Künstlerhaus Wien features Japanese performance artist Aiko Kazuko Kurosaki’s “UEBER_LEBEN”.
Aiko Kazuko Kurosaki takes over the exhibition space at Künstlerhaus Wien with red thread, to talk about life and the connection between people, places and events. Art Radar also spoke to the artist to find out more about her practice.
When Aiko Kazuko Kurosaki was five years old, she left Tokyo with her family following their father who had already started a career as a Violinist in Vienna. Denying her father’s wishes to becoming a musician herself, Aiko enrolled in dance classes in Vienna and Chicago and embarked on a career as dancer and visual artist. She now refers to her connection with dance thus:
For me, authentic dance develops in the moment when the body, the mind, and the soul are able to express themselves interchangeably.
Today, she has settled in Vienna and has since created numerous performances, living installations, performative interventions in public spaces as well as dance workshops. Aiko focuses on environmental and socio-critical topics, like women’s rights and climate change, issues which are the driving force for her social activism as well. She told Art Radar:
In my opinion, the gap between politics and the greater society as well as the artists and their audiences has grown too far and I try to bridge this gap. In the performative installations in public space, I meet people on an equal footing and let them be a part of it. One single person can already make a change.
Kurosaki has held numerious solo exhibitions and projects around the world, including amongst others“Workshop with Aiko”, Frauenmuseum Hittisau (2017, Hittisau/AUT); “Kokoron” (premiere 1993, Festival for Contemporary Art, Bolzano/IT); the show window / display project “No Comment” (2009, LABfactory, Vienna); “BLANK” for “Untergang Art” (a co-production with Tanzquartier Vienna and NOMAD.theatre); “Nettó” (2013, tanz ist Festival for Contemporary Dance in Dornbirn/AT). In addition she created several solo and group projects with Cie. Ariadone. Aiko for the Festival Transart Labin (HR), Haapsalu, Laanemetsa (EE), Imagetanz 1954 (Vienna), Q202 (Vienna), Soho in Ottakring (Vienna), tanz ist Festival for Contemporary Dance in Dornbirn/AT).
In June 2018, Aiko’s versatile practices have culminated at Künstlerhaus Wien, where she opened the exhibition “UEBER_LEBEN”. The title is a poignant word play as it literally means “to survive” but also mediates that the show is talking “ABOUT LIFE”. Throughout the crude exhibition space, Aiko has started to net a red thread from one end to the other, continually knotting the threads together, until, after three weeks of running time, the entire space is already entangled in a red spider web.
A Red Threat
The red thread means more to the artist than merely presenting a network of entanglements. Her works are always highly charged and thus the red thread can be read in a myriad ways. According to Greek mythology, for instance, a red thread holds a life together and simultaneously threatens its existence. In political terms, a “red line” can constitute a threat that, once crossed, has devastating consequences, or in the Japanese tradition the “thread of fate” connects people’s lives. What is more, the colour red evokes strong associations as well: on the one hand, red can wrap us in a cosy cocoon filled with love, warmth and passion, while on the other, red alerts us or makes us aggressive. Aiko likes to play with these antonymic emotions and encourages the visitors to web their own interpretations.
Collaboration is Key
Kurosaki understands the exhibition at Künstlerhaus as well as her other works as a collaborative process. She initiates the process and provides the tools but what happens to the sculpture does not lie in her hands anymore. Since the opening, she has let the visitors spin the web and write messages on the floor. Consequently, the work is turning into a social sculpture that involves active participation. For Aiko, only through the individual’s awareness and his or her sense of collectivity, socio-political change can ultimately happen. She shared with Art Radar:
I’m not interested in creating a work of art that is created by one individual (me) but by many. I want to evoke a sense of togetherness and communality with which to raise the awareness that we all have to become active NOW in order for social change to happen, or to stop climate change respectively.
The metaphorical meaning of crossing a “red line” is therefore strongly emphasised by the artist, who further states:
The red line is already crossed.
The Ephemerality of Dance
Kurosaki is trained in modern jazz dance and ballet but is also strongly affiliated with Butoh, a traditional Japanese dance form. In the course of a residency in Chicago, she started to study Butoh, which has influenced her understanding of movements, bodily expressions and her own roots. Shortly after, she also became a member of the Butoh Company Cie. Ariadone and worked as the assistant of Carlotta Ikeda in various locations between 1991 and 1999. Today, these experiences integrate in her performances, which always involve components of the Butoh dance style.
