Dwelling on the Documentary Body in Takuya Murakawa’s “Independent Living”

Paper given at the International Federation for Theatre Research Conference (IFTR) in Belgrade, July 12, 2018, as part of the Choreography and Corporeality Working Group.

The premise behind Takuya Murakawa’s “Independent Living” 2017, is deceptively simple. An audience member is invited to play the role of a patient. S/he is instructed to lie in silence on an adjustable bed at the centre of a brightly lit stage. Three performers from Japan, China and South Korea take turns interacting with the patient. They carry out physical and verbal routines taken verbatim from their everyday lives as carers. Audio recordings of television news reports are intercut in the scenes and are the only link with the world beyond the patient’s imagined room/house.

Murakawa spent time in all three countries during the play’s research phase. He looked for “landscapes” that might speak to the “contested history, politics and territorial disputes,” that mark the countries’ current connections. While the play’s caregiver-receiver relationship seems far removed from the geo-political power games of nation states, the process of constructing a body with disability on stage using a borderless gestural vocabulary, confronts the audience with the problem of “dwelling.”

Whose home does the patient inhabit? Whose body does s/he represent? Critical border studies scholars, Ruben Gielis and Henk Van Houtum, characterize Peter Sloterdijk’s notion of “dwelling” in his three-volume work titled “Spheres,” as both “an immune system and a vehicle,” which is to say, “an inner world that enables people to live with the total immensity of the globe” and “a place where people are involved in complex multidimensional relationships with others.” In this paper, I read the patient’s body as an example of a transcultural “dwelling” a body on which migratory exchange is inscribed a documentary body capable of resisting the reductive inside-outside dichotomies forged at the macro level of power.

Cover photo: scene from Independent Living by Takuya Murakawa, from a performance at Kyoto Experiment October 27-29 2017, Kyoto Prefectural Citizens’ Hall ALTI.

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