How Naoko Tanaka illuminates the eye’s movement on stage
________By Arnd Wesemann
She was «Die Scheinwerferin» (2011) snd created «Absolute Helligkeit» (2012).
Whoever gets to witness one of her performances is left with the sense that the stage itself can dream, that the theatre possesses a subconscious, and that the bare boards that dancers fill with bodies and with meaning somehow lead a life of their own. Naoko Tanaka lets light dance. The Japanese artist is the spotlight causing the space to swirl with her beams and threads of light. The objects inside the space are like spinning tops balancing on pins. We see drawers floating on chocolate mousse. Tripods whose arabesques balance on a tornado of whirling paper. There is no stability, nothing. The waves of light cast shadows, create a jungle of lingering images some of which she first glimpsed when just a child. On sunny days, Naoko would study her shadow on the grass and then quickly look into the sun. It would seem like her own shadow was dancing before her. She gave the game a name: kage okuri, meaning: ‘sending shadows’.
Her new piece, premiering in Berlin’s Sophiensaele, is called ‘Unverinnerlicht’. The title, which translates as ‘un-internalized’, literally reads as
‘un-innered-light’. Swathes of canvas circle the room, the same kind of canvas that usually offers painters a stable, secure support for their works.
But Tanaka’s canvases dance. The perspectives change. Like light cast onto a nô mask to variously give the impression of joy or of mourning, she uses light like a brush—a brush that paints with perspective. Tanaka’s new piece was created on a residency in Japan. In Germany former sites of industry, like the Ruhr, are converted into cultural venues for such spectacles as the European Capital of Culture. In Japan, due to the country’s shifting demographics, the new converted art spaces are schools.
In one such school Tanaka found chairs for six-year-olds, changed their construction and outline. The shadows they cast translate the manipulated forms back into real chairs. Reality is manipulated, but the spectator’s stoic eye transforms what it sees back into familiar forms. Naoko Tanaka counteracts this process, moving her own body around the stage like a spotlight. As a bearer of light, she dances with such precision that she is able to illuminate not her own body, but our imaginations. As in other contexts too, we end up no longer seeing the dance as dance. We see through the dance, we see only what we think we see.
We are magicians. Naoko Tanaka shows us: we are the magicians of our own imaginations.