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<nettime> Two or Three things I know about Kimura-San
shinya watanabe on Wed, 8 Dec 2004 13:41:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Two or Three things I know about Kimura-San

Hi, nettimers, I am Shinya Watanabe, a Japanese curator works in New York. 
How are you?

I wrote and article on "Kimura-san," which is a video art work about sex 
care, and it was censored at Yokohama Museum. The whole detail is in the 
essay, so please read it if you are curious.

Two or Three things I know about Kimura-San by Shinya Watanabe
http://spikyart.org/kimurasane.htm (with images)

>From a performance at SCAI The Bathhouse
August 2001 (photo by Ohtaka Kanako)


Tadasu Takamine's video, "Kimura-San (Mr. Kimura)," a short film featuring 
only the handicapped Mr. Kimura and the artist himself, was removed from the 
program before the exhibition "Non-sect Radical" even opened at the 
Yokohama Museum of Art in September 2004. The reason for its exclusion was 
content-related: the artist's five-year-long support of Kimura-San included 
the satisfaction of Mr. Kimura's sexual needs, graphically depicted in the 

Because I am one of the few people who have seen the video, I feel the need 
to talk about the artwork.

Meeting with the Video Work "Kimura-San"

I saw the video in May 2004, when I was assisting art historian RoseLee 
Goldberg on a lecture tour through Japan. She asked me to introduce her to 
some important young performance artists in Japan, one of whom was Tadasu 
Takamine. That is why I met Takamine in Kyoto, and with his narration 
watched some of his video and performance pieces.

When the meeting was almost over and we had seen many of his works, from his 
earlier pieces to the more recent, I asked him to please show us 
"Kimura-San" as a point of reference. He replied, "I do not like to show 
this artwork often, because I fear misunderstanding." Nevertheless, he 
eventually played the video.

Kimura-san (Mr. Kimura) is a victim of the Morinaga Arsenic Milk Poisoning 
Incident (In 1955, baby formula fabricated by Morinaga Milk Industry was 
poisoned with arsenic, which resulted in the deaths of 138 nurslings. More 
than 10,000 children are said to have walked away with physical handicaps.) 
His consciousness and thoughts are perfectly clear, but he cannot use his 
body such as arms, legs and mouth appropriately.

Takamine somehow felt a similarity with Kimura-san during five years when 
the artist lived in Kyoto and volunteered taking care of Mr. Kimura. This 
care involved also the satisfaction of sexual needs, as it is shown in the 
video work.

The camera is focused on Mr. Kimura lying in his bed. Identical imagess are 
projected onto two screens with sudden interruption of close-ups of 
artist's eyes. The artist's hands unbutton Mr. Kimura's clothes and touch 
his upper body. His hand moves slowly to his chest, and massages carefully 
with Mr. Kimura's nipples. Then, the hands moves down and grips his penis.

The video has Takamine's English narration: "I just don't feel comfortable 
with the English term 'disabled'", "neither Kimura-san nor myself are gay", 
"when I asked him whether I can show my work in public, he answered 'yes, go 
ahead'", etc. Takamine continues to rub Mr. Kimura's penis. Then, the 
ejaculation, filmed in detail, shown in slow-motion.

The scene of ejaculation is followed by loud laughter, which I have never 
heard it before. This is the laughter of the satisfied Mr. Kimura. This is 
"Mr. Kimura", the video work which was kicked out of the program at Yokohama 
Museum of Art.

The Cultural Gap concerning Sexual Welfare between Japan and the United 

As far as I know, the problem of sex care is not argued in the U.S., so of 
course some of her disgust comes from a cultural difference. The United 
Sates does not have national health insurance, while Japan has national 
insurance whereby everyone can get treatment and social services.

I have a friend who volunteers at the suicide hotline in New York City. Once 
I asked her with curiosity, "What is the dominant pretext for suicide 
calls?" She answered, "'I am sick and want to go to the hospital, but I 
have no insurance and cannot go. I have no money. I want to be free from 
pain, so therefore I want to die.' That's the most popular one." She then 
said, "When I get this phone call, I always say, eCommit a misdemeanor. 
Then, you can get some treatment in jail.'"

Another friend of mine has chronic muscular dystrophy, and because of it, 
she can only act 6 hours per day. She does not have insurance either, and 
cannot get enough treatment. She provides a web hosting service for the 
hospital, and in exchange, receives the treatment she needs. It is clear 
that the social welfare service in America is insufficient, and the 
standards of social welfare between Japan and the U.S. are different.

The performance "Kimura-San" was shown at IKON Gallery in England as a 
part of Birmingham Festival, but the reaction of the viewer is valid as some 
people called it "freak show."

Of course, the censorship of "Kimura-San" at Yokohama Museum of Art in 
September 2004 brings to light important issues regarding freedom of 
expression. Unfortunately, censorship causes too many people to show their 
allergy to authority, and because of this "Kimura-San" did not receive 
adequate critical attention.

