Dumb Type Symposium. The Birth of New Media Dramaturgy took as its departure the topic of the influential and globally significant work of Dumb Type, whose performances from the mid-1980s until the early 2000s offer an important historical record of the progression of new media performance. The symposium was held at the large hall at the Institute for Theatre Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, 2–4 April 2013, and was attended by over 100 people.
The symposium began with a rare showing of Dumb Type’s performance S/N, a work made in 1994 and the last work to feature the co-founder of the group Teiji Furuhashi. S/N was a pioneering work in many ways. It was one of the first works to consider the human and political dimensions of HIV/AIDS. Furuhashi himself died of an AIDS-related illness in 1995. S/N also used striking visual images, projection screens and immersive sound compositions to explore sexuality and identity politics. Ultimately S/N is seen as a statement about utopian politics and the desire for new human community.
The following two days of research papers and artist talks discussed the legacy of Dumb Type and the contemporary situation of new media performance in Japan and elsewhere.
Following a welcome by Professor Erika Fischer-Lichte, the first panel introduced some key aspects of the symposium themes: Peter Eckersall’s paper introduced the concept of new media dramaturgy as a way of theorising Dumb Type’s work. Sara Jansen considered the choreographic practices of Dumb Type, arguing for the critical frame of gesture in the appreciation of their dance-performance. Edward Scheer related the experience of viewing Dumb Type to experience design theory, where a sense of immersion and sensory transformation is evident.
Toru Koyamada’s artist talk was a way of showing how Dumb Type was also a community of artists and activists. As one of the company founders, Koyamada discussed the history of artist salons and community cafés that were established by Dumb Type. He then introduced some of his work as a community artist that uses the idea of a café as a nodal for creating community. His final sequence of images of a project that he undertook with people who suffered in the conflation of Fukushima was a powerful statement of the utopian possibilities of art. Using small fire pots as a way of bringing people together he showed a work spanning the destroyed landscape of Fukushima where people had reentered the space and were able to briefly reconnect with their former homes and grieve the passing of loved ones.
The second theory panel featured three papers on intermedia aspects of Dumb Type’s oeuvre. Fran Lloyd focused on the interweaving of the personal and the political experience that were realised through the art-activist activities and collaborative performances of BuBu de la Madeleine and Cho Yukio in the late 1990s. Stephen Barber considered Furuhashi’s immersive installation work Lovers and made comparisons to Tatsumi Hijikata’s performance in the immersive film The Birth that was shown at the Osaka Expo 70 and also to Eadweard Muybridge’s glass-disc projections within his specially constructed, proto-cinematic Zoopraxographical Hall, at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. An essay version of this paper entitled »LOVERS: Corporeal Projections and Ocular Demands« is available on the IRC’s online platform Textures. Shintarô Fujii discussed S/N in relation to recent work by the artist Tadasu Takamine who was a former Dumb Type member. His paper explored how both works deal with the politics of the visible and the invisible regarding the theme of catastrophe.
The performer Takao Kawaguchi was a former member of Dumb Type and he gave a short solo performance on the small stage of the auditorium. His work was slow and transfixing. He also made a short video installation with Thomas Martius called The Foyer that can be seen at Textures.
The final session of the long day featured Shinya Yamaki who spoke about his LIFE with ART Project. This remarkable project is an oral history work that gathers memories from the 1980s and community responses to AIDS. This was followed by the theatre critic Hidenaga Otori whose paper titled ‘The Historical Position of Dumb Type: The Birth and the End of the Politics of Japanese Theatre’ gave a completely new perspective on the history of the group locating the discourses of their performance inside a discussion of contemporary Japanese theatre. This is a revision of Dumb Type’s contributions to Japanese arts pointing to their influence inside theatre and not only in relation to the fields of visual arts and dance.
The following day began with a panel exploring the politics of the body in Dumb Type’s work. Keiko Takeda explored the issue of subjection in S/N by giving us a new reading of this work through the critical lens of Michel Foucault. Wim Lunsing gave an informative account of being with Dumb Type during the period of S/N and explaining many of the moments of rehearsal and development. Katherine Mezur explored the contributions of women members of Dumb Type. As dance performers they were also integrated into an increasingly mediatized stage and she explored how this gave a sense of precarity to their work.
Takao Kawaguchi returned to talk about his on-going project My Perfect Life, a work that explores dance, community and film as an interactive work. My Perfect Life shows moments of the public and private – a life of experience and of invention.
The last panel of papers featured Marlon Barrios Solano who discussed his social remix project. His paper showed how meta-media dynamics created a new sense of hybrid and interactive knowledge. This was followed by Andreas Regelsberger who returned the conversation to Dumb Type with a focus on the transforming aspects of Dumb Type’s work for audiences.
The final session was a roundtable discussion featuring Helena Grehan, Maaike Bleeker, Barbara Geilhorn, Miya Yoshida, and Shinya Takahashi. Among the wide discussion were points about Dumb Type and visuality, the question of affect, the need to think about their work in relation to dramaturgy, arts practice and amateurism and questions about how new media dramaturgy was exemplified in Dumb Type’s work.
The symposium made new connections between Dumb Type and the critical and theoretical stance of new media dramaturgy. It offered new perspectives on Dumb Type’s work – locating their work in the historical context of the 1980s and 1990s and also showing their legacy in contemporary performance and visual arts. The focus on hybridity that was a factor in Dumb Type’s pioneering work was also extensively discussed in relation to politics, Japan, globalization, interweaving cultures, sexuality and gender. The papers and presentations will now be gathered for publication as a book of essays and documents about Dumb Type’s work.
We also give thanks to the many people who helped: Erika Fischer-Lichte and Gabriele Brandstetter, Christel Weiler, Stefan Donath, Holger Hartung, Torsten Jost, Antje Paul, Katrin Wächter, Annegret Bergmann, Barbara Geilhorn and Till Weingärtner, Claudia Daseking, Armin Hempel, Thomas Martius, Milos Kosic, Helene Röhnsch, Thomas Schaupp and Paul Marwitz.
The Symposium was initiated by Peter Eckersall, Associate Professor of Theatre Studies, University of Melbourne and current Fellow of the International Research Center "Interweaving Performance Cultures" and organised in cooperation with Performance Studies international (PSi), the International Research Centre "Interweaving Performance Cultures", Freie Universität Berlin, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, and the Australian Research Council.