Tashi Iwaoka performing 100,000 years dreaming (2014). The events of FUKUSHIMA are a motif in his work.

‘A Bridge Too Far (Rebuilt)’ is a duration performance installation by movement artist Tashi Iwaoka. The work was originally prompted by the repeated call of migrants during the 2015 refugee crisis: “I (or We) have nothing” and was first created to be part of the group exhibition ‘Exodus’,  a showcase exploring the broader theme of migration and worldwide people’s movement. During the performance the artist stayed in the art gallery for the duration of the show, a total of 5 days in which he never left the place, having an iPad as his only possession (changed for an iPhone in subsequent iterations) and followed a code of conduct* that included not eating or drinking anything that had not been offered to him by visitors. Next to his sleeping place, images of his research of FUKUSHIMA played in a monitor. The ethos of the performance was one of pure experimentation: a doomed attempt to understand the situation of the other.

And make no mistake ‘doomed’ is the right word to describe the endeavour, because no matter how uncomfortable an overnight in an exhibition space could be, it could never be as hard, dangerous or devastating as the experience of the thousands of displaced people seeking refugee status. Tashi is quite aware of this, he self-describes this work as ill-fated, with the clear conviction that it is impossible to understand whatever is outside our lived experience. For the artist it is this same impossibility what ignites the desire to find other ways to approach the plight of all of those displaced by violence, climate change, the destruction of their home or the lack of a future. If sympathy is not enough and empathy is not possible, then what can we do as individuals to try to understand what others go through?

What this work proposes is an experiment of pure imagination: to discover the humanity of others by way of sensitivity. By using his own body as a way to tap into a shared humanity, Tashi is looking for a common ground in which a connection can be made. By starting his performance with no food or water, toiletries, or a change of clothes, he is not trying to imitate the experience of refugees, but rather to train and extend his sensitivity and turn his self-concern into the concern for others. What he is looking for is not empathy but rather compassion, (’co’ meaning together and ‘passion’ meaning an intense feeling), this is to feel with others. According to emotion phycologists, what defines compassion is not only the ability to feel the emotions of another person but crucially it includes the desire to help and to relief the other from suffering. 

By documenting how his own body reacts to a cold floor, several hours without eating, days without brushing his teeth or feeling concerned about his own health, Tashi is planting the seed for communication and understanding. It is important to point out that this approximation to the experience of others is always one step removed and this is what the title refers to: ‘A Bridge Too Far’ alludes not only to the event depicted in the 1977 movie by Richard Attenborough that tells the epic story of a failed military mission during WWII on Dutch soil. It also talks about the very idea of impossibility, of always being one step away from actually understanding other’s first hand experience, yet as the artist points out: 

“(…) this impossibility is what makes us want to communicate with each other. We want to know each other because we just can’t completely understand each other. (…) the more you desire to cross that bridge, the more it gets impossible. It’s not always the case but, just as an example, some love relationships can be very much like that. And I find it very human. We are always in battles against others and within ourselves, not to win but to survive.”

As Tashi takes his place alongside the artworks in the gallery space, images of FUKUSHIMA are shown in a monitor next to him. The purpose of these images is twofold, on one hand it places the audience in the same situation as the artist, as there is no way for visitors to get an understanding from the events in the city of Fukushima from the images on TV. The research and interviews that the artist conducted in the place and his first hand experience of the aftermath of a nuclear disaster remain as elusive to the audience as the refugee situation is from him. The footage also refers to the utter impossibility of gaining any kind of true understanding by looking at a screen and taking the events in as digital information. The screen acts an additional ‘bridge’ that allows us to see but that also removes us further from the lived experience. 

Ultimately this work is a test on how close we can get to understanding alien situations through the tools of imagination and one’s own body. Because the very knowledge that there will always be an unbridgeable distance between our and other people’s experiences, is the very reason why comprehension should not be taken for granted. We must strive to be aware that information over a screen does not get us any closer to really apprehending the human struggle behind an event. We must strive to be aware of our body and how it behaves with different levels of deprivation so we can feel for others what we feel for ourselves. We must strive to place ourselves close to outside experiences even if they remain inaccessible. But overall, we must start with ourselves because we can only understand others when we understand ourselves and we can only feel for others the we feel for ourselves. Compassion might start from a place of experimentation and imagination.

Tashi Iwaoka performing Prediction 96

A Bridge Too Far – Code of Conduct 

– My stay begins with only having a mobile device and its charger.

– Use of the mobile devise is limited to posting on FB and checking if there are urgent and important messages that need to be responded

– Use of the toilet in the building is allowed but not the tap, and the toilet rolls for any other use.

– ‘Offerings’ (things the visitors bring) are accepted.  

– ‘Offerings’ from the members of organisation are not accepted.

– ‘Offerings’ can be given to or shared with other visitors.

– ‘Offerings’ cannot be rejected apart from specific circumstances e.g. someone offers me illegal substances.

– Asking for specific ‘offerings’ is not allowed, however, it is possible to simply state the situation or reflect upon it e.g. ‘This is becoming 25 hours without water.’ or ‘Last couple of hours I begin to feel a thirst.’ etc.

– In principle all pictures of the visitors in which the  individual subjects can be identified are put online with their consent.

– In case of emergency (fire, acute illness, etc.) necessary actions can be taken regardless of above rules.

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