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Kurogo Me version 1.x: A Sequel,
the Participatory Performance Art

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[Description]

“Kurogo Me version 1.x: A Sequel” is a participatory performance art piece that reframes the Japanese theatre, video game avatar, and live participatory theatre.

 

[Definition: Kurogo]

Kurugo is a figure on the stage dressed completely in black from head to

toe in Japanese traditional theatre genres of Bunraku puppetry and

Kabuki. In the Japanese theatrical code, Kurogo signifies “invisible”/

“ non-existent”, functioning to support the on-stage characters. In

Bunraku, Kurogo animates puppets and handles props/set. In Kabuki,

Kurogo mainly serves as a stage hand. In both of these 400-year-old

Bunraku and Kabuki, women have not been permitted to perform professionally on the stage. Recently, Kurogo has been appropriated in the Western puppetry context as Kuroko in what they call “Bunraku-style” puppet

works.

[Story behind the performance]
The Kurogo character was first developed in Ashizawa’s duo performance “I Cried Because I Had No Shoes Until…” commissioned by Physical Fest and performed in Liverpool, the U.K. in 2019. Ashizawa played the “invisible” Kurogo woman animating multiple shoes on the stage throughout the show. What is perceived “invisible” figure was spotlighted, and “invisibility” became the core. Her co-performer, a British white male actor Matthew Austin interacted with 100+ pairs of shoes without bodies manipulated by the invisible Kurogo woman, against the backdrop of Liverpool, the former colonial slave trade epicenter. The juxtaposition of two characters evoked the identity and gender politics.

 

Ashizawa later developed the character further and created the participatory performance art piece “Kurogo Me version 1.0”, which was premiered in Art + Tech: An Asian American Experience in Brooklyn in 2023. 

This live participatory performance consists of the moving image introduction in the video game avatar format, followed by the live audience participation “let’s transform her into the “invisible” Kurogo” segment, and the continuous shoes animation outside the theatre throughout the duration of the reception party in the reception hall.

[Kurogo garment that makes Ashizawa invisible]​
The Kurogo costume in the performance was originally owned/worn by the professional Japanese male Kurogo puppeteer/ actor who is a close friend of Ashizawa’s. She saved his worn-out costume before it was disposed, and mended and adjusted it with the fabric pieces cut from the century-old Japanese funeral kimono owned by Ashizawa’s grandmother. As the number of “Kurogo Me” performance progresses (version 1.1 to 1.2 to 1.3, etc), the costume naturally deteriorates; each time, the added fabric pieces from her grandmother’s kimono will spread throughout the costume—maintaining the original with respect while reshaping/ recoding it to more fitted to her body.

[In the context of her past works]

Ashizawa was trained under the traditional Noh theatre master of the

Kanze-Ha School. For the past 20 years, through her 20+ original theatrical pieces, she has been reinterpreting the Japanese traditional theatrical codes and placing them in different contexts to give new meanings.

[Re-framing the traditional code]

By reframing her cultural heritage and spotlighting what is perceived “invisible” figure as a main character, Ashizawa examines the meaning

of “invisible” in the context of identity and gender politics as well as

internet and AI cultures.

[Reinterpretation of the traditional technique]

The walking style Ashizawa utilizes in the performance is based on the mosquito walk in the traditional Japanese Nohgaku. It requires strength and stamina of an athlete to sustain the consistent steps.

created and performed by:
Izumi Ashizawa
 
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photo and video recording by Sarah Allam and Theda Clesceri

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