Tonight I had the great pleasure of seeing Ushio Shinohara perform at the new CUAC building near the corner of 2nd East and 2nd South. Recently re-located from Ephraim CUAC (pronounced Quack) is presenting Ushio’s work in conjunction with the screenings of Cutie and the Boxer at the Sundance Film Festival. While the exhibit of his work extends through March this was, to my knowledge, the only time he would be performing in Salt Lake City.
As the movie title suggests, Ushio boxes his paintings. Wearing gloves covered in foam pads, he dips them in paint and, always traveling from right to left, he aggressively maps out the terrain in flashes of color. While I’d seen online videos of his process, nothing could compare to the act of his live performance. Ushio, who turned 81 last week, is really boxing. He warms up, sharply shifting on his feet and forming attention at the canvas before him. His translator tells me he is in a group of artists after WWII who each respond to their relationships with American culture. As he begins it’s like a comic book come to life. The POWs and BAMs are enacted through color and texture. I can make the connection to Jackson Pollock and also pop artists but it seems so much different because it’s designed for me to watch; it stems from (and embodies) the traditions of competition and violence inherent in boxing. I don’t only see the action taking place, I hear and feel the paint being arranged before him. Furthermore, I’m interested the whole way through.
I realize that this blog is about “dance”. But something about this performance awakened the audience. Everyone was hollering and noticeably gritting their teeth and his old hands connected with the wall. So many people were gathered in such a such space and with such energy that I was reminded of the vibrancy I so frequently lack at concert engagements. So often we, in modern dance, talk about the “visceral” relationship our work has with audiences; Ushio’s hands creating a landscape before me was the closest I’ve come to comprehending “visceral” in a long time. His performance was clear and expressive and singular in idea as well as form. It was repeated over and over without the expectation of change. It reminded me about what performance can be and how many people could be watching it, with bated breath and free expectation.