Perpetual Self Discipline
Perpetual Self Discipline
1996 - 1997
Mixed media Installation: Size variable
Xerox transfer on Japanese paper, cast glass of dumbbells and video
I remember my elementary school in Japan as a place full of rules. As a matter of fact, Japan is a country filled with many rules and practices. Drilling practice was exercised every day at elementary schools, reinforcing the ideas of structure and unity over individualism. The militaristic approach to these kinds of physical practice was popular, and most of us followed these rules obediently and learned the meaning of endurance through our bodies.
I would never say it was brutal, because it wasn’t. There were far more things in the world that are harsh and brutal to children. In Japan, we lived relatively peacefully during my childhood in the 70s. We were not war refugees or political refugees. We didn’t need to leave the country or homes. We just needed to move in unison, like a school of fish. We learned to move forward and backward, form two lines to four lines in two steps. We run, jump, sit, and stand up with the sound of a whistle. We run in the winter. We swam in the summer. And we did jump rope and drill exercises every day.
Years later, your body still remembers this. It’s a foundation built in your body.
Read more about this work at the bottom.
I wanted to create a rule-oriented performance piece using jump rope based on this memory in my body. But in order to achieve what I wanted in this piece, I first needed to train my performers. I recruited three white male college students at Massachusetts College of Art and Design where I was pursuing a MFA in 1996. During the training period, I referred an American textbook titled, Goals and Strategies in Teaching Physical Education to teach my male performers the necessary physical discipline. My performers needed a lot of practice. They were not exactly fit physically at first, nor particularly good at jumping rope. It took three months for me to train them before they could do a 10 minutes performance piece. Jumping rope for 10 minutes is a physically demanding task after all. I performed a role of trainer/teacher with a whistle in my mouth. I wanted to evoke subversive quality in this role play, culturally, racially, and gender-wise. The performance piece was titled “Progressive Human Errors.”
The Xerox transferred figures in the installation were taken from this textbook. These figures represented the ideal self-disciplined students, though their bodies do not look anything like beautifully sculpted bodies. They look, more or less, unidentified genderless figures, but awkwardly resembling what we may have looked like, wearing bloomers for gym class in Japan.
Each print is ten feet in height, composed with multiple sheets glued together to make up one long scroll. They hang from a cable wire above, and silently sway with slight air movement by the viewers. On the floor, cast glass of dumbbells are placed in front of these figures.
In a back room there is a video of people doing jumping rope, which was filmed during the training period with my performers. The video image focuses mostly on their feet. There is a sound of repetitive rhythm of feet tapping and rope hitting on the floor, and their counting numbers.