Body of art from Japan

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  • Published 18.04.12

He covered his face with black tape, ensuring there was no space for him to breathe or see. Sitting on the floor and gasping for breath, he inched towards his audience. He removed the tape from his face several minutes later with perfect ease with people watching awestruck.

A bright smile broke into the face of Seiji Shimoda, a 59-year-old renowned performing artiste from Japan, as he finished another one of his spontaneous acts. “Sorry I don’t have time for more before my flight,” he said to his audience at Studio21 on Tuesday, rounding off the performance.

The director of Nippon International Performance Art Festival, who has performed such short acts in nearly 50 countries, was visiting Calcutta for the first time. Last year, he had toured Delhi, Faridabad and Bangladesh.

“I wish I had more time, but Calcutta had to be squeezed in before my solo exhibition in Tokyo later this month. I was keen on making the trip as I learnt that performing art is picking up Calcutta, though it is still very new,” said Shimoda before his presentation.

Born in Nagano in Japan, the veteran artiste had started off as a poet, his verses bordering on fantasies and dark dreams. In 1975, at the age of 21, he switched to expressing through his body.

Since then he has travelled all over the world and participated in many festivals. He had also been arrested in Japan twice (in 1979 and 1984) for performing naked outdoors.

At Studio21, the artiste first introduced his genre to the audience through videos of his and other artistes’ performances. “For us art is not about entertainment. It is a medium of communication,” he said.

Shimoda said many of his acts were spontaneous, some often “strange” and not even understood by him at times.

“Maybe 10 years later I will understand the meaning of a particular act of mine. But while I am at it, I just hope my actions will have some effect on the audience. The latter can interpret them any way they want to.”

Shimoda tries to involve his family and also the audience in his performances. One of the videos showed him performing with his son at Nagano. The father-son duo was seen playing catch before a select group in an open green area. Their faces and eyes were covered with tapes and plastic glasses.

“We did not choose a baseball, though the game though is popular in Japan. We played with an onion. I always try to do strange things that normal people would never think of,” said Shimoda.

He added that playing ball with his son had helped him understand his child better and how fast he was growing up. In another performance, Shimoda was seen jumping about, again blindfolded, at a high street in Caracas, Venezuela.

The audience was also treated to one of his best acts, On the Table, that he has been performing since 1990. In the video, shot in Warsaw, Poland, he was seen doing acrobatics on a table as well as below it, completely naked. This much-acclaimed act has been performed in 20 international festivals, theatres and museums.

“I may be getting old but I am still agile. Previously I used to carry my table but I don’t anymore,” said Shimoda.

The second half of the session on Tuesday began with 29-year-old Seiko Kitayama’s short act. Kitayama is the daughter of Shimoda’s high school friend. Selecting a co-actor from the audience, her act revolved around friendship.

This was followed by Shimoda’s performance before he took off to impress yet another part of the world.