ROUND TABLE 2:Mr Hidenaga Otori

How to create the theatre as a gathering place

The Post-colonialism emerges as a powerful critique in the early 90s, which also led the big question to the globalization in early 2000s. In contemporary art, people considered more about non-European centric context and featured the artists from Asia, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

In this background, Mr Hidenaga Otori became the first Japanese (and the last so far), who worked as an artistic director in the European international theatre festival. He started his international career at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, U.S. then worked for the Laocoon festival at the Kampnagel, Hamburg, Germany in early 2000s. These experiences gave him an idea how to form theatre as a gathering place, which means where to think and practice what is going on in the world through art with the collaboration of both insiders (natives) and outsiders (foreigners) of the community.

In 1998, the Walker Art Center gathered six members of the artists, curators and critics from six countries; South Africa, India, Brazil, Turkey, China and Japan. Otori was one of them. The Walker Art Center planned a new project called the Global Exhibition that aims to make an idea of a new exhibition to consider the contemporary global issues from the different views of these six countries. The members had stayed for a meeting in Minneapolis for one week twice a year. They made a presentation and had an intense discussion about what is going on in each country and sometimes visited the actual place. Indeed they visited South Africa just after the end of the Apartheid and studied what art reflected then.

The Kampnagel is the theatre complex based on the premises of a former crane factory in Hamburg, where also is the town of a playwright and first dramaturg, Lessing. So the city inherently has put theatre as a centre of their culture.

Around 2000, a Croatian female director, Ms Gordana Vnuk was selected as an artistic director of Kampnagel and she also appointed Otori as an artistic director of the summer festival of the Kampnagel. The two were expected to structure the theatre and festival from a non-European centric point of view to grasp contemporary global issues in theatre.

For programming the festival, Otori had travelled around the various countries mainly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to see their theatre. His job was to analyse and report to the other colleagues in the Kampnagel about what’s situation the theatre depicted and what the theatre questioned in each area. The festival program has been decided not only by the artistic director but the collaborative work of 14-15 members of the artistic management team. It includes the dramaturges in charge of the international theatre, European theatre, German theatre, and Hamburg regional theatre, also their assistants and the persons in charge of the public relations and fundraising and the chief of technicians. The artistic management team takes all responsibility for the idea and implementation of how the program reflects the world, and how the audience members interpret it.

Thus the Walker Art Center and the Kampnagel practised what the gathering place is; the people from inside and outside of the community gather in its cultural centre and activate new artistic practices to think of the issue of their community from the different point of views.

Otori thought that the situation of Japanese theatre is very different, but it possible to create a gathering place in Tokyo, where is one of the cosmopolitan cities like Hamburg. Indeed he has been introducing the way of artistic management team in the Kampnagel in Japan over the last decade. He said that it is not easy to adapt the Kamplnagel’s way in Japan, but the things have been changed little by little.

Collaboration with the Outsiders

In the discussion, the question arose why the Walker Art Center and the Kampnagel worked with the non-European professionals in that period positively.

Otori analysed that it has started as a kind of resistance towards the censorship in art in U.S. in the early 90s. The American avant-garde had focused issues of the social minorities and developed their artistic practices since the end of the 80s. Indeed the Whitney Biennial exhibition took a highlight by addressing themes of AIDS, sexuality, and race in the early 90s. For the tendency, the American government stopped the subsidies to these avant-garde artists, because they recognised the works “too political”. Against this, there were movements in art from the end of the 90s to early 2000 to study the relationship the different cultures, in particular, non-European cultures, to know how the cultures were expanded and interacted globally.

Although in this global era, unfortunately, the Japanese theatre didn’t actively recruit foreigners, compared with these two cases.

Otori told that the Japanese theatre recently outsources the programming to the foreign producers or curator, but he thinks it not collaborative in the meaning of how they work closely to share the responsibility to work for their community.

The archive documents of the summer festival of the Kampnagle directed by Otori in 2002 mentioned that his intention of the festival focused on particularly the relationship of the performance and critic.

Otori explained that in Europe there is no artistic direction without a critical point of view, in that mean, his theme addressing critic was not regarded very radical or political in Hamburg.

Mr Naoya Fujita asked Mr Otori what he concerned when he worked with the foreign artist who takes a risk to be punished/killed in their countries because of their performance with a critical point of view to their society.

Otori answered that he never thought it only the right way to die for their political belief. There are some ways of surviving. Once in Iran, the Islamic fundamentalism took a political power, then many artists stopped making theatre or sought political exile. But after ten years when the moderates took back the power, the artists began making theatre again. So it meant that to fight with the authority is not only the way, sometimes to endure is also one of the ways. Otori said that the both ways are very tough, but it is rather meaningful than to make an art without any political quests.

Photo: Ryohei Tomita

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