Interview with Juri Nishi: Art, Architecture and Movement

listening, gathering, perceiving

Hi Juri, can you please tell us a bit about who you are what are you up to in the festival?

I am a Japanese artist working in architecture and choreography. I create performances that challenge perceptions of the body, energy, time and space.  I am interested in cultivating spaces in which the mind and body can listen and the heart can open. In this state individuals find the possibility of fresh insights and new connections between themselves and the world around them.

The piece I have made for the Open Senses festival is called ‘Umwelten’ (which means Surroundings) at the Royal Academy.

‘Umwelten’ is a site-specific immersive performance that stimulates a new perception of architecture through the senses. The piece draws on the history and mythology of Burlington house and the generations of aristocratic families who lived there. These stories form the backbone for an embodied experience of the building’s architecture.

“Through our skin we also touch the world and express something of who we are and how we feel; in this contact we gain feedback from the world about ourselves.” Linda Hartley

The title makes reference to a term used in sensory ecology, a study on how organisms acquire, process and responds to information from the environment, exchanging materials, energies and sensory information. The ‘umwelt theory’ proclaims that the mind and the world are inseparable, as it is the mind that interprets the world for the organism. This is what we will be exploring.

During the symposium, I’ll also be having a conversation about the relationship between art, body and architecture and the practice of listening with architecture and urbanism professor Nick Dunn from Lancaster University at 5:30pm.

What’s your story about how you got involved in the senses?

As a child I was a gifted singer and I’ve always been interested in different forms of listening. When I first worked in architecture I was designing spaces for the human bodies but I didn’t really know how to connect to my own body. When I later trained in dance my sensibility and perception of the world shifted completely and everything I do now comes from the place of listening through my own body.

What in particular can people look forward to with your activity at the festival?

You can look forward to forming a new perception of your surroundings through an experience of choreographed movement, poetry, voice and touch.

How would you describe it in three words?

Listening, gathering, perceiving.

How did you get involved in Open Senses?

When I met Stephanie Singer, our conversations flowed like a stream. I was interested in her way of thinking about sound and spaces and I shared a concept I was putting together a new piece that compared a human body to a building. We then decided to collaborate together to create a site-specific performance for the Royal Academy of Arts that brings about new ways to ‘sense architecture’.

Why was it so important to you?

I believe that senses play a fundamental role in being human, which needs to be cultivated at the forefront of our complex lives. With advancing technology, our society is becoming increasing connected through virtually reality and at the same time, it creates disconnection from presence and physical contact. Screens gather our gaze and make our bodies close inwards, desensitizing and moving us away from the present and physical dimension.

What else are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?

The talk by Juhani Pallasmaa at the symposium. His writings have inspired my work.

Where would you like to see the sensory area moving to in the future?

I’d like to see projects where artists collaborate with schools and the NHS, especially working with special needs schools, psychiatric hospitals with sensory needs and wards/ community centres with dementia.

How would you like your performances to develop in the future?

I would like my performances to reach out to audiences who are not dance or theatre-goers by developing a form that feels more accessible to people. Umwelten is an immersive performance, putting the audience in the centre of the experience rather than passively observing from the outside. I am also exposing parts of the artistic process to demystify the art-form. Dance and performance is an art form that can feel exclusive to the point that people feel they need to be educated to enjoy or understand it. I want to show that that’s not true, we all have a body and we all know how to feel so we can all be drawn into dance through our intuition and physicality.

Three words to describe how you feel about the festival?

Imaginative, opening, nourishing

Start your own conversation @OpenSensesUK #OpenSenses2017, this conversation initiated by Natasha Blok.