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Eiko and Komo

'The Caravan Project'

by Tom Ferraro

January 19, 2013 -- Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

I caught a glimpse of the singular vision of life and death from the one and only Eiko and Komo. This Japanese dance pair gets better every year. The Caravan Project was performed in the lobby of MoMA in New York City from January 18 through Jan 21. The performance was six hours long and took place in and around a set which was a trailer with four open sides designed to look like an animal’s lair. It had old limbs, branches, leaves and debris hanging from the ceiling. When you arrive you think that Eiko and Komo are laying still but upon careful inspection you begin to see that they are both moving slowly on an aimless and painful journey going nowhere. They are both dressed in torn white clothes draped and covered with cobwebs and chalky white makeup. The slow motion allows one to understand the meaning of every movement one sees. There is Eiko, the husband, resting on an old tree limb and ever so slowly trying to leave this womb. Yet one feels that as he touches down upon the floor he is stepping into his grave. He slowly moves about the lair looking confused and depressed and childlike and every now and then his pain seems to recede as he bumps into his wife who is equally confused and dazed. Almost like two depressed babies that never wanted birth in the first place but now that they are here they have to keep moving until the lights go out.

This was a great piece of existential dance immersed with feelings of hopelessness, dread and helplessness. This piece seemed to partially derive from the unresolved trauma of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the dazed stares of the survivors covered in dust. It was also reminiscent of the look of the 9/11 survivors who were covered in white dust and who slowly walked away for the Twin Towers in a daze and that 1,000 mile stare. The Caravan Project was being performed only 50 blocks north of that tragedy.
The incredible delight of having the show in the lobby of MoMA is that you can travel upstairs to take a look at a Jasper Johns flag painting, the Rauschenberg American Eagle or some of Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans. I was being accompanied by Hou Ying of the newly formed Hou Ying Dance Group from Beijing, China and I remarked that when Warhol tried to sell his soup can paintings in Los Angeles many years ago he couldn’t give them away. She said “Real art takes time to be appreciated and to be understood.” This may be true and it reminded me of the line in Edward Albee’s Conversations with Chairman Mao “when art starts to hurt look around you” Warhol’s art can be painful and so is Eiko and Komo’s.

As we left the museum there was the crowd still watching the dance piece . I know my back was aching from all the standing and I am sure theirs was too. I had been standing for two hours but they still had 4 hours to go. Slow existential action at its best. Life with all its pain, suffering, confusion and exhaustion interrupted every now and then with some human contact and then back to suffering. This was as dark as William Forsythe at his best. If the purpose of art is to leave indelible images in the mind they did that. There was Eiko slowly hesitantly leaning out of his lair giving birth to himself and stepping into his grave all at the same time. Didn’t Beckett once write that life was taking one long step into the grave? Sounds right. Time flies and I guess and it takes the slow motion magic of Eiko and Komo to remind us of this. Time flies, slow down, take a breath, look around. This ain’t going to last forever. A wonderful and a winning performance.

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