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Sunday, May 12, 2019

Eiko Otake: Distance is Malleable

Eiko Otake
at Middle Collegiate Church, East Village
during Danspace Project Platform 2016: A Body in Places
(photo: Eva Yaa Asantewaa)

This year's Soshitsu Sen XV Distinguished Lecture on Japanese Culture--presented by Columbia University's Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture--was given by venerable dance/interdisciplinary artist Eiko Otake who showed up fully as Eiko Otake, a body in places. The place, in this case, was the lobby of Columbia's Miller Theatre.
Fukushima is everywhere.
-- Eiko Otake
She showed up, as always, a wound in motion. Trailing crimson cloth behind her. Thwacking a yellow CAUTION WET-FLOOR sign on the tile floor. Darting out into the daylight of Broadway. Dropping white sheets of manifesto poetry from the theater balcony like a lazy snowstorm.

And only then talking. But not without images from her epic collaboration with photographer William Johnston that help her help us bridge the nearly 7,000 miles between New York and Fukushima, sites of mass trauma, of what she calls "fast violence and slow violence."
There's a sense of agitation in me, in finding two places so connected in me.
-- Eiko Otake
Her lecture--Distance is Malleable--gave us a mini-tour of her work of recent years, including residencies, installations and performances at Danspace Project (2016) and The Cathedral of St. John the Divine (2016-2017) that I was fortunate to attend. It came with the poetic manifesto that a reader could drop into at any point and swim for a long, long time. All told, Otake's poem and her holistic performance--I will refrain, now, from calling it a lecture--offered valuable insights into this woman and artist I have long admired.
I don't want to dance in studios. Going to places is my choreography.
-- Eiko Otake
I now more clearly grasp the consistency of her presence and witness, how she seeks to interrupt societal trance and avoidance, to archive and deliver evidence through ragged and asymmetrical aesthetics, to reshape time and distance through her body so that we, in turn, might reshape what we think important enough to care about.
People make things not knowing what to do when they break.
-- Eiko Otake
I suddenly, and enviously, get the radical freedom she has long claimed for herself--Decide where to go, when, with whom, how and for how long/Decide where to learn, when, with whom, how, and for how long--and I marvel at it. Self-curation! That's what she calls it, excitedly adding that exclamation point. (In Nguzo Saba terms, I have long exclaimed the Kwanzaa principle called Kujichagulia, self-determination, my favorite.) Otake's Self-curation! strikes me as bearing a double-meaning. Exercising your right to do what you want and need to do in your own way, yes, but also fundamentally curating a self--and doing that your way, too.

When she next writes of how the student chooses the teacher (not vice versa), I feel the strength of her determination. She knows her own mind. She has been on this path a long time and is an excellent teacher to choose.

Follow Eiko Otake's work here.

Learn more about the illustrious history of the annual Sen Lecture here.


DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.


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