January 16th, 2009


Being a "black person" (or "snow person") in New York

I'm delighted to announce that Zach Feuer Gallery has invited me to make an installation-performance exhibition in their Chelsea, New York space during May. I've worked twice before at the gallery, the first time in 2000, when I made a show called Folktronia (a Chinese Whispers version of my Folktronic album), then in 2005, for a collaboration with Mai Ueda called I'll Speak, You Sing. The May 2009 show will also be a collaboration: I'll be working this time with performance artist Aki Sasamoto, covered earlier this month on Click Opera (before this show was on the radar).

The show will be called Love Is The End Of Art. I don't want to say too much about it yet -- we're still working on the content, and the dates aren't fixed -- except that it's two performance artists working daily in the gallery together, one framing the other's actions with two incongruous layers of meta-narrative (somewhat in the style of my Whitney Biennial performance). What I do want to say, though, is that it's possible that I'll appear in the guise of a kuroko.

A kuroko is a stagehand in traditional Japanese theatre. Watching kabuki, I've often been fascinated by these black-clad figures, basically technical crew who creep around in a stealthy, stooped way during the action, their every gesture seeming to say "Don't mind me, I'm not really here". Their main job is to change the scenery, or costumes, but sometimes they impersonate an animal or some other brief passing role.

Usually, though, the kuroko is in another dimension of reality from the actors on the stage, a kind of meta-dimension. For this reason, it's the perfect template for me to adopt as I appear alongside Aki as she performs. It allows me to be coded visually in a different way, and to be "not really there", even as I make interventions (my role is that I'm an unreliable critic framing Aki's actions in critical discourse, but also a man unrequitedly in love with her -- I keep switching awkwardly between these modes; the public and the private, the rational and the emotional, art and love). I also have the technical function of the kuroko, in the sense that occasionally I have a technical action to perform, like switching on a piece of music or changing the lighting.

Kuroko means "a black person", but the stagehand only wears black when the stage setting is predominantly dark. In a sea scene the kuroko might dress in blue, and in a snow scene he becomes a yukigo, a "snow person". Since an art gallery is a white-walled cube, it's possible that I'll be a yukigo in this performance, to merge in with the space.

There's an interesting dramatic use of the kuroko in the 1969 film Double Suicide, directed by Masahiro Shinoda and based on a bunraku puppet play by Monzaemon Chikamatsu. Rather than simple technical operatives, the kuroko in Shinoda's film act like a Greek chorus, an embodiment of fate, an expressionistic representation of the inexorable machinery of the plot's tragic logic. Here's an extract:

And here's an interview with Shinoda in which he explains his reasons for using the kuroko in this way:

"At university," Shinoda says, "I studied the history of Japanese art during the thousand years before which Chikamatsu was writing. The prehistory of theatre, if you like. I wasn't able to finish my studies. but I reformulated in this film -- via a kind of selective memory -- the question: "What is the essence of Monzaemon Chikamatsu?" This is why I showed the kuroko. The drama written by Chikamatsu is a fiction which uses human beings. The kuroko therefore manipulate the actors. As if they were saying to the actors: "You're going to kill yourselves? Why not use this scaffold! You're going to hang yourself? Here, I'll prepare the rope." The kuroko therefore represent Chikamatsu's technical staff, who make the drama work. I also wanted to express the difference between reality and drama. So the connection between fiction and reality is symbolised by the presence of the kuroko. They represent at once Chikamatsu himself, me, and destiny."

I'm looking forward to being a "black person" -- or possibly a "snow person" -- this spring in New York!