February 17, 2023 | FEATURES | By Alexis Cornachio

“If we stop talking our minds stop thinking,” said Eiko Otake at a Q&A session following the screening of her film, No Rule is our Rule.

The consequence to self-censorship is “we lose our voice,” said Otake.

This was a sentiment translated in the film Otake produced with her collaborator and friend Wen Hui, an independent Chinese choreographer and artist.

In Jan. 2020, Otake went to live with Wen Hui in Beijing where they filmed together before being separated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the weeks leading up to the pandemic, the two women shot candid film of them conversing at Wen Hui’s kitchen table, performing, just the two of them, in the living room and sharing meals with family and friends.

The film included these shots as well as other footage chronicling both of their journeys as performance artists and as women coming from two differing family histories and experiences.

In the past week, Otake continued her exhibit I Invited Myself, vol. II hosted by the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. In our last interview, Otake emphasized the importance of collaboration with other artists and her students in her own evolution as an artist. This week’s events revealed even more about her value in collaborative work and in bringing what she has to say to wider audiences.

“I’m an opportunist,” said Otake. “When an opportunity is given: How do I use it?”

When describing her relation to Wen Hui, Otake said that there is a pure eagerness to “communicate with each other’s minds,” a communication style stemming from the language barrier that exists between them. It is clear in the film how the two women portray their communications through movement and performance with each other in cinematic sequences: whether they are sitting under a rock, hand feeding one another, not speaking, or moving as a unit but also as separate entities.

The film is an exploration of the female body, the friendship between the two independent women artists, and the body as a vessel for memory. 

“What to do with Eiko?” Curators sat in on a panel and talked about how Otake “lands” within art communities. Josh Lubin-Levy, Director of the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University, discussed Otake’s “needling” of art institutions to find a place for herself.

“More artists feel they don’t fit into the categories than artists who feel they do,” said Lubin-Levy. “This feeling of being an exception is actually sort of the rule.”

Lubin-Levy seeks artists like Otake who bring a certain “oddness” that he feels is important.

According to Otake the screening of this film that tells stories of her and Wen Hui’s bodies and friendship is important to be brought into spaces such as Colorado College. It is where her students and “women from very different countries [and experiences]” can see different perspectives, Otake said. She passionately believes in her relationship to Japan and sharing the world publicly for her students to see.

In the final event of the exhibition, Otake performed with her former student Don Christian Jones, a New York based interdisciplinary artist, singer/songwriter, and producer.

The duet performed together in Cornerstone Arts Center to a crowd overflowing the seating area. They experimented with different sounds, visuals, and installation performances, giving their audience a full-sensorial experience.

One of the pieces used in the performance was a wooden box that Jones made 11 years ago in Otake’s class at Wesleyan University. In his final project for the class, he interviewed his mom about her preeminent death.  As this was the first time having had this conversation with her, he “realiz[ed] this was probably [his] biggest fear.” Jones continued, “I had that confrontation, transcribed it, and then performed that in class – with the box around my neck… I keep it with me, it lives by my bedside, my parents know I’m gonna put them in it one day.”

In the debut of her first solo performance here at CC, Otake found ways to make solo-work into a truly collaborative and collective experience.

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