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Eiko and Koma

By Camille LeFevre

Eiko and Koma's Hunger
Walker Art Center
Minneapolis, MN
October 9–11, 2008
Reviewed by Camille LeFevre

Photo by Cameron Wittig
for Walker Art Center.
Eiko and Koma in Hunger.

The raven—a bird iconic around the world for its sociability, intelligence, and appetite for carrion—is omnipresent in Eiko and Koma’s Hunger. Throughout the 75-minute work, commissioned in part by the Walker Art Center where it premiered, recordings of the raven’s coarse, throaty caw are paired with resonant gamelan music performed live by Joko Sutrisno.

The bird’s form appears in the calligraphic slashes of black painted on backdrops before and during the piece by performers Charian (aka Chakrya So) and Peace (aka Setpheap Sorn). Peace embodies the creature’s ominous shape when she perches—her hands clawed and arms crooked like wings—on the prone figure of Charian. And the spectral, black-robed Koma, hovering in the background, evokes the watchful aspects of the black-feathered scavenger.

The object of raven’s interest is a sparse, harsh landscape of deprivation, filled with metaphors at once riveting and horrifying, grotesque and captivating.

The piece opens with Eiko and Koma, naked and dusted with white rice powder, upside down on two crossed lengths of chain-link. They might have been thrown there during a nuclear blast. They might be the memory of prisoners interned at Japanese-American “relocation camps.” As they slowly move toward each other, their motion registers as ambient sound: The metal has been miked.

Thereafter, much of the work takes place on a mat lying on top of and covered with loose rice. Here Eiko, mouth gaping and thin limbs sprawling, conjures images of starvation in Somalia or Darfur, as she quietly writhes amid the plentitude of grain beneath her. Similarly, Peace and Charian bend their legs backward as if in poses of Hindu deities, reminders of spiritual starvation in the midst of plenty.

Both of the men, at different times, appear with mounds of cooked rice, which they carry bundled in black cloth like newborns. The women, their limbs stiff and useless, sink their open mouths into the rice but seemingly gain no sustenance from it.

After Koma moves his mouth to Eiko's lips, arm, and shoulder, she violently slams herself back into the chain link. Koma then heaves the cooked rice into Eiko’s chest. For these wordless creatures, painstaking movement or a guttural call seems the only means of communication.

But the presence of Charian and Peace, in their white skirts and red shirts, give Hunger a sense of hope. Their interactions are both painful and tender. They slash at the canvas with anger and abandon, their brushes dripping with black paint. When Eiko and Koma—covered in powder, sweat, rice and paint—stand by them at the end, their arduous process of humanity is leavened with the possibility of both youth and of art.