled one half of the room with scorched material but the other half is left black: barren, like another world. Our bodies exist near what looks like an island or raft, or maybe debris washed up on shore. This set carries various memories and smells from our ancient past, as well as visual motifs from our artistic history together.

PB: It will also be a part of Event Horizon, which showcases artworks from the
Walker’s collection. How have that exhibition and those artworks affected the work you are making or the experience that a viewer may have?

Eiko: Our work as a living installation walks a fine line between an ephemeral artwork and tangible existence. There are nuances that will occur in specific time periods, and that have the possibility to go beyond that time. The fact that we are in a “permanent collection” at all adds an interesting context, and forces viewers to confront the materiality of what they are seeing.

PB: How has creating Naked as a Walker commission furthered your practice?

Eiko: Rarely do we have an invitation to literally reside in an environment we create, and to be seen for a length of time. We can fully engage in our kinetic imagination, which includes being there and being gone. Thus we will also reflect on how being there for a month could possibly create remains. Will the tangible object to which we press our bodies retain the traces of our living? Is creating tangible and material art a paradox for dancers who are aging and within decades of dying? The Walker is giving us the opportunity to “linger,” not for eternity but a little bit longer than with our stage works. How can “this little bit longer” relate to eternity is yet unknown.

PB: With respect to audiences, how is a durational performance different from presenting a specifically timed work in a theater?

EIko: In theater, there are set rules of what to see and what not to see, how to behave, and what it is to be an audience. In a theater we serve for a condensed time, so that the audience can go home with some kind of understanding of what happened. However, with Naked, there is no beginning, middle, and ending except a bigger and more common time frame: we were born, are here and will be gone. At the Walker, our bodies are available all the time. Movement occurs without serving the time-structure of a work. In a gallery installation, we spend the real time being there and people will see us for differing durations of time —like in a hospital, where a patient spends many hours observing and noticing how clouds move outside a window, or at the same time family members observe a patient is getting stronger or weaker. We will be a part of the installation; we will also be seeing, breathing, and hearing. That kind of body is not a dancer's body.

PB; Does the close proximity of viewers in a gallery setting change how you and Koma make the work and place yourselves in it?

Eiko: We have always wanted to be naked, sometimes physically but more times metaphorically. Close proximity does bring a nakedness to our human encounters, and it is a singularly important element of this installation. Being seen and seeing is tender, ambiguous, odd—it asks the viewer to observe details. A viewer can see the expanse of the whole body as well as very small parts of it. Each person looks at us and we look at each person and beyond. We offer bodies to be seen but we also see viewers’ bodies watching us.

PB: You have said before that even if people only spend a few minutes watching a performance, those minutes may stay with them for years. With does that belief mean for this type of durational performance, when people may watch for varying spans of time?

Eiko: One cannot judge one person's experience by comparing it to another’s. Nor can the quality of a personal experience be quantified. We hope that people do not go home thinking they did not see enough. We also hope those who stay longer or who come back do not feel that that investment does not bring them more. People sometimes say it is better to send people home feeling that they have not seen enough so they want to come back. Koma and I take a contrary view. Regardless of how short or long an encounter might be, we hope that it is full and stands on its own.

PB: Have you and Koma done special physical or mental training leading up to this work?

Eiko: We imagine being there and that is our preparation… Fruits, vegetables and fishes perhaps anticipate being seen and eaten and thus shine. How would you describe your relationship or history with the Twin Cities? We appreciate the sense of knowing a place, and us being a part of its history. It is exciting for us to encounter viewers at various points in their lives and ours. There is a sizable audience in the Twin Cities who remember and communicate their experiences of seeing us perform. That time-invested viewership, granted often to writers and filmmakers, is relatively rare for performing artists.

PB: What are you most looking forward to discovering?

Eiko: We want to go somewhere barren and we want to see if people would also like to be there with us.

November 2–30, 2010
Eiko & Koma: Naked
Gallery 2
Tue-Wed and Fri-Sun 11 - 5 pm.
Thursday 3pm-9pm
Through November 28

Dance for Camera: Selected Works
Directed by Eiko & Koma
Lecture Room Free
Hourly from 12 noon during gallery hours

This 60-minute program of highlights from Eiko & Koma’s videos includes the Walkercommissioned
Lament, an adaptation of their 1984 performance work Elegy. 1983–1999,
video, 60 minutes.


As part of the Walker Art Center’s Expanding the Rules of Engagement with Artists and Audiences initiative, this program is made possible by the Bush Foundation. Support for Raven is provided by the Japan Foundation through the Performing Arts JAPAN program and the National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts. Naked is commissioned by the Walker Art Center with support provided by the William and Nadine McGuire Commissioning Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Additional support is generously provided by Engaging Dance Audiences, administered by Dance/USA with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation.

Naked was developed in part during a two-month creative residency at the Park Avenue Armory New York City.