Critics’ Picks

Kumamoto

“Beach, Eyelids, and Curtains: chelfitsch's EIZO-Theater”

Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto (CAMK)
2-3 Kamitori-cho, Chuou-ku
April 28 - June 17

Toshiki Okada is a playwright and the director of the Japanese theater group chelfitsch, which is internationally admired for its intensely emotional yet conceptually controlled minimalist performing style. The group wrings rumors, whispers, and the minute gestures of everyday life to extract the mounting self-doubt and political awareness of Japanese youth. Okada's first museum solo exhibition features eizo theater, a new method of performance that incorporates film projection.

Collaborating with film director Shinpei Yamada and architect Jo Nagasaka, Okada has fashioned a space in which spectators can freely walk about to focus on any one of the six performance films and the three texts installed. The gallery is nearly empty otherwise, furnished only with reading desks and two artificial walls that partition one continuous space into three main areas. The videos are projected onto emergency doors, a freestanding seventy-inch-high translucent screen, and half a mirror. In order to convey the physical presence of the performers, most of the projections are life-size (two are shown on iPhones) without close-ups and captured in real time without cuts, and the actors speak directly to visitors.

The works dramatize the idea of borders implemented in various situations. The longest theater piece, at thirty-seven minutes, Fiction Over Curtains, 2017-18, presents a forceful performance by seven actors that includes a man soliciting clothing from viewers and a woman confessing how her imagination has quenched her desire for the unreachable “other side.” Each situation contradicts the basic assumption, declared by one female character, that there's no traffic between both sides, abolishing boundaries between performer and viewer. The eizo theater thus invites visitors to realize their own agency, from which they are encouraged to derive political, moral, or emotional meaning. The works confirm that a theatrical situation not only can be mustered from the very basic elements of human body and speech, but also that it can transcend the conventional theater frame.