Walker Art Center
Revolt, Dysfunction, Dementia: Toward the Body of “Empire”

During the 1990s, Japan experienced a dramatic change in its cultural environment, accompanied by an extremely rapid popularization of the Internet. As it became more and more clear that we were heading toward the end of the Cold War structure, evidenced by the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the collapses of East European socialist regimes--before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989--the term globalization emerged as a keyword for understanding this new world. The world was entering an age of globalization and we started to live in that age. It was not so easy, however, to define this age. Nevertheless, as the world started to grow out of the framework of modern nation-states, we began to feel that there was some interconnectedness between our everyday life and what was happening outside of Japan. The postmodernization of society brought about by the Internet started to bend in a different direction, and in this more recent cultural, political, and economic development, Japanese culture began to experience a major transformation. People have been, anxiously and with some hope, trying to grasp the nature of this transformation.

In this new cultural context, domestic cultural producers--not even counting those who often go abroad and make those sites their primary places of activity--started to gaze beyond their own national borders. It is not difficult to find artists whose creativity is apparently informed by strategies for or against the process of globalization. And even when their work does not appear to show any direct concern for globalization per se, one could say it still represents a gesture of refusal toward it. In either case, the chances that Japanese cultural producers travel abroad to show their work in art exhibitions or in theaters have increased exponentially in recent years, and this phenomenon is very new in Japan's cultural history.

In terms of contemporary visual art practices, we have more opportunities to see work from abroad than ever before, especially through such grand-scale exhibitions as the First Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial (2000) and the First Yokohama Triennale (2001). However, for theater, the situation is rather ambiguous. In contrast to the flourishing of gigantic international visual art exhibitions, the Tokyo International Festival for Performing Arts, which was first held in 1994 after the so-called bubble economy had come to an end, was forced to minimize its scale after 1997, when the economic recession started to impact many aspects of Japan's cultural sphere. In fact, the festival is no longer even "international," though it continues to define itself as such. Despite claims that we can see theater from any part of the world, it is not so easy to invite contemporary theater works from abroad these days, and it has become increasingly difficult to keep up-to-date on the latest trends in theater outside of Japan. There are two reasons for this. One is purely economical, the other more cultural. People in Japan, especially theater audiences, lost interest in keeping up with trends outside of Japan as the number of domestic theater productions increased dramatically throughout the decade. And most of these productions were created according to these insular concerns, as if responding to that lack of interest on the part of their audiences in what was happening abroad.

Somewhat paradoxically, however, during the 1990s, the number of Japanese theater companies touring to foreign countries dramatically increased, aided by active funding organizations. As a result, there is the impression