“I, who caught a cold by looking at a stone and became anxious on seeing a landscape with no one in it, grew up thinking myself maimed. One day a man stood next to my father; a tree cracked and my father fell. Clutching a stone, I resisted; my father was being beaten up. That was the start of my perception of an unhappy world. There must, however, by more fruitful mistakes in bleeding nature.
I grew up always sniffing out criminals, that is to say, such company as theirs. Everyone bears the burden of being a human child, yearning for companions to run away home with. My anger over that alone was ample.
A gang of pals contains the dimension of smell. The word “world” was nothing but raving to me, who had spent my youth like a cur. Bleeding nature always overflows the allotments of history and sociology, and my gaze never wavered from it. The friends I made in Tokyo were, so to speak, inhabitants of the transparent, mechanical “world,” without any ties to bleeding nature and even without smell. I could not help seeing them as corpses.
Isn’t there some work that strews absolute putrefraction and graphic terror throughout the world? I have always thought I would like to put my hands to the axle of anger that sustains that kind of work.
Today I am no longer a dog. Albeit clumsily, extremely clumsily, I am definitely recovering. What, however, does my recovery signify? What on Earth does recovery mean to me? Haven’t I already recovered? Don’t I continue to recover in order to be sick?”
– Tatsumi Hijikata ¹
To Prison is comprised of a new body of work by the New York-based artist Sanya Kantarovsky alongside a series of archival prints by the photographer Yasuo Kuroda, “Tatsumi Hijikata: The Last Butoh,” which document scenes from Hijikata’s legendary Butoh performances held in postwar metropolitan Tokyo.
Butoh is a dance form held largely in darkness, characterized by abrupt, convulsive movements. The performances, seen as akin to an anti-dance, are broadly understood as an expression of social trauma. Hijikata, who settled in Tokyo from the rural Akita prefecture in 1952, began developing the practice of Butoh at the end of that decade while bearing witness to the rapid re-invention of Japan—a society being crafted in the economic image of the Western capitalist superpowers who vanquished and occupied the nation following the second World War.
The grouping of paintings made by Kantarovsky emerges from a sustained engagement with both Hijikata’s oeuvre and the photographic records captured by Kuroda. Human limbs and dense locks of hair gesticulate across several paintings in a state of suspended animation—with the latter often rendered in broad, gestural, calligraphic brushstrokes. The surfaces of the paintings alternate between sensuous, clay-like textures and unsightly, glistening residues of evaporated solvent— rupturing the boundaries between humility and vanity.
The figures in Kantarovsky’s paintings rhyme with those on Hijikata’s stages—both embodying forms animated by exacerbated emotional states. This visual dialogue culminates in a form of communion between two dissonant yet deeply connected approaches to the body as both material and subject. Here, the limits of human form, charged with a perverse erotic desire, are distinctly grounded in both the spiritual and abject capacities of the body.
¹ Tatsumi Hijikata, “To Prison.” TDR (1988–), Spring 2000, Vol. 44, No. 1, pp. 43-48. Originally published as “Keimusho e,” in Mita Bunjaku, January 1961.