Sea waves and mirrored spaces
________BY TOM MUSTROPH
Naoko Tanaka’s performance “Still Lives” at the Sophiensæle opens the perceptive apparatus of her audience like a conjurer – making them receptive to the tiniest changes
Naoko Tanaka has cast a spell over the Sophiensæle with her new work “Still Lives”. The artist, born in Tokyo and now living in Berlin, is a strange figure in the overlapping worlds of visual art and contemporary dance, shunning any of the usual marketable or promising strategies. Rather, she trusts much more in what art perhaps actually is, stripped of all the discursive babble: a game, a glimpse of situations and atmospheres in the state between waking and dreaming.
A beam of light glides over the shining silver surface
She uses minimal methods to achieve this. In her celebrated “Shadow Trilogy”, comprising the works “Die Scheinwerferin” (2011), “Absolute Helligkeit” (2012) and “Unverinnerlicht” (2015), light was the centre stage. In the production “Still Lives”, that ran for four days at the Sophiensæle, she went even further, integrating objects as narrative elements. Light also played a part in “Still Lives”, in the form of a lone spotlight that sometimes roamed across the stage, capturing objects and then also pulling audience members’ body parts out of the darkness, turning these into elements of her visual game as well. The peeling walls of the Sophiensæle too, were raised to the level of an abstract art work.
It starts with a huge film of plastic. When this is filled with air, it becomes a body, like the domed shell of a turtle. A beam of light glides over the shining silver surface. Tanaka then enters throwing small objects that later turn out to be rubber balls onto the air-filled film. Where they land, the film sinks to the floor. Their touch sends waves through the film – a sea seems to flood into the Sophiensæle. At times these waves take on Tsunami-like dimensions. Tanaka, striding around and onto the film like a conjurer, opens the audience’s perceptive apparatus with these simple actions, making them receptive to moods, associations and the tiniest changes.
Later (the film has been taken away long ago and has made space for a reflective oval on the floor), Tanaka has objects such as a shelf, a writing desk and a chair brought onto the stage by her fellow performer Yoshie Shibahara. Using a chord strung diagonally across the space, other, smaller objects like books are transported into the area of activity. The actions that Tanaka undertakes now have lost their secretive nature as they come too close to concrete play acting. She sits at the writing table and flicks through a book. Naturally we can get lost in the associations of bureaucratic systems that are produced, but the observational power of Franz Kafka is not evident.
Thankfully, Tanaka and Shibahara leave this all-too-concrete situation. The larger objects are prepared with diagonal cuts and taken apart. Irregular bodies, now no longer level, they are pushed onto the reflective oval. Here a seat is recognisable and there a writing surface, but everything is tilted in a surreal way, combining with its own reflection on the floor to form completely new configurations, never seen before.
In this way, Tanaka and Shibahara fill the reflective oval. They create a landscape of the imagination, a new uninhabited or never inhabited empire into which they grant access. Great art that needs no justification, just receptive senses.