Malevich to MAVO, and walking

Black March Berlin 2014

Kazimir Malevich at Tate, preparing a walk and thinking about darkness and horizons

“The contemporary is he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not its light but rather its darkness.” Giorgio Agamben, ‘What is the Contemporary’

The Malevich retrospective just ended at Tate Modern. I managed to get it just in time, just off the plane from Tokyo, passing through London on my way to the next Black Walk and the first one of 2014, Black March Berlin.

I was thrown back to where it began. A circularity of sorts that took me to Japan, where I indirectly felt the influence of Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ on Tomoyoshi Murayama’s MAVO movement in 1920s Japan. Murayama had been inspired by his experience of the avant-garde movement whilst in Berlin for a one-year stay and brought the movement home to Japan as MAVO. The MAVO movement’s own performance art and dance happenings preceded Butoh in the Japanese modern dance scene and probably create a further line of spiraling circularity in terms of influences: Malevich, Murayama, Hijikata…etc.

And, for me, a ‘foreigner/gaijin’

[‘Foreigner in every country.

No country.

No flag.

Just a body.



I saw in ‘Black Square’ some of the ‘intensities’ I was experiencing during my first visit in Japan: and so it firmly inscribed itself into my own practice. It was only a month after my MAVO/Malevich encounter that I walked my first Black Walk in Tokyo: holding my black flag aloft, a direct re-interpretation, not quite appropriation of ‘Black Square’. And especially Malevich’s words: “It is from zero, in zero that the true movement of being begins.”

My walking was always linked to dance, at least to the approach to the body generally going under the term ‘Butoh (dance)’. Tatsumi Hijikata’s primary practice according to most of his main students and collaborators was walking: ‘walking as a measure’, walking with each step being a year of your life, walking as a ‘corpse desperately trying to stand upright’. Within Hijikata’s conception of Butoh, it seems that walking was a return to the zero of movement, and dance.

The Malevich exhibition made me realise to what extent the development of ‘Ankoku Butoh’/ ‘the Dance of Darkness’ and Malevich’s trajectory leading up to ‘Black Square’ were linked, through a common but not quite coinciding thread of war, revolution, deposition of Emperors (and Tsars), industrialisation. And how these upheavals of society, identity, history, required darkness/blackness.

For Malevich, his involvement in the project Victory Over the Sun in 1913, an opera that “depicts the Strongmen of the Future who capture the sun, ushering in a new era in which time itself has been abolished” (Tate exhibition programme), seems to be the start of the journey that leads to Black Square: a journey into abstraction, a break with representation, a search for the illogical, in the darkness, in a place where the sun cannot reveal recognizable forms, where daily time of light and dark has been abolished, a return to zero. “it brings to an end centuries of representation and marks a zero hour in modern art.” (ibid.)

Hijikata’s first performance, which marks his journey into (Ankoku) Butoh is ‘Kinjiki’, a performance that took place on a darkened stage (a victory over the ‘theatrical sun’), to the unintelligible/abstract sounds of groans and whispers. It caused outrage as no one was quite sure of what might be taking place in the darkness. It was only in the 1960s that Hijikata named his dance ‘Ankoku Butoh’ his avant-garde experiment within the volatile post-war climate of 1960s Japan: a wounded country seeking a new identity for itself. In 1968, he showed his controversial solo ‘Revolution of the Body: Hijikata and the Japanese people’, his own personal outcome from eight years of experimentation in which he presents a stiff hardened body, (and golden phallus) as a revolt against the impotence of defeat, and the process of ‘westernisation/colonization’ (“I was completely impotent. All my seeds were cut off.” Inner Material/Material)

Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ is the visual art parallel to Hijikata’s ‘Revolution of the Body’. Malevich even goes on to say about ‘Suprematism’, the artistic ideology announced by Black Square: “Everything has disappeared: a mass of material is left from which a new form will be built.” (ibid.) which seems to echo Hijikata’s concept of ‘Body Material’ within a world where everything has disappeared, Hijikata wanted to build new bodies from this material: “I am a body shop; my profession is the business of human rehabilitation, which goes today by the name of dancer.”

Black Walk



I walk through cities as a human ‘measure’: to measure the space through the body and to consciously introduce the body into the space. I carry in my hand the banner of ‘nothingness’… a ‘black quadrilateral’ (?). People interpret what I do as anything from the obvious, “anarchist”, ‘another performance artist’ (London), Liberty leading the people (Paris), to a tour guide, or a terrorist. I find both Malevich and Hijikata are hovering over these actions, in their thoughts and revolt and darkness.

I created a ‘self-imposed’ revolt, by travelling into the unknown, to find myself as a meaningless identity, simply a ‘foreigner’, defined by not belonging, by disappearing. And walking becomes a way to exist again. Ko Murobushi, a confirmed ‘wanderer’ asked me to think about this statement: ‘dance is about how to exist’. Black Walk defines a moving space of existence: a becoming.

In Black Square: “ The apparent simplicity of the composition is matched by its enigmatic complexity as an artistic gesture: embodying affirmation and negation, absence and presence in equal measure…” (ibid.)

In Black Walk the body becomes presence and absence, a constant rhythm that exists outside of that of daily time, one that induces reflection and introversion but takes place within public space, where the powerful but indeterminate meanings in the symbols and the aesthetics of the piece invite questions, fears and provocation.

Each walk develops along a different ‘line of flight’: in Tokyo, just getting lost; in London following paths of immigration between the old Tate & Lyle factory at the Thames Barrier, through the Tate Modern, onto the ‘sweeter suburbs’ of Barnes and Richmond. In Paris seeking the sacred in the city and finding it in the intimacy of walking in silence with strangers.

In Berlin, I want to think of the body as a measure within the city: an axis between ‘heaven and earth’, the (walking) body as verticality, the vertical body within the city, the verticality of the wall, now fallen to give way to new verticalities of the landscape.

How can perception of the body (and its discourses of ‘belonging’ and identity) and the environment be altered through a ‘becoming horizontal’ and can it lead to new, revolutionary ways of understanding contemporary human presence within the territory of the changing city.

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