Wednesday, January 2, 2013

SEIJI SHIMODA’S SECOND COMING (Last part) (December 31, 2012)

Seiji Shimoda (left) showing his students the way during the Nippon International Performance Art Festival in Tokyo in 2010

Vim Nadera: Japan played a huge role in the development of performance art in Asia. Were you able to witness it?
Seiji Shimoda: Performance art in Japan happened before the World War 2 in the 40s. But famous Gutai group started in the mid-50s and lots of avant garde groups like Neo Dada, Kyushu-Ha, Zero Dimension, High Red Center, The Play etc. made performance art in the 60s. A lot of Japanese artists participated in the Fluxus movement in New York including Yoko Ono. Yayoi Kusama also made street performances in NY before Yoko. Nippon International Performance Art Festival (NIPAF) started in 1993. After I started performance art, I met many old-generation artists in Japan. And also we invited these great artists to NIPAF. But NIPAF is in another stream. We call the 90s as the time of performance art festivals. When the Cold War ended in 1989, we realized that the international performance art festival is one of most important art events. Because even for a few days, artists would have the chance to meet each other. There’s the possibility for exchange. In 1991, I participated in a festival in Poland, I met many artists mostly from eastern Europe. After coming back home, I found out that some artists try to make festivals too. Still there’s no big movement in Japan, but people appreciate NIPAF. Maybe because it is the only one that has good enough vision for the future of human being.

VN: How free are the artists in Japan?
SS: In Japan, we have a Constitution which guarantees our freedom of expression. Our criminal law does not allow, for instance, naked bodies in public places. But, of course, Constitution is the highest law. Nudity in public places is no longer a problem now in Japan.

VN: And indeed you succeeded. In the 90s, you shocked the audiences in Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong where the organizer forewarned the crowd about nakedness. Nobody walked out. Instead they applauded you. Do you always get the same positive feedback?
SS: No. I was arrested by the police twice in 1979 and 1984. It was because of my naked outdoor performances. Now, it’s different.

VN: Do you have videos of your works?
SS: Not all. But I have videos of other artists’ works. Some museums, in fact, asked me to organize video event about performance art all over the world. I did that during Artists Talk in '93 when I began NIPAF in Nagano where14 leading artists from 10 countries took part. In '95 and '96, NIPAF in Tokyo and Nagano had 15 artists from 14 countries. In '96 I began organizing Asian Performance Art series and NIPAF Summer Seminar. Then, in ’97, for the 4th NIPAF, I invited nine foreign and nine local artists.

VN: What are your memorable works?
SS: Well, let me begin with On The Table since 1990 dealing with the meaning of human gathering. I did it in festivals, theaters, and museums in 20 countries. Since '94, there’s My Country which is about nationalism. Of course, since '95, there’s What’s Next? where I use poetry and only small action. And, since '96, I’d been doing Gracias Marcos, Adios Marcos in honor of Polish-Mexican artist Marcos Kurtycz, who died of lung cancer.

VN: Please share with us your thoughts about your classic and controversial work On The Table.
SS: In 1990, a small gallery in Tokyo asked me to have a two-day performance. It was really a small gallery, and I found out that I almost have no space. So I decided to bring my own table. I put my whole body on it. I realized that what I was wearing was too soft and slippery. To avoid danger, I took my clothes off. After starting, I found a new space under the table. I decided to go down there without thinking about what would be the result. It was so challenging. And that’s what I like. Since 1995, I did the same piece in more than 20 countries with my table. Then I stopped for 10 years. But, in 2005 I felt the need to do it again. I did it thrice. I know I get different reactions for doing it around the world. But I am an artist, I don't care.

SEIJI SHIMODA’S SECOND COMING (Second part) (December 24, 2012)


Vim Nadera: Could you take us back to the 60s?
Seiji Shimoda: I entered high school in Nagano 1969 when I was 16 years old. Student movements were very active then. October 21, 1969 was the International Anti-War Day. Four Grade 3 students occupied the school director's room. Students meetings lasted until night time. Lots of police and right-wing people surrounded our school. In those days, we had street demonstration. Anti-Vietnam war. Anti-pollution. Anti-system. All in our small town. Sometimes we would go to Tokyo to participate in those movements. Unfortunately, our movement fell down in early 70s. Our interest would change. We then focused on our inner world. In my case, I began writing poetry, instead of political slogans. Performance was just my next step after writing poetry.

VN: Is your definition of performance art related to poetry?
SS: Performance art for me is poetry. Call it action poetry. I don't have any interest in theater or performing arts. I just want to make my poetry real. I want to realize my poetry. I have a good idea about body since from the start I was a good sportsman. Sometimes I use strong bodily expressions, but not always. In 1981 I published my poetry 200-plus-page book called Coffeeshops.

VN: What comes to your mind, when you hear: "When I enter the coffee shop…"?
SS: I decided in 1979 to write 99 poems and to make 100 performances in Tokyo’s small hall. And my 99 poems would open with the same phrase: "When I enter the coffee shop..." Then many strange things happened. It was like automatic writing that surrealists would appreciate

VN: Please tell us more about your experiences in France.
SS: Parisians are very positive. It was winter when I was in France -- from December 1982 to February 1983. It was during the time of Pres. François Mitterrand and the Minister of Culture was Jack Lang who was a leader of student movement in the 60s and claimed there’s Belle Époque in Paris then. I went to Paris with very small amount of money and I stayed there for three months. The reason why I went to Paris was because some audience in Live Houses gave him a free one-way ticket to Paris. The ticket value was for only 10 days and the audience had no time to use it. I ran out of money there so I had to do street performances to survive in cold Paris. I had 100 street performances just to earn money for me to buy coffee, cigarette and others. It was a good time to think about myself and about what I really wanted to do with my life. During my stay in France I saw good exhibitions. I had the chance to watchthe Pina Bausch dance company. They all encouraged me a lot.

VN: By the way, what are Live Houses?
SS: In those days in Japan, there are some so-called Live Houses movement. Live houses existed everywhere in Japan, not only in big cities. They had live concerts and other events every weekend. I performed there so many times. The owners were mostly dropouts. The owners would get half from the entrance fees and from the drinks. The artists, mostly musicians, would get half from the entrance fee. It took place just before the boom of what we would call “indies” or independent bands. Oh how we enjoyed our freedom of expression then. Remember, during the time, museums and galleries hate us. Action art, back then, was impossible to do. After coming back from Paris, I started to organize some art events in mid-80s. Like festivals for one-minute original poetry reading tape, one- minute free song tape, 10-minute performance , 21-minute chain performing arts, book media performance, et cetera. Young artists, musicians, poets, dancers, filmmakers and others took part in those events from many cities in Japan. Then I began to go to Europe again in 1987. They say, my special strong body expression was acclaimed as very high quality impressive art in western Europe.

VN: You are a been-there-done-that kind of guy. How can you compare audience reactions?
SS: I am an artist, not a sociologist. Yes I did my performances in so many different places, nearly 50 countries. I began in 1975, when I was 21 years old, in Japan. In 1982, I started to perform internationally. But I don't think there is a big difference. My performance is always bit strange. Normal people would never do what I had been doing. Why? Because I’m always looking for strange things to inspire myself. For example, my poems were like fantasy or dark dreams. I published them only for my friends. By writing poems, I could get inspiration to do body expression. It is not dance, not theater. It is performance art.