VISUAL ARTS | Eiko & Koma lie nakedly naked in “Naked” at the Walker Art Center


Walking out of the movie Naked Lunch in an episode of The Simpsons, Nelson Muntz complains, “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.” Conversely, I can’t think of anything wrong with the title of Eiko & Koma‘s installation Nakedon display from November 2-30 at the Walker Art Center—except perhaps in terms of SEO.

In Naked, described as a “dance/visual art installation,” Eiko (Otake) and (Takashi) Koma (Otake) lie naked in a pool of dim light within a custom-built environment. It’s lazy to let someone else do the describing, but the Walker’s assistant curator Bartholomew Ryan deserves some kind of exhibit-catalog Pulitzer for his elegant summary, which I could not better.

“Entering Naked,” writes Ryan on a card available in the gallery, “means crossing from gallery terrazzo to seared canvas flooring. Inside are long low benches facing an earth-covered terain that recedes into darkness. Not far from the benches is a nest or bedding composed of damp straw, feathers, and folded canvas. It is here that Eiko & Koma lie, naked and on view. A light breeze blows through the space, water drips into pools amid the soil. At intervals, bird calls can be heard as well as the amplified sounds of the artists’ bodies in motion.”

If that leaves you with the impression that Naked is kind of a high-art Rainforest Cafe, that’s not entirely off the mark—but you should definitely restrain yourself from tossing coins into the pools. Though the performers and their slow, halting movements are at the piece’s center, Naked isn’t really about their nakedness. If they were walking down Hennepin naked, that would be another story, but in this guarded space, their dirty birthday suits serve to force a sense of reverie that constitutes the effect of the piece.

As you sit there listening to the water drip and breathing the humidity, your thoughts carry you where they will. It’s a very transparent piece, bare of esoteric references or postmodern appropriation: like the cave on Dagobah, what you find there is what you bring with you. To Ryan, “the scene is one of aftermath from some unspecified but lingering trauma.” To me, perhaps because of my grandmother’s death last week, Naked spoke of mortality and the arc of life, the 60-ish artists lying in fetal positions in their warm nest. Wherever your own reflections lead, you’re likely to find the piece unexpectedly entrancing and quietly moving.