In October 1999, the Brooklyn Museum of Art had a similar issue, when Chris 
Ofili's work "Virgin Mary" was almost censored by Rudolph Giuliani. 
There, too, was an outcry against this abuse of authority, but not enough 
discussion of the work itself. In fact, there are not so many people who 
argue about the issue that Ofili's "Virgin Mary" was painted over by a 
72-year-old conservative catholic man, Dennis Heiner. That is to say, the 
curiosity surrounding the work has less to do with the quality or condition 
of the artwork itself, but the authority which was used by Giuliani. That is 
why the fatal issue for the artwork such as this cannot be their interest.

Phillip Jones Griffiths {AT} from Magnum
iReference:"Underexposed" by Colin Jacksonj

To compensate, I attempt to criticize "Kimura-San" independent of the 
issue of censorship brought to light by the Yokohama Museum of Art.

The Visual Impact/Significance of the Artwork

As an artwork, I do not highly evaluate "Kimura-San." Nevertheless, there 
are some interesting scenes, such as the scene of huge noise similar to a 
French filmmaker Alain Resnais' "Muriel," and then, male low voice 
follows "Damn Morinagac." This frightening scene makes the viewers 
understand that Mr. Kimura is a victim of Morinaga Arsenic Milk Poisoning 
Incident. Before this, the viewer could not tell Mr. Kimura's background, 
so this scene makes the viewers understand the background of "Kimura-San" 

However, this is maybe the only the scene which I liked. The other scenes, 
for example, of the artist scratching Mr. Kimura's penis, are not very 

The Role of Sex in Takamine's Other Works

Importantly, many of Mr. Takamine's works deal with issues of sexuality. 
Among his earlier works, there is one video of a young woman in a 
mini-skirt, who is bound to the roof of an express train. As the wind power 
increases with the speed of the train, the woman's skirt turns up. I like 
this work and think it is funny, but what about his other works?

Takamine was also censored for his performance "K.I.T (Being in Touch is 
Keeping-all-in-Touch)." This performance was performed once at the ICC 
museum (Inter Communication Center) in Tokyo, on September 17, 1999, but the 
second performance was cancelled when the ICC judged the projection of 
images from internet porn sites onto the museum walls to be unfavorable. In 
this performance, a small camera was fixed to the artist's knee and 
captured images of his own vibrating sexual organ through his pants while 
dancing to rock music. These images were then projected on the walls of the 
exhibition space. When I saw this work, I questioned its artistic value.

Tadasu Takamine has created many artworks which deal with issues of 
sexuality. Also important to note is his involvement with the legendary 
performance art group in Japan Dumbtype from 1993 to 1997.

In the fall of 1992, Teiji Furuhashi, the core member of Dumbtype, announced 
that he was HIV positive. Following this, Dumbtype began actively addressing 
social issues such as AIDS and homosexuality. This was especially apparent 
in the 1994 piece "S/N," in which they mixed transformational performances 
with a keen criticism of society, on the basis of Furuhashi's infection 
with HIV.

In October 1995, during a performance of "S/N" in Brazil, Teiji Furuhashi 
passed away at the age of 35. In spite of his death, other members kept 
working, and created the work "OR" in 1997. This work depicts a body 
somewhere between life and death on a hospital bed, and all Dumbtype members 
experience the body itself.

Then, Tadasu Takamine quit Dumbtype. It was such as the band Joy Division 
wrote the memorial song "Blue Monday," and transformed into the new band 
New Order in order to overcome the death of lead singer Ian Curtis, so too 
was Takamine so disturbed by the death of Furuhashi, that in all his 
subsequent works it seems he is trying to find the critical point between 
life and death. We can see this in "Kimura-San." However, as an art piece, 
"Kimura-San" is not quite well done.

The Different Perception of Male and Female Body

I once watched a documentary film from Holland about sex care which showed a 
female social worker massaging her female patient's breasts.

There is a performance of Carolee Schneeman's to pull the manifest of 
women's freedom from her sexual organ, and this performance was taken place 
in front of female only audiences. Also in her later video work, there is a 
close-up of the female sexual organ which releases the long manifesto. I was 
surprised when I saw it, but my discomfort did not compare to how I felt 
when watching Kimura-San. After this performance, Scheneeman became a star 
artist. Her artwork was socially accepted, aided impart by the thriving 
feminism movement in the 70's.

Schneeman's original performance targeted all female audience, but 
ironically, it was accepted by men as well. This is because men are very 
weak on the visual image of women. In Jean Luc-Goddard's film "Histoire de 
Cinema," shots of female breasts are all over the film, showing that film 
history itself was created by the male gaze. I can repeat the same point in 
the case of Hannah Wilke who performed a strip show targeted male audience. 
Thereby she took advantage of the male gaze which has dominated history.

If Mr. Kimura were female person and the video showed a female social worker 
massaging her breasts and sexual organ, I think the result might be 
different. The problem of "Kimura-San"is that the visual image of 
ejaculation and Mr. Kimura's gasping voice are too vivid.

The reason why Michelangelo's {AT} "Pieta" became a masterpiece is that the 
Virgin Mary who enfolds Jesus Christ is young. The contemporary critiques of 
the time complained that the Virgin was too young, but if Michelangelo had 
followed historical fact and created old woman, it would not have become 
such a beautiful masterpiece. Michelangelo prioritized visual image over 
historical fact.

