Wednesday, January 2, 2013

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.

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