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Walker Correction Card: NAKED | Eiko + Koma
Walker Correction Card: NAKED

Walker Correction Card: NAKED

  • Walker Art Center, November 2010
  • Bartholomew Ryan


In the summer of 1998, movement artists Eiko & Koma created Breath, a living installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. For seven hours a day over the course of a month, the artists performed naked in a scene composed of tea-stained silk, dried leaves, and other organic materials. Described at the time as their “first visual arts installation,” 1 the piece used the museum as a frame to allow the viewer to concentrate on the body's relation to time, space, and the environ¬ment—core aspects of the artists’ work.
Twelve years later, Eiko & Koma have returned to a gallery setting with Naked, a new and intensely charged artistic experience. The monthlong piece unfolds six hours a day, six days a week as part of Event Horizon, an exhibition of works from the Walker’s collection. The artists’ living presence in the gallery complements the feedback loop between performance and material at the core of many of the works on view. “We think the body offers a radical questioning, particularly in a museum context—not asking questions neces¬sarily, but questioning as a state of being,” says Eiko. “A body gives other objects and situations scale and reference.”2
Eiko & Koma lie sometimes intertwined, some-times separate, but always together. All conven¬tional storytelling is absent; what is left is time and presence. The scene is one of aftermath from some unspecified but lingering trauma. Naked is not so much a performance as a meditation and exchange. In the words of Eiko: “We will be part of the installation; we will be seeing, breathing, and hearing. That kind of body is not a dancer’s body. . . . 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 the environment, and we look at each person and beyond.”3
The threshold of Naked is marked by two giant scorched canvas drops swathed in sweet rice paste, bird feathers, and large particles of sea salt. The hanging panels are dappled with burnt holes that offer glimpses of the environment within and through which the light, scents, and aura on the interior can leak out.

Entering Naked means crossing from gallery terrazzo to seared canvas flooring. Inside are long low benches facing an earth-covered terrain that recedes into darkness. A light breeze blows through the space, and water drips into pools amid the soil. Not far from the benches is a nest or bedding composed of damp straw, feathers, and folded canvas. It is here that Eiko & Koma lie, naked and on view.
Emerging in the artistic and political tumult of 1960s Tokyo, Eiko & Koma have made the United States their home since the mid-1970s. The pair met as students in the studio of Tatsumi Hijikata, one of the founders of the radical postwar dance-theater form butoh, and later studied together in Germany where they were influenced by German Expressionist dance. In the nearly 40 years of their collaboration, they have created a highly subjective choreographic voice and movement vocabulary. Their works—characterized by simplicity, open¬ness, and a sense of existential confrontation—often utilize unique textured environments com¬posed of handcrafted organic materials.
The core of the artists’ work is the body stripped bare—metaphorically, often physically—through which they explore its position within the natural and social world. In an era dominated by digital networks of information and communication, where human consciousness is dispersed into the virtual sphere, the artists assert the importance of the body as concrete and essential in its pres¬ence or absence. Their performances often draw on mythic narratives of life and nature, and the determinant forces that drive the human condi¬tion—the elements, topography, a will to live—are conveyed in the titles of their works, which include Wind, River, Land, Grain, Hunger, and Lament.
Eiko & Koma were first invited to the Walker in 1981 for New Dance USA. Since then, they have presented 12 performance pieces with the institu¬tion, 6 of which were commissioned works, each serving as a memorable milestone in the history of dance in the Twin Cities. In 2009, the artists were commissioned to create this living installa¬tion, an interdisciplinary collaboration organized and curated by the Walker’s performing arts and visual arts departments. Naked also coincides with the development of the Retrospective Project, a groundbreaking three-year review of the artists’ major works, which will be hosted by several insti¬tutions and includes a catalogue to be published by the Walker in spring 2011.
—Bartholomew Ryan, Assistant Curator, Visual Arts

1. Matthew Yokobosky, Breath, exh. guide
(New York: Whitney Museum of American Art,
June 1998).
2. Eiko Otake interview with Philip Bither,
“Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty,” Walker magazine, November–December 2010, 15.
3. Ibid.

LAMENT (1986)
Video in collaboration with James Byrne
CANAL (1989)
Premiere: May 3–7, 1989 Southern Theater, Minneapolis
WIND (1993)
Premiere: March 26, 1993 Hennepin Center for the Performing
Arts, Minneapolis
RIVER (1995)
Regional premiere: July 12–13, 1996
Medicine Lake in Plymouth, Minnesota
OFFERING (2002; indoor version)
Premiere: January 9–12, 2003
Southern Theater, Minneapolis
HUNGER (2008)
Premiere: October 9, 2008
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
NAKED (2010)
Premiere: November 2–30, 2010
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Components: two live performers, fans, audiotape, audio amplifier, speakers, specified lighting, straw, feathers, soil,
water, scorched canvas, sweet rice paste,
sea salt