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Data Swarms and Physical Sound: The Cerebral and Bodily Art of Ryoji Ikeda

“Somebody said something very interesting. That if you listen to a Ryoji Ikeda CD, you feel minimalist but if you go to see his performance you really feel he is a maximalist, physically.”—Ryoji Ikeda in a 2006 interview with David Toop in The Wire On the surface, it might appear that sound and visual artist […]

superposition , 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition, 2012. Photo: © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

“Somebody said something very interesting. That if you listen to a Ryoji Ikeda CD, you feel minimalist but if you go to see his performance you really feel he is a maximalist, physically.”—Ryoji Ikeda in a 2006 interview with David Toop in The Wire

On the surface, it might appear that sound and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda only creates pieces for isolated academics hiding on the top floor of some New Music ivory tower in Switzerland, squirreling away on their next paper about the acoustic phenomenology of stereophonic subjectivity or whatever. Ikeda recently won the Prix Ars Electronica Collide competition at CERN (you know, the place where they discovered the Higgs boson), which granted him a two-year research residency at the nuclear laboratory. In 2008, he collaborated with Harvard number theorist Benedict Gross on V≠L, a series of multimedia installations investigating a mathematical concept of infinity known as the “axiom of constructability.” superposition, the audio-visual piece Ikeda presents at the Walker on Friday, October 24, and Saturday, October 25, gets its title from a principle of quantum theory.

A brief, superficial listen of any Ikeda album might lead you to the same conclusion. The ascetic tone of the sine wave is the bedrock of his sound. Melodies, rhythms, and discernible narratives are all largely absent. He seems to relish bizarre juxtapositions and tonal shifts.

Yet this portrait of Ryoji Ikeda as a totally cerebral artist can be alienating and inaccurate. Ikeda isn’t an academically trained musician or visual artist. He began his career DJing in clubs in Toyko in the early 1990s. This is perhaps where he first learned how to use music and visuals as forms of stimulation to provoke the body and create visceral spectacles. Ikeda’s ability to manipulate an audience’s physical response to his work is what makes him such a vital and accessible artist.

Shards of static tickle the insides of your ears. You can feel his impossibly heavy bass drones in the pit of your chest. Sine waves bouncing back and forth between the left and right channels increasingly disorient your sense of space. Ikeda reminds us of the very physical nature of sound. In an interview with MoMa’s Inside/Out blog, he refers to sound as “vibrations of air.” The rapidly shifting digital images that accompany these sounds also produce physical responses. Streams of data collide on-screen to create a sensory overload that can literally cause an epileptic seizure. Ikeda’s work often circumvents cognitive processing by going straight for our bodies, and you don’t need a PhD in theoretical mathematics to feel the effects.

superposition , 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition, 2012. Photo: © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition is Ikeda’s first piece featuring human performers since his days collaborating with the Japanese theater collective Dumb Type. For this performance, experimental musicians Stéphane Garin and Amélie Grould will act as “operator/conductor/observer/examiners,” according to his website. In the past, Ikeda has expressed distrust in his capabilities as an improviser and a desire for total artistic control. “When I create a piece, music, installation, or audio-visual concert, my vision is so clear I need control,” he told The Wire in 2006. It’s possible that, with the introduction of human agents, superposition will be even more in touch with the human body because it’s being created by sensitive performers in real time.

Walker audiences may already be familiar with the collaborative side of Ikeda. The Walker co-presented, with the Guthrie Lab, his work with Dumb Type in [OR] in 1999 and Memorandum in 2001—two early examples of the types of immersive spectacles Ikeda has become known for.  Unlike anything that had been seen before in the Twin Cities, the assaultive quality of those performances astonished and thrilled audiences.

In recent years, Ikeda has created a number of massive public art pieces that have maintained the astounding nature of his performances with Dumb Type, while shying away from the shock tactics of those earlier works. His piece spectra, which sent immense beams of white light into the sky, toured multiple major cities in Europe. Every night this October, his audio-visual work test pattern has taken over the forty-seven digital screens in Times Square from 11:57 pm to midnight. Despite the theoretical background of these pieces, their visibility suggests a growing populist sentiment in Ikeda’s work.

Now, none of this is to say that there isn’t deep intellectual complexity embedded in all of what Ryoji Ikeda does. The power of his work is that it’s able to remove truly profound and moving mathematic concepts from the stasis and inaccessibility created by academic jargon. In superposition, Ikeda makes the data that swarms around us visible, audible, and sublime.

