TrAIN Research Student Forum Special Event: Prof Keiko Takeda (University of Tokyo): Dumb Type - Dialogues on Identity: “Coming Out” in the Performance Art Piece S/N (1994)



This lecture is curated by TrAIN PhD Student, Hiroki Yamamoto.

Dumb Type, founded in Kyoto in 1987, is one of the most internationally recognised Japanese performance art collectives. While Dumb Type is well known for their stylish and highly aesthetic work, this talk focuses instead on the politics of their artwork, particularly in the performance piece S/N. S/N is part of the larger S/N project, a multimedia presentation that includes a CD, a seminar show, and installations. Characterised by hybridity and decentralization, the performance’s elements are juxtaposed on stage, including texts, moving bodies, synthesized music, lighting, performers’ dialogue, and the projection of moving images.

S/N was created after the group’s leader Teiji Furuhashi (1960–1995) informed his close friends about his HIV-positive status in October 1992. The piece premiered in 1994 at the Adelaide Festival in Australia. Much attention has been paid to this performance piece and some critics have noted an element of political orientation or social criticism in S/N.

The objectives of this presentation are twofold. First, Prof Takeda will present how S/N problematized the issues of “coming out” and functions as a medium to present performers’ “coming out” through a performance piece in the context of the creative process. “Coming out” has historically been an effective strategy for social change because, by insisting on their presence in society, minorities were able to alter the meaning of the category to which they had been assigned. Nevertheless, this disclosure entails risk because it inevitably forces the attachment of identity to a fixed category. However, S/N problematizes the power of “subjection” and celebrates flexibility or undecidability of identity.

Second, Prof Takeda will demonstrate how the presentation of identities in S/N avoids the problems of constructivism. Constructivism was very fashionable in Japan in the 1990s as a framework that could supposedly overcome identity politics and that celebrated flexibility or undecidability of identity. However, it also entails “dis-communication” between “minorities” and “majorities,” performers and spectators in performance art.

Keiko Takeda, PhD is a Project Assistant Professor of Interfaculty in Information Studies at the University of Tokyo. She received her PhD from Ochanomizu University in 2013 and is now working on her first book about Teiji Furuhashi and the performance art piece S/N.

She runs “The Forum on Art of Society,” a platform on which people from various fields can discuss the current stream of Japanese art related to society, including socially engaged art and art projects.