Fig. 4 Animus 02, Sayako Kishimoto, 1984

But where are all the women in these art collectives?!

The early viewing of Expo ’70 Destruction Joint-Struggle Group’s (EDG) work—and specifically the scene where they tie the female performer up in ropes and simulate sex with her—makes me really worry that, in the performance collectives from this period I am idolising, the role of women is simply to be an object. I have a really productive conversation with Takashi Ishizaki, Associate Curator at Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, who introduces me to Ereki Shokku, a major part in Zero Jigen but whose work outside the collective has limited documentation. He also introduces me to Sayako Kishimoto, one of the members of Neo-Dada Organisers, an avant-garde collective working from painting to Akushon (Action). The Museum are starting their collection of her work, but he also suggests I meet with Atsuhiko Suematsu from Shumoku Gallery, the custodian of her early paintings.

Although I am really excited by Kishimoto-san’s painting practice (many of her later works were epic, and psychedelic paintings with fluorescent bugs, dinosaur bones, and giant numbers floating in space), her work as a performer—running for mayor of her hometown in Nagoya prefecture—is seriously incredible. Not only was she running as mayor, but she was running as mayor as the Messenger from Hell! The video Animus 02, 1984 (fig.4) which Ishizaki-san shares with me (and live-translates in a booming Kabuki voice) is a video document of the kinds of action she would carry out in public streets. Unfortunately, her life was cut short by breast cancer, and she passed away in 1988.

In Animus 02, Kishimoto-san lays bare the patriarchal context she was working in. The triangle she uses as the pyramid at once becomes the capitalist pyramid, and as the love triangle which subjugates the female role through the social competition of two males. I look up a diagram in my notebook that I had previously sketched out to try to understand Eve Sedgwick’s Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985) [1]. I try and explain my interest in homosociality, my concern about the recurrence of men in performance collectives, and the minority of women, to Yuya Tsukahara of the performance group contact Gonzo, a day earlier. We talk about the choreographic method contact Gonzo have been developing over their ten year history. On the surface, it seems like a violent form of contact improvisation, involving slapping, pushing, kicking and punching. At its core however is reaction, and how the body is instinctually choreographed and pre-programmed to react in certain ways to force. I’ve seen a previous iteration of their work on my last research trip here, so I’m familiar with how it feels to be an audience member. The appearance of violence is the main reason the performance group is not mixed-gendered. There have been two occasions when women have been involved in the group, but in both, the choreographic philosophy was discarded in favour of urgent discussions around domestic violence and violence against women.

Tsukahara-san and I also talk about the various forms of dance he has studied that have been influential to the contact Gonzo method. This includes Butoh, which he makes reference to the tradition of Kinpun shows—a flip side to Hijikata-san’s dark and twisted Butoh– where dancers would cover their semi-nude bodies in gold powder and perform entertaining cabarets. He says that the majority of these performances were originally carried out by the women in Butoh dance troupes with the money being raised to support equipment costs for the more serious performances that would be devised by the men. Although Kinpun shows are still common practice for Butoh dance troupes, we are starting to see the gender inequality levelling out with both men and women donning the gold powder in support of the troupe.

[1] Gender Asymmetry and Erotic Triangles inBetween Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 1985, pp. 21-27

Fig.4 follows an encounter in Art Area B1 with Yuya Tsukahara from contact Gonzo (Osaka, 22nd October 2018), in Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art with Takashi Ishizaki (Nagoya, 24th October 2018), in Kyoto Experiment with Katsura Kunieda (Kyoto, October 25th 2018) in Shumoku Café with Atsuhiko Suematsu (Nagoya, 27th October 2018), and in Art Center Ongoing with Kenji Ide, Yukie Hirokawa, Ayaka Ura, Akira Takaishi and Nozumo Ogawa (Tokyo, 31st October 2018)


Gordon Douglas works in close conversation with organisations and groups towards deconstructing the acts of collaboration and performance. He is a performance artist and curator currently based in Glasgow.