The Walker will present Ryoji Ikeda’s superposition Friday, October 24 and Saturday, October 25, 2014 in the McGuire Theater.

superposition , 2012. © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

superposition, 2012. Photo: © Kazuo Fukunaga / Kyoto Experiment in Kyoto Art Theater, Shunjuza

By Invitation: Maia Maiden on Scaffold Room

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View Series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Twin Cities dance artist Maia Maiden shares her perspective on Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room. Agree […]

Okwui Okpokwasili, during an Open Rehearsal of Scaffold Room at the Walker. Photo: Gene Pittman

Okwui Okpokwasili during an open rehearsal of Scaffold Room at the Walker. Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View Series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Twin Cities dance artist Maia Maiden shares her perspective on Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments.

Some of you may need an invitation for this, some of us won’t. Or some of us may need an invitation for this, some of you won’t. Whatever box you may fit into, check that one and move into the box of the Scaffold Room. Enter black art in a white space. Now take away the undertones and hidden messages of what that could mean and deconstruct. Literally, black art: black creator, black artists, black content, black structure (physical and mental). Literally, white space: white walls, white floors, white lights, white box. With permission and without definition, Ralph Lemon enters the space to tell a story of blackness. From his own mouth, he discovered something… This is why it is partially a lecture and a musical. From the lens of a black man enters the presentation of a black woman to the world. Unapologetic for his experiences and outlook, the connections between literature, music, radical politics, sexual exploration, and Beyoncé will make you question your opinions on how you entered the white space. Tap into what you know (well, maybe). Ask questions about what you don’t know (well, maybe not). Find your box… by invitation.

A Basic Guide to All Things Scaffold Room

Ralph Lemon’s new work, Scaffold Room, is truly interdisciplinary. Blurring the line between performing arts and visual arts, it exists in the white cube of the gallery but also includes ticketed, seated performances. Scaffold Room challenges the ways we usually think about and talk about art, which is part of why it’s so exciting—but it can also be […]

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April Matthis during a residency at MANCC, February–March 2014. Photo: Chris Cameron

Ralph Lemon’s new work, Scaffold Room, is truly interdisciplinary. Blurring the line between performing arts and visual arts, it exists in the white cube of the gallery but also includes ticketed, seated performances. Scaffold Room challenges the ways we usually think about and talk about art, which is part of why it’s so exciting—but it can also be difficult to describe in just a few words.

With that in mind, I thought I’d outline the different forms Scaffold Room will take in the coming week, including set performances and Refraction performances, as well as talks, discussions, and open rehearsals. Attending a combination of these events will enrich and deepen your understanding of the work as a whole.

Scaffold Room Performances, September 26–28

Friday, 7 and 9:30 pm; Saturday, 8 pm; Sunday, 7 pm

Experience Scaffold Room as a 90-minute performance within the gallery, featuring artists Okwui Okpokwasili and April Matthis, along with DJ/composer Marina Rosenfeld. These four performances are seated, ticketed, and have a limited capacity. They will have a different feel and structure from the opening kickoff event, so it’s definitely worthwhile to plan to attend both a ticketed performance as well as Scaffold Room Refraction on Thursday night.

Scaffold Room Refraction, September 25, 5–9 pm

The free opening kickoff event, Scaffold Room Refraction, takes place during Target Free Thursday Night. Refraction is a series of performances that invite a deeper examination of the performance experience, including an unpredictable mix of live music and parallel performances layered across the evening. You’ll be free to roam around the gallery space, and come and go as you please. A cash bar in the adjacent lobby will serve as a place to gather, mingle, and discuss what you’re seeing.

Related Event: Opening Night SpeakEasy Discussion, 7–9 pm

The Scaffold Room SpeakEasy takes place in Cargill Lounge, and is your chance to talk about the work with other people, or just listen in. The SpeakEasy discussion will be led by local artists Jessica Fiala, Caroline Kent, and Marcus Young.

Scaffold Room Refraction, September 27–28, afternoons

Refraction performances will continue over the weekend, with a similar format to Thursday night, but will include different parallel performances. These are free with gallery admission.

Related Event: Gallery Talk with Scaffold Room Creators, September 27, 1 pm

Local poet/performance artist Gabrielle Civil will moderate a discussion with Ralph Lemon, Okwui Okpokwasili, and April Matthis. Also free with gallery admission.

