Selected Writings

Two or Three Things I Know about “Kimura-San”

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 video.

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 States

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, ‘Commit 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 from Magnum
(Reference:“Underexposed” by Colin Jackson)

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….” 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” promptly.

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 interesting.

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 “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 gently.

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 himself.

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 way.


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.

Morinaga Arsenic Milk Poisoning Incident

Yokohama Museum of Art blunders, pt. I by Ozaki Tetsuya

Yokohama Museum of Art blunders, pt. I by Ozaki Tetsuya

Theater Taihen Photo of Toshio Kimura

Handicapped Professional Wrestling “Dog Legs”

Hawking Aoyama Official Homepage