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A Body in Places: Met Edition | Eiko + Koma
A Body in Places: Met Edition
photo by William Johnston

A Body in Places: Met Edition (2017)

Eiko Otake: A Body in Places – The Met Edition
A Video/Body Living Installation (World Premiere)

Sunday November 5, 10:30 am – 4:45 pm
The Met Cloisters
Sunday, November 12, 10:30 am – 5:15 pm
The Met Breuer
Sunday, November 19, 10:30 am – 5:15 pm
The Met Fifth Avenue

A Body in Places – The Met Edition

Concept, Video and Performance: Eiko Otake
Photographs: William Johnston
Dramaturg: Mark McCloughan

Eiko and photographer and Japanese history professor William Johnston have travelled together to post-nuclear disaster Fukushima four times to document the irradiated landscape and Eiko’s performances there.  From tens of thousands pictures taken, Eiko selected, ordered, and choreographed the photos, adding text as well as sound.  Below is a rough guide to the chronology of the photos that appear in the video.

10:00-11:30am: January, 2014
11:30am-2:00pm:  July, 2014
2:00-3:30pm: August, 2016
3:30- 5:30 pm:  June, 2017

A Note from Eiko:
I have spent the past three years performing A Body in Places, a solo project that explores how my body can activate particular places in which I perform and how in turn each place affects my choreography and performance. The project was first inspired by a visit to Fukushima, Japan in 2011 after the area was hit by the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns. I have since returned there four times with William Johnston, my photographer collaborator, and these return visits continue to contextualize the project. Confronting the severity of what Fukushima represents in our contemporary lives and nursing my deep remorse, I have tried to connect, through the insistence of my body, each particular place I perform with the landscape of post-nuclear disaster Fukushima.

When I was invited to make a new work considering the Performa 17 theme of Architecture, the following questions came up in my mind: How do I make a museum an odd place? As an Asian immigrant, how do I relate to the architecture of these buildings, which in and of themselves are neither a source of inspiration to me nor a repository of cultural memories that I connect to? How can I disrupt the museum-ness? How can I modestly overstay the museum’s welcome and leave a metaphorical stain with my body without being rude or damaging to art works or disrespectful to the efforts of the people who create these institutions? What kind of process and preparation will make me feel that my performances here are necessary and urgent?

The answer to these questions came from returning to Fukushima this past summer, my fifth trip. Struck by the loud, superficial efforts of “decontamination” and “normalization,” I came to feel even more resolutely that disasters need to be remembered and not treated as disruptions which can be forgotten when the “inconvenience” of their repercussions is dissolved for many. Remembering a disaster takes effort, especially when we are busy watching other disasters occur weekly if not daily in other parts of the world, some physically much closer to our lives than others. Making that effort visible and tangible in the context of The Met would make its architecture and its glory realistically relative.

With A Body in Places, I have always imagined digging a hole through the earth to connect each of my performance sites with Fukushima. I want to let my audiences see, among the bodies of the other viewers, my immigrant body carrying Fukushima tucked inside it.

With this ambition in mind, for A Body in Places: The Met Edition, I have created a video work that will run the length of the museum’s open hours. The video does not loop and consists of thousands of still photographs taken by Johnston during our visits to post nuclear disaster Fukushima from 2014-2017. In this way, these Met performances are different from my performances in other places, where I use no additional sound or lights.

Why create a durational work that perhaps no one will see in its entirety? So that a viewer enters and leaves the space knowing that I have insisted on the reality of Fukushima occupying the museum for a full day. My video, like the nuclear disaster and even this building, is ongoing. By using the maximum amount of time allowed to me and not repeating a single image, I hope my video will “stain” the museum walls, making them absorb as much of Fukushima as possible.

Each of the buildings in The Met is its own place, each with different opportunities and limitations on how I can carry Fukushima into the museum. Because of this, in each of the three performances that make up the Met Edition of A Body in Places, I use a different approach in projecting images. Each of these requires a different choreography and a different gaze.