Open Rehearsals, September 19–24

Ralph Lemon and his team of artists will offer an ongoing, behind-the-scenes look at the work as it takes shape via a series of Open Rehearsals. Stop by during gallery hours any day before the opening kickoff to see the artists at work. The Open Rehearsals are free with gallery admission (note: certain times may need to be closed to the public, but feel free to call ahead to double check).

Meditation Film Installation, September 24–28

While you’re here, don’t forget to head over to the McGuire Theater to see Meditation, a 2010 film by Ralph Lemon and Jim Findlay that is now part of the Walker’s collection. Meditation screenings are ongoing, and free with gallery admission.

Miranda July Unveils Somebody App; Try It at the Walker

Public spaces can seem pretty alienating these days. Take a look around—on the bus, in the park, on the street, even at the dinner table—and it feels like most everyone is focused deep into the rabbit hole of their phones. This fall, the Walker will participate in a new project from the genre-defying make-believer/people-connector Miranda July that seeks to turn our love […]

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Public spaces can seem pretty alienating these days. Take a look around—on the bus, in the park, on the street, even at the dinner table—and it feels like most everyone is focused deep into the rabbit hole of their phones.

This fall, the Walker will participate in a new project from the genre-defying make-believer/people-connector Miranda July that seeks to turn our love affair with our cell phones into real-life, face-to-face interactions with strangers.

Today at the Venice Film Festival, July launched a free iPhone messaging app called Somebody, along with a short film about how it might be used.

Somebody uses GPS to find other app users in close proximity to the people you already know. Instead of sending your friend a text directly, you’ll ask someone else nearby (likely a stranger) to deliver your message, in person, to the recipient. Want your message to be a singing telegram, or to couch it in air quotes? The app’s interface also includes actions to assign to your stand-in (or you can create your own).

Anybody can use Somebody at any time, but the technology relies upon having app users close to one another. To encourage experimentation with the app, July has established a first wave of “hotspots” at several art centers across the country, and the Walker is proud to be among them.

So, join us at any Target Free Thursday Night in the next two months (leading up to the World Premiere of Miranda July’s New Society here on October 30 and 31), as we play with strangers using Somebody. And we’ll have somebody else (a real live person!) on hand to help answer questions.

As July says of Somebody, “I see this as far-reaching public art project, inciting performance and conversation about the value of inefficiency and risk.”

For loads more information and to download the app, visit somebodyapp.com.

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luciana achugar: Cultivating Communal Vibrations

Focusing on energy and vibrations in space, the Walker-commissioned OTRO TEATRO will extend choreographer luciana achugar‘s philosophies surrounding dance and the female form. The Uruguayan-born, New York–based artist incorporates notions of collective experience and ritualized movement, bringing performer and audience together. A professional dancer and choreographer for nearly two decades, achugar will premiere OTRO TEATRO […]

Photo: Gene Pittman

Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Focusing on energy and vibrations in space, the Walker-commissioned OTRO TEATRO will extend choreographer luciana achugar‘s philosophies surrounding dance and the female form. The Uruguayan-born, New York–based artist incorporates notions of collective experience and ritualized movement, bringing performer and audience together. A professional dancer and choreographer for nearly two decades, achugar will premiere OTRO TEATRO at the Walker on February 27.

Throughout her career achugar has embraced dance as a means to create a sense of communal awareness. Intentionally spelling her name without capital letters to diminish hierarchical power, her choreography reflects the same passion for equity –her work lacking the traditional, established soloist roles. She told Curator Michèle Steinwald that she believes “everything should be a collective.”


Homogenizer Hybrid, Canada, January 2004

OTRO TEATRO will expand upon the feminist perspective achugar presents in her compositions. She challenges socially constructed standards of beauty and elevates the female form by concentrating on movement from the pelvis. The women in her 2004 piece A Super Natural Return to Love wore blue factory uniform smocks, storing red paint in the pockets that leaked through, and was later spread onto the white set backdrop. Celebrating the female experience, achugar’s work focuses on the sensuality – not sexuality – and pleasure of movement and the body. Her development of feminine expression aims to channel energies and cultivate communal vibrations.

achugar draws on the use of ritualized sound and movement to encourage a social bond between the audience and the performers. Patterned and repetitive sequences strengthen and clarify the dancers’ emotional intent, and empower the audience to actively engage with the performance. Recurring sounds construct an otherworldly, meditative space in which the choreography comes to life.

