So Slow It Stopped: Teiji Furuhashi at MoMA
Teiji Furuhashi: Lovers at the Museum of Modern Art
July 30, 2016 to February 12, 2017
11 West 53rd Street (between 5th and 6th avenues)
New York, 212 708 9400
In a small, square room that branches diagonally from MoMA’s second-floor hallway, Teiji Furuhashi’s 1994 installation, Lovers, projects mutely dancing figures as dusky light onto gallery walls. Glistening like ice or the slick sterility of hospital vinyl floors, a white expanse of Marley unfurls across the gallery to meet black walls. Eyes adjusting to the low illumination, the glossy surface’s glare dominates vision, creating a sense of strange suspension. In the room’s center, the apertures of seven projectors, stacked in a spine-like tower, trace beams of light across the room’s varied contours. The hum of these machines is background and breath to the chirping pulse of the installation’s accompanying audio.
With steps that drag over the resistant surface, my motions are a material echo to the pale shadows that sidle over the surrounding walls. Starched white by the projectors’ thin lights, the dancers of Dumb Type — the artist collective that Teiji helped found in 1984 — patrol the room’s perimeter, moving along the screen-like walls. The nude figures of men and women move in synchronicity or lethargic pursuit of each other through the room’s corners and planes. One man dashes with long, dramatic strides through the rectangular frames of the walls, trailing a woman who, like Daphne to this young Apollo, is ever just beyond reach. Her short hair alive with the staccato of hurried steps, she moves counter-clockwise through the encircling walls to fade out, eroded by the harsher light of the exit. Following and overtaking the nude figures, vertical lines inscribed “limit” and “fear” rove the space, mapping the geographies of bodies and walls alike as though scanning barcodes.
As the room grows close with people, these specters move through their choreographies on a stage of flesh, illuminating viewers in a fluid projection whose bare feet are just visible through the legs of onlookers. This shifting crowd dances with the flickering lights, which hurry the periphery to catch intimate movements even as the audience reciprocally turns to trace their gleaming paths. To enter the space is to join in the motions of the work. A man exits the room and a luminous dancer hastens to follow. I am looking down at my notebook when a figure passes over me and through me.
The installation’s austere design recalls an early ‘90s vision of futurity, imagined by one who would never get to see it; Teiji passed from AIDS-related illness in the month following the work’s original installation at MoMA in 1995. The barren simplicity of the installation hosts cruel contrasts: alive with motion and sound, but grave-like in darkness and intimacy, playing across viewers’ bodies, but aloof in the hollowness of its engagement. There is a sense of having entered someone, only to be confronted by the loneliness of fear, vulnerability, and unrequited desire. A man and woman are projected to overlap, bending towards one another, arms cradling air. The Venn diagram of their intersecting bodies is a thin, elongated silhouette, a symbolic convergence that only approximates union.
In spite of the title and the dancers’ nudity, Lovers does not emphasize romance or physical closeness, but rather the uncomfortable coupling of loving and dying, the intoxicating terror of the “little death.” Tracing their movements like memories repeated over and again, the dancers pass through the installation without leaving impressions, ghosts as ineffectual as they are impotent. Do their fleeting pursuits seek the comfort of touch or flee the realization of solitude? However, the desolate fear of abandonment is overshadowed by hints of a more final end; in prone bodies and flat horizontals, reminiscent of the flat line of a cardiograph gone flat, is the recognition not of losing but of being lost. Musing on the hope of forever that is implicit in the creative act, Lovers asks what our gestures — in life and in love — amount to when all is said and done? Despite, and perhaps because of, these grim indications of mortality, Teiji dances on in this cyclical video work, a dream ever in danger of obsolescence. We see him moving alongside his fellow dancers. Flickering into sight, he stands crucified with arms outstretched at the crosshairs of intersecting vertical and horizontal lines. Wavering in and out of focus, he hesitates before falling away with the grace and control of a diver, passing into nothingness beyond museum walls.