Sam Taylor-Wood, Pieta 2001
35mm Film/DVD Duration: 1 minute 57 seconds
Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube, London

In the video work "Pieta" by Sam Taylor-Wood, the artist disguises herself 
as the Virgin Mary and enfolds the actor Robert Downy Jr. Perhaps because he 
is too heavy, the artist's hand shakes. There is a contrast between the 
historical artwork "Pieta," the death of Jesus Christ.

If Takamine is dealing with the issue of life and death in "Kimura-San," 
so it is the same with Sam Taylor-Wood. Taylor-Wood has twice battled 
cancer, once losing the drive to create artwork. However, soon after she was 
discharged from hospital she created this "Pieta" and "Self Portrait in a 
Single Breasted Suit with Hare." The motif of the hare was often used by 
Joseph Beuys, and the artist, in a suit, grabs the animal and snaps her self 
portrait. In this work, one can find the soul of the artist.

Self Portrait in a Single Breasted Suit with Hare, 2001.
Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube, London

Taylor-Wood's latest video work "David" features David Beckam's sleeping 
face, showing that she is enough smart to understand and utilize the rules 
of visual art. On the other hand, Tadasu Takamine lacks this understanding, 
and is unable to manipulate these rules to his advantage.

Can the Subaltern Speak?

For healthy people, to talk about the handicapped is very difficult because 
of their position. The position of handicapped people is that of the 
Subaltern who have limited opportunity to talk about themselves and their 
problems. What ordinary people can do is simply talk to the handicapped very 

I have something that I want to talk (gently) to Mr. Kimura (Kimura-San).

Mr. Kimura is a member of an all-handicapped theatrical company Theater 
Taihen (mutation), but I question whether it is possible for him to act with 
such a heavy handicap, and how many people desire to see his 
quasi-performance. The reason why I feel this way is because when I saw 
"Kimura-San," I sensed Mr. Kimura's simple desire for exposure. By 
exhibiting his own body, did Mr. Kimura feel a certain kind of pleasure? If 
so, the sensational person is not the artist Mr. Takamine, but Mr. Kimura 

Regarding this desire for exposure, there is a tendency for handicapped 
people on Japanese TV. Japan might be the only country where handicapped 
people are on TV and can become a star. One of the person whom I saw on 
Japanese TV was the guy who wrote a book of buying prostitute, and he had a 
macho mentality. He boasted his experience to have sex with prostitute at 
the barrier free hotel, but this scene gave me pain.

In Manhattan, I see many old men who displaying the Star-Spangled Banner on 
their wheel chairs. Some of them are retired military personnel, but others 
are not. I have often wondered why handicapped men attach this flag, a 
symbol of power, to their wheel chairs, a symbol of weakness. I think this 
is a warped desire to realize their own. By showing Star Spangled Banner, 
they might try to proclaim themselves as a part of society.

Mr. Kimura is not a saint. First, as a person who expose his own body, and 
as second, as a person who are handicapped. In Japan, there is a handicapped 
comedian named Hawking Aoyama. Aoyama knows that as a comedian, he must be 
professional, and not rely on his handicap as a way to gain renown. That's 
why he is great comedian. Also the fact is that he supports family 
financially shows his outstanding talent of him as a comedian. We must not 
judge people's talent based on their disability.

In the field of handicapped people, I was so impressed by the musical and 
social skill of Williams Syndrome people. For example, I like the song of 
Daniel Johnston and every time when I listed to his music, it makes me 
impressed. The reason is not because he is mentally handicapped, but his 
lyrics and song itself is wonderful. Therefore if I saw the act of Mr. 
Kimura in his dancing company, I may not be impressed.

However in Japan, because of the elite handicapped TV star Mr. Ototake, 
there is a crooked romanticism toward handicapped people. For example, I do 
not like Handicapped Professional Wrestling which is popular in the part of 
Japanese sub-culture. One of this wrestling team is owned by an ordinary 
man, and this owner fight against the handicapped wrestler, so he always 
wins the match. My female friend told me, "I felt the love of the owner of 
this Professional Wrestling," but I told her this is not love. If there is 
love, this love might be similar to the love for the pet which is owned by a 
prostitute. It is not a fair relationship, and it comes from the complete 
difference of positions. I feel falsehood here.

Concerning the issue of sex care, the problem itself is beyond the services 
provided. Sex care is not only an issue of supply and demand, but it means 
that society assures responsibility for the impossibility of reproductive 
act. The act of sex principally exists for reproduction, but sex care is a 
pursuance, or disposal of pleasure. Ironically, implementation of sex care 
proclaims a social acceptance of the sex for pleasure, so much a part of 
capitalist society, but offers these services in a socialist utilitarian 


The fact that the artist Tadasu Takamine treated the handicapped Mr. Kimura 
for five years is without doubt a great thing. The sincerity of his art 
making must also be respected. However, I do not think that "Kimura-San" 
is a masterpiece, because it borders dangerously on a romanticisation of the 
handicapped, it also excluded the necessary critique of sex for pleasure. 
Moreover, the quality of art work itself is not very high.

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