For her 2010 work PURO DESEO, she composed a dark and haunting duet with long-time collaborator and OTRO TEATRO set designer Michael Mahalchick, utilizing repetition of sound and action to articulate “performance as an incantation.” A spiritual tone resonates through many of her works. In PURO DESEO, both male and female voices alternately sing short, insistent melodies reminiscent of the chants of Tibetan monks. A single bell rings again and again, vibrating like the singing bowls historically used in Eastern meditation and healing practices. As achugar and Mahalchick pace, crawl, and reach upward across the dimly lit stage, a mysterious and dark energy vigorously appears.


PURO DESEO, The Kitchen, May 2010

Integrating a performance’s surroundings also affects the relationship between vibration and energy exchange. Steinwald wrote of achugar’s productions, “Each completed work takes on a ceremonial tone, acknowledging the agreement, we as audiences and artists have together, within the inhabited theatrical experience.” Like attending a church service that allows the congregation to share the same space physically and mentally, achugar endeavors to create an environment that both performer and spectator occupy, transferring energy to one another. OTRO TEATRO, for example, will metaphorically take place “in the ruins of a collapsed theater.” This work will actualize the performance space into which we, the viewers, will enter and participate.

An exploration of movement, sound, and perception, achugar’s OTRO TEATRO will provide a window into feminist expression in a vibratory landscape. Her past works’ engagement of the spiritual mind and imagination has redirected rhythmic and ordinary elements to produce meaningful, provocative exchanges. Continuing in a tradition of experimental and socially aware choreography, the ritualized patterns and communal consciousness that have served achugar so well will lay the foundation for her upcoming world premiere.

luciana achugar’s OTRO TEATRO opens February 27–March 1, 2014 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

The Craft of Recovery – Birth in Progress

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their […]

LolaArias

Photo: Amy Fox

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective on El Año en que nací / The year I was born by Lola Arias. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

As we look back on our four weeks of intensive theater-going, we find appropriate the retrospective tone of the Out There Series’ concluding performance. El Año en que nací / The year I was born, a play directed by Argentine director Lola Arias, was created for and with Chilean performers who were born during General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The piece starts with a birth-year roll-call, delivered with a virile, militant tone from a megaphone. The performers stay seated in school desks until their name is called. They then run in circles, as if on a track, with their birth-year patched on their back. They line up, one by one and deliver succinctly what was happening politically in Chile the year of their birth. Instantly we are hit with some themes of time-travel, order, information, keeping track, and contest.

There are many technical elements used as vehicles of the stories, such as projectors, microphones, photos, lights, and sound-bites. The stage is hemmed in on each side with shelves stacked with props, yet the environment is most dictated by a line of lockers on the back wall–which appear to be holding cells for all of their stories–and a projector screen pulled down and set up center stage. The stage is backlit by neon tube lighting, so a lot of action/mobilizing of props is obscured. Sometimes implements and instruments in the environment are shifted to portray a scene more vividly; desks and guitars become doubly useful as gun imagery, or a ladder becomes a podium, yet the people always stay the same. Lola Arias employs a number of theatrical practices and techniques that help to reproduce, as an address to the audience, some aspects of the original dialogue, action and metaphor that developed during the creation process. Arias collaborates with both trained and untrained performers. The company holds the principle that anyone can act, a theory that is ostensibly in the vein of Theater of the Oppressed, a practice rooted in the belief that people have the capability to act in the “theater” of their own experience. The performers take turns leading us through their historiography, as they unabashedly locate themselves as carriers of their own stories.

Occasionally, however, performers are asked by the current main storyteller to act out a family scene, or that of a shooting. The other performers oblige by assuming choreography, a tableau vivante depiction of the scene that is simultaneously being described in great detail by the narrator. Strangely, the pairing of bodies and words has little effect on the experience for us as viewers, in terms of the potential for emotional impact, for it is done as clinically as any 2D visual aid, to the point that the use of their bodies (or is it the words?) feels completely perfunctory. Perhaps the dissonance lies in that even as the performers are playing out another role for a moment, they remain undeniably themselves, inescapably authentic.

