I have been thinking a great deal lately about learning and sharing during the process of making art….I’m working on the planning stages of an interactive residency at The Project Room in Seattle, where I will be doing my very first stitch on a project, then will show the results more than a year later. It has me pondering/picking apart what is it like, how does it unfold when we begin without knowing how to do something or be something or reach something within ourselves that we aim to share with other people, and then there is this process we go through where something that was once unknown becomes a part of us. These thoughts bring me again and again back to Haruko Nishimura of Degenerate Art Ensemble, and these images of her shot by photographer/architect Rex Hohlbein for her Red Shoe Butoh Journal.
They were made at the very beginning — more than a year ago– of a project , “Red Shoes“, that now in the next few weeks approaches its end. I like to think about what Haruko didn’t know then and what she does know now. She began doing her Butoh training outside in parks rather than a rehearsal space, mainly because she was broke after a huge show….and now “Red Shoes”, the final production created with DAE and the Frye Art Museum, is a multi-sited performance that will spill out onto those streets.
Did this early beginning of solo practice in the midst of the bustle of real life in parks and public squares lead to staging this fairy tale in the streets? Red Shoes will be a transformative experience for those that get to see it….it sold out within hours of tickets coming online (a testament to the impact and devotion that DAE inspires in its fans). It will be a HUGE multi-disciplinary, multi-artist, multi-location collaborative beautifully terrifying experience, but I wanted to just harken back and call attention to those quiet, solo moments of Haruko in the park two winters ago, where the spark of something began…it’s like she put on the red shoes then and has been dancing for her life ever since.
I also love Rex’s images because Haruko is wearing a dress that I made for her character Shiro from the “Sonic Tales“. I spent more than 100 hours on the whole costume, bringing little bits of leather glove with me to stitch together when I watched my son swim or play in the park. Those tiny stitches where remnants of quiet moments in my day to day life. I like how, through Rex’s images, something I began, that then moved through life with Haruko, is reframed through Rex’s process and eyes and seems to have a life of its own. The dress bodice also has a linear thread all the way back to another piece of mine from 1999, “Skin Tight”, that Haruko saw at the Bellevue Arts Museum when they did a survey of my work in 2008.
She wanted to feel what it would be like to have the skin tight leather stretched over her spine, like it was stretched around the laurel stump in my piece. The piece for me, was a way to create a fetish of the tree stump, to anthropomorphize the muscular forms of the wood, while at the same time “animalize” the women’s kidskin gloves (so recognized as a symbol for purity) by boiling them, making the leather shrink tight around the stump and turn back into a thick rawhide texture.
Both stump and gloves (skin) where leftovers from something that was once alive, now very dead…so it was only fitting that the Shiro character Haruko inhabited was a ghost. I loved having her show me something new about my own work.
Haruko is one of the most determined and dedicated artists to the development of her own practice, and it shows when she performs — a thousand expressions and lives pass through her body and face. With the sheer weight of the talent she carries around with her, she might have licence to be a diva, but she never carries herself that way. I’ve had the honor of working with her several times and seeing the way she works with her collaborators…always as a student, always learning, observing and present. I’ve likewise learned a mountain of infinite things from her, watching her performances and getting to participate at times. I’m a bit gleeful about the impending experience of “Red Shoes” and what sort of delightful rubbed-raw emotions I will feel coming away from that, and what it might reveal about the intensity of the desire to create, and how that just won’t let us go.
Here’s another view of Haruko performing captured by long-time DAE collaborator Bruce Tom, who has frozen her astounding movements in my costume for “Shiro” in “Sonic Tales”! Please go see ‘Degenerate Art Ensemble” at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, until June 19th, 2011.