Graphic Movements, 2019
workshop + installation
(metal grid structure [mobile art rack], light-weight cotton cloth, projector)

projection surface: 255x158 cm
as a part of the project After-Ripening & Corruption: Verbal Acts & Graphic Movements at the Bag Factory, Johannesburg, South Africa

Encountering the philosophy of ‘Ubuntu’, and associating it with the form of a Chinese character for human ‘人’, I started to evolve workshops of a basic movement of contemporary dance, where two people stand back-to-back supporting and leaning on each other in South Africa, inspired by the dichotomies and affinities based on humanity I experienced. It uses workshop as an art form, and its documentation becomes the backdrop for the succeeding workshops.

This is a 5 min clip documenting the workshops of Graphic Movements in South Africa, with a family in Cape Town, children at a primary school, and viewers at the Bag Factory, an art institution in Johannesburg.

Graphic Movements takes its origin from a casual workshop as a consequence of Second-Hand Dinner, a social experiment of discursive dinner in Vienna I conducted in April-June 2019. Contact Improvisation, a contemporary dance that explore one’s body in relationship to others by sharing weight and touch, came up as a topic for intensive discussion, therefore I organised a workshop to physically experience the basic movements of this dance form. One of them is to sit down and stand up in pair without using hands.

In Johannesburg, my social and cultural observation and its rumination grew deeply through the dialogue with my interlocutors, many of whom handle Zulu language. There appeared the word ‘Ubuntu’ – an African philosophy of humanity, meaning “a person is a person through other people”. This perspective of perceiving oneself in the relationship with others resonated physically and conceptually with a Chinese character for human ‘人’, a pictograph with two oblique strokes leaning on each other.

I conducted the workshops to write this character through a simple physical exercise with various forms of societies, such as family, school, and workplace in South Africa. It begins with a brief introduction of the Chinese characters as logogram. The participants need to work in pair, communicating back-to-back, trusting each other to find the balance and synergy in order to achieve the goal of sitting down and standing up together. As many successful cases, there were struggles and attempts without succeeding, including some moments of emotional interactions and expressions between the pair, and among those who were present at the workshops.

In the succeeding workshops after the first one, I used the excerpts of video capturing the process of previous workshops as the backdrop for the succeeding workshop, by projecting on a fabric placed on the metal grid structure. The participants used it as reference, trying to learn from the previous attempts, both successes and failures. Having the exercise between the projector and the projection surface, it also created alternative perspective to look at the exercise as shadow play without seeing the real person in practice.

Cultural appropriation has appeared repeatedly as issue in the dialogue with my interlocutors, and its sensitivity created a room for great discussion. Therefore I made it clear during the introduction that my mother tongue Japanese use Chinese characters, which we started to borrow since late fourth century, and the physical exercise itself derives from Contact Improvisation, which developed since early 1970s in New York inspired by Aikido, a Japanese modern martial arts.