For most of the play, the energy, synchronicities and confrontations of the performers are strictly on a frontal display, projected out towards the audience rather than between themselves. The work, which fixates on historical/personal narratives, articulates itself heavily through verbal delivery, often leaving the bodies of the performers behind. As dancers and choreographers, we (Hiponymous) ached with the desire to see the stories told through the body more. An all-out dance number is installed somewhere in the first third of the show and we are left dumbfounded as to why. It is worrisome to think that maybe the dance (and perhaps the few live songs strewn throughout) was only used for transitional texture, a wash of movement for the sake of a textual break. If there was another meaning, beyond the group replicating a somewhat self-aware, cheesy dance number from Chilean television past, it was lost on us. The performers danced with a variety of expressions on their faces, ranging from pure enjoyment to coyness to self-involved to deadpan. The lack of uniformity would not be so troublesome to us, if we felt those deliveries were intentional or directed that way. Instead, the dance seems inconsequential. Dance is a field dedicated to, and reliant on, metaphor. If we recognize our bodies as sites of history, identity and commentary, and ourselves as viable, poetic story-tellers, then we can sustain the integrity of our personal truths long after our voices give out. For such important subject matter as this piece, we wondered why not imbue the performers’ movement with more agency, whether they decide to use those gestures for satire or sincerity? Why not develop that power?

An interesting tension around authenticity comes to the foreground when the performers are asked to stand in a line that demonstrates a scale of their parents’ political ideologies from leftist to right. They are asked again to make this line from poor to rich, and again, light skin to dark. These moments are exciting as they display raw discussion and uncomfortable categorization. They make problematic conventional archetypes, smashing the binaries of bad guy/good guy, survivor/murderer, resistance/police, as often both extremes reside within one person’s family. Another line is formed in the dark. Each person lights a match and begins to tell where s/he was during the blackouts. One says she was in Mexico City and her match is instantly blown out by the person next to her. We begin to see how, in a quest for the more “authentic” story, those with exile histories are silenced more abruptly. Thus, the front-line survivor story receives platform priority. The sensationalism of the survivor story never fully takes over, however, and while their approach is never self-exploitative, the tailoring of drama reminds us of our particular cultural lens. How big does the story have to be to receive American viewership? Has our need for spectacle become our only entryway into compassion and action?….(“My god, that’s horrible….is anybody doing anything about this?!”)

El Año en que nací winds us through a tormented private and public history. Ultimately we are left in the present with an understanding of the current social climate of Chile and this generation’s hopes and ambitions for their country.

 El Año en que nací / The year I was born by Lola Arias runs through February 1 in the McGuire Theater.

Cue: Human Life and Habitual Endings

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective […]

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Photo: Karen Linke

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective on Public in Private/Clément Layes’ Allege. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Public in Private/Clément Layes’ Allege is a humorous, contemplative, and startlingly graceful solo that will leave art-makers excited to explore and reinvest in the mundane richness of everyday objects and surroundings. Completing tasks in unconventionally habitual ways, Layes slumps around the space with a small glass of water balanced on the nape of his neck. He reacts to this burden with a complacent air. His physicality is outlandish, a seemingly cobbled-together body of aesthetic, training, and function: his turned-out walk is clownlike, he stands with an armadillo hunch, and his arms continuously extend from his body like runway carpets gracefully unfurling. He has the dexterity of a primate, certain in his ungainly body. While his face is positioned uncompromisingly to the floor, his fingertips take on the function of expressive eyeballs, making contact with objects with a matter-of-fact touch. We witness his successes and quickly identify him as an expert. His lack of showmanship allows us to normalize the experience and we come to expect his proficiency.

From the very beginning, Layes plays with our expectations. The stage lights come up, we wait tensely for an electric tea kettle to boil. The unpredictable certainty of that moment is comical. Layes enters with a series of actions that evokes and reinforces our tendency to predict. He marks with thick electrical tape an “X” on the floor, which traditionally in performance marks the spot where an event will take place, be it human or prop. The marking of that spot is not only its own event, it signifies that Layes will fulfill a relationship to this place in the future. Thus, before action even begins, we are given markers of expectation. Layes directs starts and stops with the tech booth, cueing spotlights and music (always David Byrne’s “Like Humans Do”) to highlight how a spectrum of scenarios can be executed with the same elements, such as a table, a plant, water bottles, and several low ball glasses.

Layes performs nuanced feats adeptly, sometimes with an earnest, willful physicality, yet mostly with attractively perfunctory efficiency, and upon completion he discards his props with ambivalence. Layes’ sense of detachment in performance mirrors Byrne’s omnipresent lyricism that reminds us that the many anxieties of life can be small when approached with a bird’s eye view. Similarly, it seems Layes’ corporeal successes depend on a calm, objective approach. That physicalization of objectivity reads as a kind of sparse, circus performativity, but that simplicity soon sheds away as he uses gestures that are imaginative and symbolic in nature, albeit born from the logistics of juggling water on his head. While Layes’ elongated use of temporal space is often out of necessity (unruly props!), there are moments in which his environment is more controlled and thus his play with props and time are trivial choices made intentionally to toy with our desires as viewers.

