Essay

Director’s Note [2018]

As the founder and program director of Kyoto Experiment, in order to ensure the continued stability and survival of the festival, I have, if I’m honest, been unable to free myself of the desire to have an edge over comparable events and theaters. Those who work in a similar profession surely understand the feeling.

Talk like this leads nowhere, but there is a need to show some kind of merit so that the stakeholders (artists, audiences, supporters) who are a precondition for realizing the festival will want to get fully involved. These merits are more often than not relative. As a result, one concrete example of a means that this festival adopts is “taking” a premiere. Whenever you see our productions tagged as a “world premiere” or “Japan premiere,” you should imagine the process that lurks behind this. The act in and of itself may not appear particularly criminal, and indeed it is not. The artists receive the opportunity to present a fresh work and audiences can see something brand new. And if it leads to a boost in audience numbers, then the sponsors also get the point. Everyone’s happy, right?

But in all honesty, I don’t like the behavior that leads up to this act: becoming heated and stirring people up, outwitting others, or sometimes speaking and acting like you look down on people. I don’t mean to suggest that I’m the only one who’s different. This festival also has to fight for its survival, so it is a fact that it is complicit in this kind of behavior, too.

On the other hand, there is a tendency in the arts today to valorize content that critically interprets actual society and attempts to illuminate its various problems as a fundamental understanding of political correction, not least a respect for diversity. With this intent in mind, the organizers who attempt to boast about their superiority may hear dissenting voices that tell them that what they say and do are not the same. Or perhaps we should defy this with the response that management and content are entirely different. At any rate, I can’t help but feel desultory as I flip between.

Such conduct whereby one attempts to be number one (or depose others) in order to secure survival is not limited to the field of the arts. We might rather say that it is something that merely reflects the reality of our society.

When Japanese society was experiencing a period of growth, there seemed to be an ecosystem that redistributed the resources gathered by the “power” of the government and major corporations, against a backdrop of a large working-age population. However much of a fantasy that was, it galvanized many and therefore gave hope of a better future. But things are different now. The principle that only the strong and superior will survive the tests of the market struts around with impunity and the “haves” attempt to enact their escape before the resources are exhausted. The social ranking driven by this economic system is like a bottle with no base, one that cannot give rise to a truly cyclical ecosystem.

Incidentally, this year’s Kyoto Experiment features a main program occupied by female artists or artists and groups that identify as female. I would like to explain what kinds of questions I want to share by programming the festival in this way.

One is the question of the extent to which sex and gender is not only cultural but also political. Each and every one of us lives through our bodies. The human body is differentiated by various indexes, such as age, race, and ability or disability, though surely the most fundamental is our sex. For society, biological sex is important because it is connected to reproduction; that is, the reproduction of generations. Whenever the nation-state that governs society takes an interest in the volume and quality of its population, the body of the nation becomes the object of interventions of power as an interface for controlling that reproduction. In other words, the body is simultaneously both something individual and also, through attitudes toward the family and gender, always something that forms a political stage for these things.

In addition, this connects with questions about patriarchy that relates to collectivity in terms of what kind of performing arts is produced as a collective art. Patriarchy as a rational system for leading a group, regardless of whether in the arts or not, will unwittingly be imitated. However, unless we question this, there might never be any theater or dance works that manifest collective creativity in a true sense.

But if it’s this alone, then surely, considering the diversity in our world today, we should also be aware of sexual minorities and not feel the need to introduce just female artists. We should rather focus on the content of the artistic expression, as opposed to the agents of that expression.

The second question that I want to present in the program is an inquiry into society through the idea of woman as the Other. Simone de Beauvoir said that women exist in society as the Other. The subject of human society is male, while the female is an object seen by men—that is, an Other who is merely extrinsic or marginal. Or, as Edward Said wrote in Orientalism (1978), Western modernity regulated the Orient as an Other that was the polar opposite of itself as it developed the technology of colonial control, and we cannot overlook how this attribute was portrayed through the medium of stereotypes that are applied to contemporary women. Not only in terms of privileges but also in the latent consciousness that controls us, we must consider how our society has internalized scales of values based on (heterosexual) men, as shown by the way we talk of “female artists” but never “male artists.” The world is now more fluid than ever. What is internal? What is external? In our times today, things cannot be treated according to the ways we have recognized them until now. Nonetheless, our behavior and awareness remain fettered by the perspective born from Western modernity, one of male-versus-female, of center-versus-periphery. By considering the absence of the male-center and calling into question that very perspective of looking out at the periphery from the center, how do we feel and act? Surely this encourages a way of perceiving the world in which it becomes possible for the first time to accept diversity in its nature. Though I felt it might be in some way violent, I made this program in order to present these questions in a lucid format.

I have written a rather argumentative text, but I want plainly to convey that our starting point was the wish to offer a message of support to the women who live in Japanese society today that, no matter how one looks at it, relegates them to a humiliating status. The problems that arise from the attributes we are born with are ultimately the universal human problem of how we understand human relations, and I am dreaming of a world in which people no longer look down on others.

Yusuke Hashimoto (Program Director, Kyoto Experiment)
and the Kyoto Experiment Team