- Moments of the Maiden:Time, Space and Intercultural Communication in Tokyo
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A dispatch on the arts, technologies and cultures in the metropolitan community served by the Narita airport.
Tokyo is a unique city in many ways. Technology and art, in their varied forms, are woven into the social fabric of the city. Gadgets of all kinds prevail, mixed with traditional and imported cultural elements. All forms of art, intermingled with consumer products, are abundant, from cartoons meant to instruct the public on civic behavior (especially common in trains, where very particular social norms apply) to the art found in the city's numerous galleries, cafes and museums. The creative output of this megalopolis, which comes in forms as complex and transitory as its architecture, can seem mechanized, constructed for particular audiences and particular purposes, like a tea ceremony produced en masse. What is most prominent, however, such as the citywide energy of noise and images, is only a shadow of the creative output that occurs constantly through the many informal artist groups that meet regularly throughout the city and, at a different level, by individuals using their tiny portable multimedia devices (keitai, which is Japanese for mobile phone).
In this city, technology, even in its most mundane forms, weaves a network that allows individuals of different cultures, backgrounds and disciplines to share resources and skills. But this does not happen without difficulties, and perhaps Japan is unique in this way as well. The language, and especially the cultural barriers between non-Japanese and Japanese can be great, so perplexing for foreigners and Japanese alike that there seems to be an endless stream of publications explaining what is really going on with each side. With so much artistic activity in the city, and a vibrant foreign artist community, technology plays many roles in creating networks and supporting creative endeavors.
My personal experience serves as an example. In May 2005 I worked with an informal group of artists on a performance project. The project was based on previous events organized by Robin Coe, an English artist whom I met at a Tokyo art event while viewing a German artist's video collages. Robin has been collaborating with other artists in Tokyo for about three years, and for several more years in the U.K. We had seen each other's work, and the idea was to create an event that mixed different mediums. Due to my interest in Colombian poetry, I proposed putting together a dance performance based on Moments of the Maiden, a poem by Jorge Rojas . The poem, which at the time related strongly to events in my personal life, would provide a structure and allow us multiple levels of interpretation. We proceeded to discuss some ideas on how the collaboration would take place and invited Satomi Akutsu and Yuko Negoro, two Japanese dancers, and Shin Nishizono, a Japanese painter, to join us.
The project became an experiment in intercultural communication, the use of basic technology and the interpretation and use of symbols in art. We decided against having a director for the performance. Instead, we wanted to use the poem as a base for individual artistic expression and to mix in the results along the way. One problem was that the poem was originally written in Spanish and had to be translated into two languages for the project. Translating the poem into English was no easy task, but I was able to achieve it after several iterations. Translating it into Japanese was an entirely different story. By coincidence and fortune, a few days after we decided on using the poem, I met a Mexican poet at a Butoh performance commemorating the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo that killed 10,000 people in one night. The Butoh performance was held in one of the few buildings that survived intact in Asakusa, an area of the city otherwise completely destroyed. The tiny wooden structure squeaked as we entered the small back room where the performance was to take place. A desolating silence, the performance's start in complete darkness, and pre-recorded testimonies of the survivors combined with...