The performance, though delivered by a Frenchman, has the English title of Allege. Though we expect to read the word with an accent and imagine a piece full of light, cheerful themes, the English, especially American, implications of the word “allege” bring us to courtroom lingo, priming us with a lens of incredulity. This is all designed for many great reveals. Especially later in the piece, once he begins to claim and attest to the nature of the things in his environment, we are reminded of the title and its connotation, and yet we are charmed by his language, captivated by his revelatory assertions of what “that” is, as he points to yet another object we have been obsessively watching him move with. We imbibe his labels more than passively–passionately, willingly. His success in stimulating and imprinting lasting meaning in our perceptions is proven when an hour after the show, as we discuss the piece, we still refer to the towel as the “dream,” the bucket as “limitation” and so on. Go see this show if you are in the mood for an intelligent yet humble lecture demonstration on ways to jump-start the performing artist’s sense of wonder while having no illusions about our collective ending: that X, that promised culmination that nobody knows but everybody anticipates. As David Byrne says, “I WORK, I SLEEP, I DANCE, I’M DEAD.”

Clément Layes performs Allege  January 23-25 at 8pm in the McGuire Theater.

Spoiler Alert: Penis Penis Penis

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Hiponymous share their perspective on Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The […]

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Photo: Shinsuke Suginou

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, local artists Hiponymous share their perspective on Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The Room Nobody Knows. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

A wildly entertaining trip written and directed by Kuro Tanino, The Room Nobody Knows, performed by Tokyo-based theater company Niwa Gekidan Penino, is a partially dissected dream, full of blatant and elusive symbolism. The set design is based off of the traditional Japanese Noh stage, but developed as a top/bottom duplex, squeezing the actors and action into comical proportions. The main character, Kenji, explores the dream-like apartment with desire and whimsy, luring the viewers into every nook and cranny of the architecture, which glorifies phallic, masculine forms. A small cannon sits in the corner. The doorknobs, coffeetable, chairs, and erect holders for the Shakuhachi flutes are all shaped like penises. And then there are the handmade penis figurines of Kenji’s beloved older brother in four archetypal renderings: “The avant-garde you, the revolutionary you, the feminine you, the pop you”. Kenji’s idolatry of his brother becomes an obsession and preparing for his older brother’s birthday completely distracts him from his high school studies, which he has been dizzily tending to for 27 years.

The upper room of the duplex is occupied by Kenji’s alter egos, one with hog ears and the other with sheep horns. We meet these characters first as they assist in assembling the penis power room. They move through the tight quarters, revealing tableaus like pieces in a game of chess. They furnish the older brother’s birthday party with erect penises, as gift offerings, and are a comedic presence as the “Elves of Unpaid Labor”. There is nothing subtly phallic, only obvious, graphically polished models of penises with perfect curvature. The mounted room of phallic power is a blatant depiction of what are often subliminally placed markers of a culture’s patriarchal agenda. And yet, as a culture, we also habitually laugh at the sight of penis forms. With a phallic-filled stage and Kenji’s dueling alter egos, Tanino’s psychological fantasy world becomes an environment rich with duality and sexual frustration.

The ways in which gender and sexuality are explored are stimulating…intellectually, that is. On one hand, it is very enjoyable to watch the two brothers express affection, amorously, earnestly pressing their bodies into one another, holding faces in hands, looking into one another’s eyes with declarations of love. On the other hand, the scenes are ripe with taboo (homoerotic sibling love), and the exposed vulnerability that comes along with that keeps the audience from responding too favorably and the performers from going much further than bold verbal and physical insinuations.

While American audiences are used to witnessing theater in which the Asian or Asian-American male body is often thrown into one-dimensional, emasculated roles, the Walker audience becomes privy to refreshingly complex representations of Asian men through Tanino’s direction of these two brothers. This is a play that tells the story of two bodies, full of agency and yet fraught with deviant tendencies that are personal to them and informed by their past accomplishments and future ambitions. Of course, on top of all that, it’s all just a dream. And yet, dreams are linked to subconscious truths. Thus, it’s easy to see that the monumental things in Kenji’s waking life will remain erect.

