Japanese Artist Explores the Mockbee's Mysteries

In a story about Tetsuya Umeda — the Japanese artist whose installations involve sound, visuals and performance — Blouin Artinfo mentioned that he has a “penchant for ‘performing’ at venues with a slightly derelict atmosphere, such as old warehous

click to enlarge Japanese performance artist Tetsuya Umeda
Japanese performance artist Tetsuya Umeda

In a story about Tetsuya Umeda — the Japanese artist whose installations involve sound, visuals and performance — Blouin Artinfo mentioned that he has a “penchant for ‘performing’ at venues with a slightly derelict atmosphere, such as old warehouses, abandoned schools or disused road tunnels…” So when Drew Klein, performance curator at the Contemporary Arts Center, booked Umeda for one of his unpredictable pieces, It Was Moving at First, here on April 15 and 16, he started looking for a suitable place. And he has found the perfect site: the Mockbee on Central Parkway in Brighton. 

And it’s the perfect time for the Mockbee, which is trying to make a new, revived emergence on the city’s arts scene.

A series of formidable and intriguingly connected buildings that was originally home to a 19th-century brewer, the Mockbee’s past owners and recent tenants have long tried to make it a viable alternative-arts site. It basically ceased operation in 2011, though one arts-related business, Able Projects, has continued to be there. 

The latest operator, Jon Stevens, has been hosting a few events since February. For now, the only spaces open for activities are the two old vaulted lager tunnels in the sub-basement, which have a street-level entrance on Central Parkway. (The building’s main entrance was on McMicken Avenue.) And Stevens acknowledges that future work will need to be done before the whole building can open again and different parts can become interconnected.

“They’re trying to use the arts for a way to get people interested in the building again,” Klein says.

Klein says Umeda — whose Japan Foundation-sponsored short tour of the U.S. also includes performances in Austin, Texas, Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles — signed off on the Mockbee when he saw the photos.

“He thrives on the unforeseen eccentricities of each environment,” Klein says. “And he finds ways to draw out different energies and manipulate the focus of the audiences to speak to the place.”

He says Umeda “walks into a new performance space almost like a first date. They meet, exchange pleasantries and see where things go. Ultimately the performance results from the relationships, so maybe the audience has to tell what kind of relationship it is based on how the performance goes.”

In an email, Umeda explained his approach. “It is the chemical reaction of the objects and the space, and naturally the audience will be part of it,” he says. “I always get ideas from the situation, the environment and the reaction of the space, and also try to reflect them to bring a change to the content of the performance.” 

The more uncertainties, the more excitement to the performance, Umeda says. 

“I do not mind how the audience will see my performance,” he adds. “Honestly, I (do) not know what I will do for the performance.”

The artist has a thriving career in Japan and has shown in Singapore, Moscow, Israel, Hungary and elsewhere. His work can be varied — he has collaborated with musicians with his own designed “implements” (according to his bio), and often uses such ordinary materials as ropes, cans and plastic bottles in his work.

Klein has never seen Umeda’s work live, but talked to someone who saw him at a performance festival in the Netherlands. 

“(This person) found it subtle and brilliant, and really difficult to wrap your head around how someone can go into a space and make something like that within just a matter of days,” Klein says. “Each installation is specific to the environment it is performed in.”

Klein said the CAC started discussing projects to get Umeda here and made an application to the Japan Foundation that was accepted. (Klein did subsequently meet Umeda in Portland to discuss the event.)

Umeda says this tour will be his first U.S. performances since a 2007 appearance in San Francisco. “I do not have many experiences … since my last performance in the U.S., but I hope the audience in Cincinnati (will) respond to my performance differently,” he says.

The shows are at 8 p.m. on April 15 and 16. Ticket prices are $12-$15, available at contemporaryartscenter.org.

CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]

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