Swallowing and Spitting History (Contemporary Japanese Perspectives on Experimental Performance)

I took the title “Swallowing and Spitting History” from Eiko Otake who was speaking about history and performance—over a bowl of cherries. The fruit nourishes, delights, and disgusts the body; the body performs history, and discards the pit. This paper discusses the practices of Eiko Otake, Brooke O’Harra, and Miya Masaoka to consider the notion of history both through and as performance. Otake, O’Harra and Masaoka have all worked in the realm of what many consider “experimental practice” while variously connecting with historical Japanese performing arts and historical events. In Euro-American histories of music and art, the term “experimental” often conjures a deliberate absence of history—an art-science emerging from the blank slate of a lab. But this is hardly the case for the three artists. Instead, I argue that their practices make acutely clear how experimental performance (as an embodied act, as a way of knowing, and as a way of meeting the world) takes on social and political relevance as it articulates the contingent relationships between self and other, body and environment, presence and context. By focusing on the tensions between tradition and experimentalism in American and Asian American expressions, the paper aims to contribute a transcultural voice to both the study of experimental practices, and to the study of traditional Japanese performing arts.


Miki Kaneda’s research focuses on transcultural crossings and the entanglements of race, gender, power, and colonial residues in experimental, avant-garde and popular music in the 20th and 21st centuries. She writes on the transnational flows of experimental music, art and the everyday, and media ecologies. Her current book project, titled “Transpacific Experimentalisms: The Unexpected Collectives of Intermedia Art,” is a historical and ethnographic study of intermedia (a kind of multimedia artistic practice). The project uses intermedia as a vehicle to examine transpacific artistic exchanges and relations of power through the work of 1960s Japanese and American musicians. Miki has held fellowship positions at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University, the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University and the Museum of Modern Art, where she was a founding co-editor of the web platform, post.at.moma.org. Miki is currently Assistant Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at Boston University.