Niwa Gekidan Penino performs The Room Nobody Knows January 16-18 in the McGuire Theater.

Balancing Act: Clément Layes on Performance, Philosophy, and the Art of Play

Clément Layes’ Allege is based on a simple question: “What can I do, and not do, while balancing a glass of water on my head?” Each performance of Allege is a 45-minute exploration of the possibilities and limitations created by this balancing act. With water bottles, glasses, and other everyday objects, Layes subverts the structures that constrain him by […]

Clément Layes "Allege"

Clément Layes. Photo: Dieter Hartwig

Clément Layes’ Allege is based on a simple question: “What can I do, and not do, while balancing a glass of water on my head?” Each performance of Allege is a 45-minute exploration of the possibilities and limitations created by this balancing act. With water bottles, glasses, and other everyday objects, Layes subverts the structures that constrain him by making a game of them, pushing them to the point of absurdity, merging research and performance, logic and phenomenology. As with the glass of water, he creates a balance with elements from his training in dance, theater, circus, and philosophy, while still refusing to be defined or confined by categories.

Allege is a performance and a question. As Layes writes on his website:

It is not an art for the future nor a culture for now. It is five hundred quotes disguised in few plastic bottles. It is not a geometric demonstration. It is not about Clément Layes, it is not a rock concert although it would be great, it is not only happening, it’s also unhappening, it is not ambivalent.

In advance of his visit to Minneapolis, I had the chance to chat with Layes over Skype to learn a bit more about his eclectic background, the philosophical inquiry in his work, and how Allege came to be.

Allege Clement Layes

Clément Layes in Allege. Photo: Karen Linke

What was your creative process for Allege? How did you come up with the ideas for this piece?

It started with some research I was doing with objects, particularly with glasses and bottles of water. I was working with a few other performers at the time, and we started practicing balancing a glass of water on our heads — which is not so easy to do! But I realized that there was very interesting potential within the structure of the glass. I wanted to explore how I could constrain myself in order to not be able to dance like we would expect a dancer to, but rather to move in a very specific way that would be defined by the constraints we had created — in the first place, the glass of water. So that’s how it developed. It wasn’t something that was planned; it was more ongoing research about these constraints and these objects.

On the topic of constraining structures: you’ve studied philosophy, and it seems to find its way into many of your pieces. How does philosophy figure into your work?

First of all, I am not a philosopher. But I have a great interest in philosophy, and for me, creating a performance is not so much something that is meant to entertain people, but rather to create some thinking in the audience. And not just conventional logical thinking — I see performance as a way to experience the world through the senses as well. I was very influenced by the phenomenological thinkers, the type of philosophy that invites one to come back to the experience of things. The question for me, particularly in performance, is how to find strategies to re-engage with the world, how to rediscover the things we actually know. By rediscovering them we also discover how the inscribed knowledge we have accumulated can be made dynamic again.

I’m also very interested in the creation of systems. This is maybe not so much about philosophy, but it’s something that is very present in bureaucratic systems and so on: we endlessly create systems that constrain us in different manners, being totally ineffective. I was curious to see what is produced on stage if I do this to a kind of extreme absurdity.

You have an eclectic background in circus, dance, theater, and philosophy: how does your background contribute to your work?

It’s a very strange path. I did theater and circus in high school, and later I pursued philosophy and circus. I was a juggler — it was my first specialty. At circus school I also did all kinds of acrobatics and trapeze, but my main interest went very soon to dance. I had been struggling in between circus, philosophy, and dance, and somehow I ended up only doing dance and attending dance school.

What’s interesting for me is that it took me around ten years to finally be able to combine these different elements of my background on stage and to make them play together without excluding elements of one or the other. And because they are so different in terms of form and aesthetics, I feel like part of the creation I’ve been doing in this performance particularly was to find ways to make those interests merge into one specific form that was satisfying for me.

In this sense I think the performance speaks a lot about categories, about how we organize categories — which to me is very complex. I started to reflect really precisely on the category of dance: what does it mean if I, as a creator of dance, place myself in the dance category? Am I not keeping myself within certain boundaries which are defined by the institutions with which I work? So now I try not to think in those terms, not to define myself while I’m working.

