|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.