This year marks the thirteenth since Kyoto Experiment began and the third since the start of the global coronavirus pandemic. Over these past few years, as we find ourselves unable even to communicate directly—something we took for granted not only for the performing arts and international exchange but in our lives in general—a wide array of divisions have come to the fore: the debate over freedom of speech sparked by the Aichi Triennale 2019; the racial and religious divides as well as economic disparity both internationally and domestically; the condemnation of certain problems that frequently go viral on social media; (the initial steps toward) revising the unequal power structures that exist in the workplace in the performing arts; and surely the most current, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That these have had a massive impact on artistic expression is evident, but they are also set to greatly change the way things are over these next few years. Partnering with friends around the world, we are monitoring these shifts and reflecting them in our approaches to the festival.
This year’s festival takes the idea of “new teku teku” as a framework for thinking about how we can transcend the zeitgeist positively, even if only in small ways.
Useful = Useless
Kyoto Experiment is a platform for presenting current examples of experimental performing arts to the public and a place that aspires to encourage any participant to think about the implications of such performing arts. Experimental performing arts often shun commercial forms of expression and, as such, are not always universally relatable or accessible. In a capitalist society, they are not part of the mainstream, but rather of substreams or alternative streams, so to speak, and perhaps do not produce many direct effects. Nonetheless, the very essence of society depends on such “sub” or alternative things. To wit, that whole dichotomy is a kind of myth. Much like how living creatures maintain their biodiversity to mutually support ecosystems, for human society to be versatile and maintain its strength, it is important that other than universally fun, enjoyable, and understandable forms of artistic expression, myriad and unprecedented forms appear, get viewed by many, and come into touch with sensibilities, and then lead to the next ideas. Impaired as it is by aiming only for what is “accessible,” for what can attract lots of “likes” and short-term profit, the human imagination frequently needs detours that initially seem pointless. In fact, humankind has arrived steadily at where it is by acting on its curiosity and copiously embracing what it doesn’t understand. Is that a luxury now? At this festival, we aim to think about our present circumstances and how things should be in the future by experiencing the latest experimental forms of expression together with our audiences today, and then pondering their meaning.
New Teku Teku
“New teku teku” is a term we conceived when thinking about such future forms of walking, attitudes, and ways to ask questions. Following the experience of these last few years when holding meetings online and streaming videos of performances became the norm, our awareness of the body decreased, and actually going to a place has become too much trouble, “new teku teku” proposes to make our physicality tangible, and share anew a time and space.
“Teku teku” is a Japanese word that expresses walking, but there are many types of teku teku: of course, the act of using your feet to walk, yet also, by extension, the act of moving or relocating, of being in various states of mind, of shuttling back and forth between different times, an emotional change, or even a move toward a certain set of standards or system. The “new” adds a sense of reinterpreting and rethinking teku teku after a major shift. The term is not an all-encompassing theme, nor does it neatly cover everything in the festival lineup. Instead of a response to the festival’s programs, it is a suggestion or question to prompt new ideas and perspectives about the works.
Some five or seven million years ago, our ancestors evolved from moving around on four limbs to walking on two legs. There are various theories about this, but it was without doubt an immense turning point for the human species. People became able to move from location to location in a very different way. Before they were formalized like they are today, the roots of performing arts arguably lie in migration and oral tradition. In eras when writing or printing were not yet widespread, evidence shows that lore was transmitted orally in almost all parts of the world. People passed on such things as history, literature, laws, songs, and rituals by walking from village to village.
Needless to say, the reasons people walk and move across a space, or go from A to B, change with the times. In the society in which we live today, people walk and move around for a variety of reasons. We walk to take a journey or pilgrimage. Walking can be a political act by marching or protesting. Or we walk not for a particular purpose but just to organize our thoughts in our mind. The act of walking is the body moving in a space, and yet through this simple act, we are able to look back on the past, to reexamine the present, and to scrutinize the future.
This year, we want to gather in teku teku ways with audiences at various places at the festival, from the venues where artists will present their work to locations like the Meeting Point, and experience and imagine “new” kinds of teku teku.
The Shows program includes eleven productions.
