This festival is the twelfth edition of Kyoto Experiment. Although usually held annually, the festival takes place twice in 2021, with a spring edition followed by this autumn edition. We hope that by having these two editions so close together, we can create an interrelationship between the two in which the autumn festival is not simply a development of the spring one, but that we are able to revisit and rediscover the spring edition through the autumn festival. What we attempted through the spring edition—our first as a team of co-directors—was to present a lineup of work that embodied the question “what kind of performing arts experiments should take place?” as well as hold research and exchange programs in order to open up and lay the groundwork for future festivals. The three programs that we began in spring and again make up the festival are: Shows, Kansai Studies, and Super Knowledge for the Future (SKF). One of the things we discovered was that through bringing locality and internationality, intimacy and openness, and improvisation and reproducibility into a space for experimental expression, the boundaries between these things gradually start to dissolve. In this space where we cannot define everything in black and white, there is also continuous change, and the past, present, and future all blend together.
As we approach the autumn edition of Kyoto Experiment, a place in which the past, present, and future coexist, we’d like to think together with our audiences about how we can look at the rapidly changing “now.” The “now” in times of crisis such as a pandemic is fraught with the urgent question of how we can survive; this urgency, though, also obscures what is not heard and seen. How to view the “now” during this time of crisis also means how to perceive what is perhaps not heard or is overlooked. Through this, we are able to look back on the past and gain a perspective on the future.
In order to explore this for this edition of the festival we have decided upon the key concept of “moshi moshi?!,” a Japanese phrase used when answering the phone. We felt this phrase encapsulated the idea of the existence of a voice, one coming from a body and yet at the same time disconnected. We also think of it as a question or an address to a yet unheard other. A voice is a sound powered by the lungs and sent out through the mouth. It can be speech but also a roar, a cry, a sigh, a laugh. A human voice by definition belongs to a specific human body, an individual. It is therefore inherently personal and lies at the heart of one’s identity. This edition of Kyoto Experiment explores ideas around various kinds of unheard voices, be it the inner voice, voices of past and future, nonhuman voices, or the relationships between voice and the body or the collective voice and the body.
A number of works use the personal and intimate nature of voice to accentuate their relationship with individual audience members through performance. Ho Tzu Nyen’s Voice of Void uses 3D animation and virtual reality technology to allow audiences to slip inside the minds of the Kyoto School philosophers, restaging history and bringing voices from the past into the present. Ho gives audiences new perspectives on a complex and multilayered period of history, our view of which undoubtedly influences the present. Begüm Erciyas’s Voicing Pieces guides audiences by a simple score in the intimacy of a private sound booth, turning them into spectators of their own voice. The work questions our inner voice or the multiple “others” that may be found within us. The project Moshimoshi City invites a number of artists to create imaginary outdoor performances throughout the city of Kyoto via the use of voice alone.
Of course, voice is not always speech, and a number of works explore sound or the boundary between sound and voice. They also emphasize the act of a collective listening experience. In a new work by Masamitsu Araki anthropomorphic cars with huge custom audio systems circle the mountaintop of Hiei. Rully Shabara uses Raung Jagat, an improvisational method created by Rully himself, to explore the human voice as an instrument and the democratic and collective power of this voice. Similarly, Tianzhuo Chen’s new exhibition and lineup of live acts explore club and rave culture as well as ritual and religion. The collective body in Chen’s work has as much to do with the collective listening experience as it does with simply physical bodies in the same space.
A number of works in Shows also examine the relationship between the voices of others and the body of the performer. Nagara Wada and yang02’s collaboration on a recreation of Wada’s Couvade is inspired by the titular custom, also known as sympathetic pregnancy, in which an expectant father mimics some of the experiences of his pregnant partner. Taking the custom as its theatrical premise, the work simulates this experience through the bodies and voices of the performers. As we write, team chiipro are conducting extensive research around the Kansai area on the theme of the waltz as well as member Nanako Matsumoto’s personal history through interviews in preparation for their new work. As in their past works, the art collective will explore texts produced and articulated through physical memories. Crack Iron Albatrossket’s work depicts various people and their lives on the margins of society through a number of quick-fire skits. Although the performers are physical, their unique use of voices and regional dialects as well as cultural motifs and wordplay reveal the oratory power of voice.
As a counterpoint, and on a slightly different axis, Kaori Seki’s interest in sensory functions and nonverbal communication is reflected in her use of barely perceptible sound and movement, leading audiences to finetune their own bodies and senses and, moreover, enjoy a warped experience of time and shuttle back and forth across the gaps among humans, animals, and plants. Philippe Quesne’s performance work also explores nonverbal communication through the world of giant moles, a place in which no humans or languages exist.
In order to share these works with audiences, who are of course also participants in this festival, we feel that it is important not only to present the works themselves, but also offer the opportunity to experience the backgrounds and contexts from which they emerged. An artist is often seen as someone who provides alternative perspectives. However, these perspectives are nevertheless always connected to society and the context that nurtures the work. In any work, there is always some link to society, some kind of thought process behind it. If we think of it like this, this isn’t so different from those of us who are living our daily lives. So, why do such works appear? In the Kansai Studies program, we research and share the culture of the Kyoto and Kansai region from the perspective of artists, unraveling preconceived notions and ushering in new perspectives. We will also continue the SKF program, inviting experts from different fields to share a diverse range of thoughts. We hope these programs nurture the thought processes that surround the festival.
During the past year and a half where our bodies have been prevented from traveling and gathering, voices have often traveled and gathered together in a disembodied state. We hope this edition’s concept of “moshi moshi?!” allows audiences to discover a multiplicity of voices and, through this lens, find new perspectives on our “now.”
Yoko Kawasaki Yuya Tsukahara Juliet Reiko Knapp
Kyoto Experiment Co-directors