Butoh arose in 1959 through collaborations between its two key founders Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo, and is a form of Japanese dance theatre that encompasses a diverse range of activities, techniques and movements. Back in the 1960s, Butoh artists shocked their audiences with the use of animal blood, nudity, sex, grotesque imagery and taboo topics. The dance is traditionally performed in white body makeup with hyper-controlled and ecstatic motions. When Butoh emerged from the deepest trauma in Japanese history, its creators were haunted by the dark, hidden sides of human life and in this sense it reminds of Viennese Actionism.
Both movements had influenced Kurosaki, even though it is not the taboos and shock values that interest her but the control over the body and the free interpretations of the movements, as she explains to Art Radar:
Butoh is a style in which the age, for instance, is not important, its strength does not lie in the dancer’s strict following of acrobatics but in the presence of the body, the awareness and knowledge of it. Butoh encompasses a broad aesthetic vocabulary which I use to create my performances in public space.
Abstract movements, fluidity, intuition
In many of her pieces, Kurosaki uses dance and the traditional movements of Butoh to form her sculptures, which often include thread as a material. In the end, the sculpture itself remains merely a witness of her performances. Like in the exhibition at Künstlerhaus, the process lies at the core of her artistic practice. The inner image is forming her movements subsequently transforming into a sculpture. Kurosaki wants her performances, her dance pieces and her sculptures to become ephemeral works that remain as memory. The viewer is able to see her dance moves and net-sculptures at the time of their creation but what one cannot see is more important, she tells Art Radar:
I want to express something through dance, the same way I do through visual art. I try to open a gateway to emotions with which viewers can perceive my works intuitively.
Her works gain power through the abstract and the ephemeral. What the viewers take home inside themselves is the actual work – a strategy with which she also tries to empower the individual to become socially active. She explains to Art Radar:
I’m aware that there is another Japanese artist (Chiharu Shiota) who works with thread and who’s also quite socio-critical. Her installations are amazing but we are quite different. I come from dance and hence my access to art differs in the sense that for me the process is more important than the actual product.
Social Activist Force
Kurosaki’s work as a dancer and visual artist also corresponds with her engagement in social activist groups. In 2018, Aiko received the prize of the Austrian Frauenring for her feminist activism and her organization One Billion Rising Austria. Throughout her career, Aiko has organised numerous community dance projects with which she solely provides the tools for creation – what is finally in the picture lies in the hands of the visitor, as she reveals:
I do not see myself as THE artist who is the sole creator. My works are rather community projects. The WE, the interaction between the people, the “networking” lies at the core of all of my works. Through these projects, I hope that the individual starts to feel a part of the greater masses and ultimately a part of society. That’s how democracy works.
“UEBER_LEBEN. RED lines – connected” by Aiko Kazuko Kurosaki is on view from 22 June to 14 July at Künstlerhaus Wien, Karlsplatz 5, 1010 Wien.
- Feminist art and research on alternative art education in post-1968 Japan: Shimada Yoshiko – artist profile – June 2018 – Art Radar attended two presentations at Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive by the artist and researcher Shimada Yoshiko to sketch her profile
- Yoshitomo Nara’s ceramics exhibition inaugurates Pace Gallery’s new space at H Queen’s, Hong Kong – in conversation – March 2018 – coinciding with Art Basel Hong Kong 2018, Yoshitomo Nara’s exhibition includes new ceramic sculptures, paintings and works
- The power of “Healing Chromosomes”: Japanese artist Hiromi Tango – in conversation – February 2018 – Japanese artist Hiromi Tango’s latest exhibition comments on technology in relation to our today’s society
- “Provisional Studies”: Japanese artist Koki Tanaka at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum – July 2017 – Japanese artist Koki Tanaka’s first solo exhibition in Austria uses ‘experimental setups’ to stress the importance of collective experience
- Photo Gallery: Egyptian artist Wael Shawky and his Crusades at Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria – October 2016 – Kunsthaus Bregenz features the Egyptian artist’s latest works on the history of the Crusades from an Arab perspective
Subscribe to Art Radar for more news about Japanese performance artists