The real dirt on “Naked” in a gallery

Eiko and Koma perform at the Walker art Center (Images courtesy WAC)

The Walker Art Center staff lifted the veil slightly today to talk about the challenges of putting “Naked,” the latest performance by movement artists Eiko and Koma, into one of the WAC’s galleries. The duo have a three decade relationship with the Walker, but most of their pieces have been performed in a theatrical setting.

“Naked” is quite different. The piece is set in a corner of the “Event Horizon” show, cordoned off by canvas screens flecked with feathers and scorchmarks. Beginning tomorrow Eiko and Koma will perform for six hours a day on what they call ‘the island.’ It’s a mound of feathers and what appears to be foliage set on a dirt floor.

As the title suggests Eiko and Koma will perform without clothes, lying on the island, and moving constantly, but slowly. The lighting also keeps changing to match the movements, and the only sound will be of water dripping from the ceiling. Eiko says the idea is to create something beautiful, but also to depict a sense of being feeble.

Audience members can enter through gaps in the canvas, or even peer through the holes. There are seats inside and people can come and go as they wish.

Putting on the show has been a challenge for the Walker – and not just because there are naked people rolling around on the floor.

“We are learning a lot as we go,” says Performing Arts Curator Phillip Bither. “I mean the culture and practice of visual art curators installing art into space is extremely different than performing art producers mounting a live production.”

In other words what’s normal in a theater doesn’t always wash in a gallery filled with very valuable artworks.

“Even something as simple as how do you have enough power and have enough connection points to have theater lighting in a gallery space,” Bither continues. And that’s before you get to the dirt.

“We are used to on-stage dumping two tons of dirt in a relatively small square foot area,” Bither says.

Dirt can be a very effective stage prop. But it can also be an effective vehicle for rotting organic material (leaves for example, or worse smellier things,) and insects.

Bither says smells and creepy-crawlies are rarely a concern on stage.

“It (smell) goes away soon enough, and bugs aren’t really a concern, but in gallery spaces we had to literally fumigate the two tons of dirt before it went in, and that was new to Eiko and Koma as well.”

Bither says there have been other lessons too, like how to convey performance context though the signage on the walls. He thinks this kind of collaboration will have an impact outside the Walker as the lessons learned are passed around the museum and gallery world.

“That’s what is the great adventure,” he says.

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