That actually was one of my questions—“Do you have a way to describe yourself and the work you do?” It sounds like from what you’re saying, you don’t really describe yourself as doing just dance, or theater, or circus, or art…

Exactly. I cannot escape being defined by others and particularly by institutions, because there is a need from theaters and critics and so on to define something for the audience. But in order to have the chance to create something new, I have to take care not to be defined within these frames. For example, I find that dance and visual art actually have a lot in common, but they are created in two categories that are very strongly socially divided, in terms of the practice and the people involved. In dance, we tend to be dependent on the dance studio and can only access it for a certain number of hours per week or month, and only in relation to a production. That is, dance as a practice is defined by the time frame of the rehearsal schedule. This is the opposite of practice for visual artists: they have the studio, where they can work every day without having to produce something. Now I am trying to create a space where I can work whenever it’s needed, to not only function in order to make a production, but to also be able to try out things, to research without being bound to make a piece.

One of the most important aspects of Allege is “play,” as a way to deal with these categories. I never take a very serious approach, but more a kind of childlike way of working: putting things together and seeing what happens in order to decide the next step to take.

Clément Layes "Allege"

Clément Layes in Allege. Photo: Dieter Hartwig

Your company, Public in Private, also seems pretty uncategorizable. Can you tell me a bit more about it?

Jasna Vinorvski is one of the main members and a co-founder with me. The primary thing we do is create performances, but since it’s a young company, the idea is to also develop it as a collective. We have worked with performers, visual artists, musicians, theater makers, etc., but often just for the creation of a production. The next step for us is to have a group that would be linked to Berlin, or to people passing through there, doing ongoing research and thinking and discussion, on a very playful basis — it doesn’t have to be very serious or academic — about how to position ourselves as artists within the contemporary scene. Because the artistic act is not only on stage, it’s not only something that relates to the stage itself, but it’s also a way to enter into the social context in which it is happening. We are working on a project we call the “Private Theater,” as a way to deal with these questions, and to involve more choreographers and artists in our discussions.

Clément Layes performs Allege at 8 pm January 23–25, 2014, in the McGuire Theater. Stay after the performances for a post-show reception with the artist (Thursday, January 23), a Q & A with the artist (Friday, January 24), and a SpeakEasy discussion with local artists and a Walker tour guide (Saturday, January 25).

Join Clément on Saturday, January 25, 11 am1 pm in the McGuire Theater for Inside Out There. This charmingly philosophical workshop creates theater and choreography with everyday objects. Each participant is asked to bring an object that they use daily to imagine what dreams it might imply, invite, or induce. Open to all. $6 ($4 Walker members).

Building The Room Nobody Knows

As a part of Out There 2014: New World Visions, the Walker presents Japanese performance group Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The Room Nobody Knows, a personal, psychosexual account of the competitive strain between two brothers. The piece is rife with Freudian imagery, with phallic shapes forming much of the set and props, as company director Kuro Tanino intersects […]

As a part of Out There 2014: New World Visions, the Walker presents Japanese performance group Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The Room Nobody Knows, a personal, psychosexual account of the competitive strain between two brothers. The piece is rife with Freudian imagery, with phallic shapes forming much of the set and props, as company director Kuro Tanino intersects his experience as a practicing psychiatrist with his work on the stage. Intricate, surreal sets are a hallmark of Niwa Gekidan Penino’s shows. Works of art on their own, their sets are often opened as miniature exhibits before the narrative or characters that inhabit the space are even conceived. Of course, the process of setting up such a space is equally as detailed as the space itself.

This time-lapse video shows the set’s careful recreation at the show’s North American debut at the Japan Society in New York City. This construction (and deconstruction) will happen a number of times over the next few weeks: the Walker is the second stop on a tour that also hits On the Boards (Seattle, WA), FringeArts (Philadelphia, PA), and the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, Ohio).  Audiences at the Walker will be placed on the McGuire stage with the performers for an intimate look at this symbolic world and its story. (For another chance to interact with director Kuro Tanino, consider Inside Out There: Niwa Gekian Penino, an acting workshop that will perform a surgery in silence.)

In a recent interview with the Walker, Tanino provided some advice for his audience: “Please build a house and have a room in your mind somewhere. Put your secret emotions, curiosities you can’t tell anyone, and your dangerous illusions there. The room will instantly be filled, almost to the point of exploding. Lock your room then, and open the door with the key after you see the show.” This set, bursting with these curiosities and illusions, is such a room, and he has left his door wide open. See how yours compares.

Niwa Gekidan Penino performs The Room Nobody Knows Thursday, January 16, at 8 pm (SOLD OUT) and Friday and Saturday, January 17-18, at 7 and 9:30 pm in the McGuire Theater. Very limited seating.

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