Eiko and Koma at Walker Art Center / Star Tribune photos by Jeff Wheeler
BY CAROLINE PALMER
Throughout November, Gallery Two of the Walker Art Center is a second home to the New York-based choreographic team of Eiko & Koma. The artists, who are usually seen on stage, have transformed the museum space into a mysterious sanctuary they fully inhabit in a “living installation” called “Naked.”
Sand-colored tarps covered with pressed sand, salt and feathers hang from the ceiling to define the area. Holes burned into the tarps offer one means of viewing the activity inside but it is best to actually enter and take a seat on one of the low benches. Eiko and Koma, who have been performing together for nearly 30 years lie nude in the middle of the room, their white powdered bodies streaked with dirt. Piles of feathers provide a resting place and the only sound is water dripping from the ceiling (and the ambient noise drifting in from the surrounding galleries). The lighting subtly shifts, marking the transition from day to night and back again. The air is thick, suggesting a closed environment, perhaps a cave.
Eiko and Koma are known for their butoh and modern dance influenced movement and Naked is a particularly clear example of the duo’s deliberate relationship to time. They move very slowly but not at all luxuriously. Their well-traveled bodies may be experiencing the initial stages of birth or, more likely, the final throes of death – either way, the performers are undergoing a physical and emotional transformation that requires the full attention of every muscle. This is demanding work that would prove punishing to even the most prepared body and it is impressive that Eiko and Koma are ready to perform this work for six hours a day, six days a week (with just one 15-minute break a day) until the end of the month.
Sitting on our benches just a few feet away from Eiko and Koma we can see the smallest impulses emanate from back or abdominal muscles. Mostly their eyes are closed but when they do open it’s as if they are not seeing anything, as if they are only looking into a void. For the most part, the pair moves independently but occasionally they reach out with a hand or a foot to touch the other. This contact is important because otherwise they would seem completely abandoned and the overall sense of loneliness could become unbearable.
Watching “Naked” feels like a privilege. Although the installation is created within a public space it harbors very intimate moments that have nothing to do with the baring of skin but instead the sharing of vulnerability. These artists are giving us the opportunity to witness the odd beauty that can be located within the slow process of decay – their own decay. Over the course of the next few weeks the work will evolve to uncover more layers of meaning, perhaps becoming even more disconcerting as a meditation on mortality.
Naked continues through November 30 at the Walker Art Center, Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Free with gallery admission. 612-375-7600 or www.walkerart.org.
A 1996 video by the dancers: