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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Eiko & Koma, Iconic Artists

Tree (1988)
We at the BAMblog recently tried a simple experiment: we described the action in Eiko & Koma’s seminal Land (presented at 1991’s Next Wave Festival). Why did we do this, you ask? Because we wanted to see if the largely speech-less and famously slow-moving work of this pair of performance artists could translate to the language of description. Here’s a sample of what we came up with:
Koma pushes taxidermied bison across stage with his head.

Eiko crawls on belly in front of the bison.

Eiko tries to get up, falls.

Eiko tries to get up again, falls.

Koma continues pushing bison, now with shoulders.

Etc.

What we found in our experiment is that our language fails the work of Eiko & Koma. Though we’re wary of giving in to clichĂ©, Eiko & Koma are, quite simply, indescribable. And this is an important part of their ongoing project: the presence and action of their bodies convey to us a richly textured world of emotion, one which transcends the limits of language. What we are presented with is the powerful physical presence of the bodies of the performers themselves.

When we walk away from an Eiko & Koma performance and re-enter the linguistic world of meaning-making, we are left only with similes and metaphors. We can tell our friends that Eiko & Koma display themselves the way a flag hangs in inclement weather. Or we can say that their bodies are vulnerable public symbols, absorbing the influence of social and physical environments. But whatever we say about them, the physical essence of Eiko & Koma will continue to elude and haunt us—and this is part of their greatness.

Elegy (1986)

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