The Cloisters provides a rectangular space with varied textures and a sense of history. At the Breuer, I work in a nearly empty space that allows me to move the projector and the images throughout the gallery, fracturing them. At the Met Fifth Avenue, where the projection must remain stationary, I emphasize a meditative, insistent gaze, which makes my witnessing and remorse palpable. 

During my performance, I stare at images for a length of time, remembering the scenes. At times, I enter into these projected scenes, “dance” within the projector light, or offer my body as a projection surface. At times, I resist the expected relationship to the projected image and just exist in the space. Throughout the performance, I offer my body as a conduit to connect places: the here and now of my performances in The Met with Fukushima, where I danced for no one but a camera and an irradiated landscape.

Born and raised in Japan and a resident of New York since 1976, Eiko Otake is a movement–based, interdisciplinary artist. She worked for more than forty years as Eiko & Koma but since 2014 has been performing her own solo project A Body in Places, inaugurated with A Body in a Station, a 12-hour opus in Philadelphia’s 30th Street Amtrak Station.
After studying with Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata in Japan and Manja Chmiel in Germany, Eiko & Koma created 46 interdisciplinary performance works, two career exhibitions and numerous media works. Always performing their own choreography, Eiko & Koma usually designed and handcrafted all aspects of their works including sets, costumes and sound. They presented their works in theaters, universities, museums, galleries, outdoor sites and festivals worldwide, including many appearances at the American Dance Festival and the Walker Art Center and five seasons at BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Eiko & Koma have also created “living” gallery installations: Breath, commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1998, and Naked, commissioned by the Walker Art Center in 2010. In both of these engagements, Eiko & Koma performed for four weeks during all open museum hours. The Caravan Project as a living installation was shown in the Museum of Modern Art’s lobby in January, 2013.

The Walker Art Center published a comprehensive monograph of their works, Eiko & Koma: Time is Not Even, Space is Not Empty, as a part of their Retrospective Project (2009 to 2012), which included new performance works, restaging of old works, media works, installations, museum exhibitions, film showings, panels and lectures.

Eiko & Koma were honored with the first United States Artists Fellowship (2006) and Doris Duke Artist Awards (2012). They are the first collaborative pair to share a MacArthur Fellowship (1996) and the first Asian choreographers to receive the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award (2004) and the Dance Magazine Award (2006).

Eiko’s Solo project began with a twelve-hour performance at the Philadelphia Amtrak station. Since then, Eiko has performed variations of the project at over forty sites. She also collaborates with photographer and historian William Johnston in visiting post-nuclear-meltdown Fukushima several times to create photo exhibitions and video installations which have been presented in many cities where she has toured. In the spring of 2016, she was the subject of the 10th annual Danspace Platform titled A Body in Places, a month-long curated program that included daily solos, weekly installations, a film series, a book club, discussions, group solo shows, Talking Duets and a 24-hour photo exhibition of A Body in Fukushima. These activities brought her a special Bessie citation, an Art Matters grant and the Anonymous was a Woman Award.

Eiko teaches Delicious Movement in communities, colleges and art schools. Using movement study as a means of inquiry along with readings and media studies, she also teaches interdisciplinary college courses about environmental issues. In 2016 Eiko was named Artist-in-Residence for its Dignity Project at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. During the 2017-2018 academic year, Eiko is a think tank fellow in Wesleyan’s College of the Environment on the theme of “From Disruptions to Disasters: A Lens on the Human-Environment Relationship.”

William Johnston is professor of history, East Asian studies, and science in society at Wesleyan University. He has co-taught three courses with Eiko on the atomic bombings of Japan and one on mountaintop removal coal mining. As a photographer Johnston has worked with digital color, 35 mm B & W, and large-format cameras and platinum prints. In addition to his work on A Body in Places, his recent photographic work includes digital panoramas of Connecticut landscapes.

Mark McCloughan is an artist and writer in New York. He makes performance as one half of No Face Performance Group.