Two of them deal directly with the theme of walking. The first is a visual concert featuring sound created by Japanese noise music pioneer Merzbow and two European musicians, Balázs Pándi and Richard Pinhas, and the photographer Lieko Shiga’s new video work that shows a human figure walking along the massive seawall built after the Great East Japan Earthquake. The second is an exhibition by German artist Mischa Leinkauf that features a video work in which the artist walks across invisible national borders on the ocean floor in regions where travel back and forth is difficult on land. The work questions the influence of national borders and their strength, and playfully uses the body to open up spaces of freedom.
Marking the first visit to Japan by a choreographer who has taken the European dance scene by storm, Florentina Holzinger’s performance embodies a challenge to notions of female “beauty” in art and to the norms of classical ballet that sought an ideal beauty by elevating the act of walking into a humanly impossible form of flight. Don’t miss the way she effortlessly parodies our absolute standards of beauty. Working in Australia and Europe, Samara Hersch’s piece comes together through dialogue between performer and audience. The space and time of the performance that emerges as the conversation steadily develops is something unique and experienced only by those present. Another major question both these works explore is how knowledge and tradition is passed down from generation to generation.
In Spacenotblank’s new work, audiences find themselves shuttling back and forth between moving image and performing arts in Shuntaro Matsubara’s new play. What is dismantled dramatically and then regenerated? Be sure to experience it in the theater. Team chiipro likewise crafts work out of the rivalry of text and body. For the second year in its project to create new work in Kyoto, it references femininity and the shiko leg lift in sumo to form a new ritual.
The Thai director Jarunun Phantachat and the Iranian director Azade Shahmiri reexamine grand narratives from history and stories about the future through personal journeys and perspectives. Phantachat focuses on the history of Myanmar-Thailand relations, questioning who gets to write history. Shahmiri’s work is set in the year 2070, investigating how we remember and record our and other people’s lives.
Making its first visit to Japan in almost ten years, the British performance group Forced Entertainment’s two works enable audiences to see changes in certain systems and structures, frustrations over the loss of hope for those systems, and how to play with them. Though seemingly caught in a loop that goes nowhere, the jesting in both works invites us to ponder what is possible now.
Tetsuya Umeda and Tino Sehgal’s works both demand that audiences walk and make discoveries. In Umeda’s, the audience experiences a teku teku that is neither the everyday nor a performance, while freely experiencing the space that is a building previously used for another purpose, and may well uncover a new way of walking in everyday life. Germany-based Sehgal’s work is held over the entire festival at the Japanese garden at Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art. The visitor steps into the garden to encounter a figure who sings to them.
Now entering its third year, Kansai Studies undertakes research on the festival’s host city of Kyoto and the Kansai region through the eyes of artists to lay a creative foundation for the future. As a tentative end point for the research program, it adapts the explorations done to date into a theater work and shares with audiences this back-and-forth teku teku in Kansai. With the research and what has been created from it placed in parallel, or rather as works that coexist in competition with one another, what form of artistic expression will they achieve?
The Super Knowledge for the Future exchange program features a wide-ranging lineup of talks and workshops related to the productions in the Shows program as well as talks that unpack the act of walking or, by extension, the relationship between art and politics.
The Crisis We Face to Keep the Festival Going
In closing, we would like to tell audiences about the unprecedented crisis the festival faces. The economic issues caused by the pandemic have also had a big effect on us, approximately halving the budget allocated to the festival’s executive committee compared to pre-pandemic levels. We have poured our efforts into pulling off the festival’s programs by cobbling together funding from both public and private sources, and Japanese and foreign subsidies, though the massive spike in airfares and weakening yen have greatly aggravated things further. In June 2022, as we put the finishing touches to this text, we are preparing to launch a crowdfunding campaign to cover other aspects of the festival’s costs.
It is our aim here to share information about this year’s programs, but we must also take measures to deal with how we can sustain the festival in the future. It is our ardent wish that this festival, as something that hosts experiments in the performing arts in order to examine our rapidly changing reality, keeps pace with the times. How can we continue the festival and its dialogue? Let’s consider this question together. We hope for your support in our endeavors.
Yoko Kawasaki Yuya Tsukahara Juliet Reiko Knapp
Kyoto Experiment Co-directors